Since 1839 Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington has sought to produce educated leaders “of unimpeachable character and absolute integrity.” The Institute expects all students (known as cadets) to live by an Honor Code, conduct themselves with civility and “commit to respectful living, treating everyone with dignity and fairness.”
Each November of their junior year, VMI cadets receive their class rings in a traditional ceremony attended by friends and family (Ring Figure Presentation), followed by a formal celebration with dates (Ring Figure Ball). Female cadets (women were allowed admittance in 1997) sometimes bring female dates, as well as male, to the Ball; and cadets of both sexes sometimes choose to bring a sibling, parent, or grandparent as their date. The majority of male cadets, however, attend this celebration with a female date. Last month, a male cadet from the Class of 2017 made VMI history by bringing his boyfriend.
“I wasn’t trying to make a political statement,” said the 21-year old student, Scott Anderson (a pseudonym to protect his family’s privacy). “I just wanted to take someone I truly cared about.”
Initially, said Anderson, he was concerned that “it would change the way people would interact with me. VMI is known for having very traditional values. (We live) in very close quarters… and I didn’t want people feeling uncomfortable being around me…”
Anderson’s three roommates said they had “no issues whatsoever” with Anderson’s choice. When asked their opinion about the timing of coming out at a significant event, one said: “First, I don’t know if there is any good time to go against the norm. Second, he’s my friend, I respect his choices, and anyone who didn’t would have a problem with all of us (roommates).”
But there weren’t any problems. “People were very respectful of this being my personal business,” said Anderson.
To make certain there were no surprises the night of the Ring Figure Ball, which is also attended by a few dozen cadets from other class years, Anderson began personally informing his classmates in the weeks before, asking them to help him spread the word. As a result, each of the approximately 1700 VMI students knew ahead of time that Anderson would be accompanied by a male date.
“I wanted to let people know (my plans), and that it didn’t change who I was,” said Anderson. Still, telling his fellow cadets was not easy. “It’s intimidating enough to come out to someone that you know is going to accept and support your choices no matter what… but telling an entire school that is known for having very traditional values” was even more intimidating. However, Anderson said, “Everyone I told, or who came up and asked me after they heard, was nothing other than positive and supportive.”
Anderson also noted that even the classmates he was most nervous about telling “because of their views on gay marriage” made it clear they stood by him. “It really showed me that if people truly care about you, then they will always be there for you.”
And while he trusted each and every cadet to refrain from any indecorous behavior during the Ring Figure Ball, he was astonished by how much support he received – not just from his own Class of 2017, but from the entire corps. Most surprising to him, said Anderson, was the response he received at the party following the ball. “People were constantly coming up to me and (my date) and saying how proud of us they were and that they had our backs.”
“Hopefully,” said Anderson, “people will feel more comfortable from now on to take whoever they want (to the Ring Figure Ball), guy or gal.”
The 21st century is a blank slate, waiting for the key personalities of the century to make their mark. Rich in tradition, Virginia Military Institute stands ready to prepare young men and women to meet the challenges of their times.”
General J.H. Binford Peay III ’62
It’s clear these fine words avowing to develop educated, courageous, and confident leaders mean something at VMI.