OUTstanding Virginians 2014

Jeff Trammell – Public Service, Washington, DC

Jeff Trammell 1“History builds momentum, which makes new things possible,” observes Jeff Trammell. And he should know. The lawyer, consultant and higher education leader has achieved several historical firsts during his 25-year career in public service and government affairs, among them:

  • As Rector of the College of William and Mary, the first openly LGBT chair of the board of trustees of a major American university (2011-13)
  • First openly gay member of William and Mary’s Board of Visitors (2005 -13)
  • First openly LGBT member of the board of trustees of the Association Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, which encompasses some 40,000 university trustees across the country (2012).

Trammell takes justifiable pride in having personally set these milestones, especially since they occurred at his alma mater, where he was a History major and an all-conference basketball player. However, his pride  is mixed with a slightly rueful surprise that these firsts happened so recently. Still, he would agree with Martin Luther King that the arc of history bends  toward justice. “We are all fortunate to be living in this time of transition,” muses Trammell, who expects that “in thirty or forty years questions about whether to sanction discrimination will be passé.”

Yet sweeping change doesn’t just happen, and certainly not in the area of public policy. “Elections make a huge difference,” Trammell says, citing his own experience. It took two progressive governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to make and reaffirm his William & Mary appointments, which faced opposition from some quarters in the General Assembly.

This February, a third progressive governor, Terry McAuliffe, appointed Trammell to the Virginia Commission on Higher Education Board Appointments, a body charged with recruiting leaders for board service in Virginia’s universities. To prove Trammel’s point that elections matter, one only needs to recall that the candidate who lost to Governor McAuliffe was infamous for inviting those same universities to discriminate against their LGBT employees.

From his positions within the highest echelons of public education, Trammell dedicates himself to expanding access to quality higher education as a means of improving social mobility. He regularly champions such causes as developing tuition and fee structures that will allow students of limited means to enter and graduate from college.  “Access to education is a core part of social justice,” he says. In his role on the Board Appointments Commission, Trammell has made it his priority to make the governing boards of the state’s colleges and universities “look like Virginia—no exclusion.”

Trammell sees his work in higher education as a logical extension of the political activism that occupied most of his career. In 2004, he served as senior advisor and national co-chair of gay and lesbian outreach for the Kerry presidential campaign.  He played a similar role in the Gore campaign, building a national network of LGBT supporters – the first time a presidential campaign had created a comprehensive base in the LGBT community.  In 2000, he chaired Business Leaders for Gore-Lieberman, spearheading an effort which secured the support of some 3,000 business leaders, including many CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Prior to his work on the Gore campaign, Trammell chaired the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. In all these roles, Trammell was able to draw upon the in-depth working knowledge of politics he gained early in his career when he worked on the staffs of three members of the Florida Congressional delegation and with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In 2000, Trammell was awarded the Barney Frank National Leadership Award by the National Stonewall Democrats.

Outside of university governance and electoral campaigning, Trammell’s public service has been richly varied. He currently serves on the board of the Institute of Human Virology, headed by Dr. Robert Gallo, at the University of Maryland Medical School. Earlier, he was on the finance board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Gay and Lesbian Project, which raised $3 million to research and commemorate the gay and lesbian victims of the Holocaust.  He also has served on the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Campaign.

A lawyer with experience and connections like Trammell’s might find himself arguing a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Sure enough, Jeff Trammell did have his day at the Supreme Court, but it was a personal not a professional occasion. In October 2013, he and his partner of 36 years, Stuart Serkin, were married there by a former Chancellor of William and Mary, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.