In June of last year, DU psychology instructor Courtney Mitchell and her partner, Sarah Welton, became the first lesbian couple to marry in Nepal. While the event was highly publicized in newspapers around the world, many at DU have no knowledge that one of their own has been instrumental in furthering gay rights around the world.
The wedding, which followed traditional Hindi customs, has been widely viewed as Nepal’s first step into opening up a gay tourism industry. But it means so much more for Mitchell and her wife.
“After six years living in Nepal I had grown to love and respect many aspects of Hindu culture, including traditional Hindu wedding ceremonies,” said Mitchell, who was first in Nepal with the Peace Corps. “It was very important to us, in choosing to be married in Nepal, that the wedding was organized by Nepalis… and that the wedding was perceived by locals as a means of assisting with local efforts to ensure the rights of LGBTQ Nepalis.”
For students at DU and members of the Queer-Straight Alliance, the news of Mitchell’s wedding came largely as a surprise. Michael Neil, a Ph. D candidate at the Korbel School of International Studies, expressed frustration that the event isn’t well-known around campus.
“If knowledge of this can get out, it will make DU more inclusive,” he said. “It’s very exciting from an international studies perspective. I wish it were better known and more celebrated. It’s great that DU can be a part of this,” said Neil.
Other LGBTQ students and their allies also expressed a level of pride that Courtney Mitchell is part of the DU community.
“I think it’s a really important event,” said Samantha Melnor, a freshman studying physics. “I’m glad it’s someone who is a part of our school.”
For Mitchell, being a figure on campus is important. She is proud to be a part of the Queer Faculty Association and grateful that it exists.
“Personally I have experienced a tremendous amount of support from the Graduate School of Professional Psychology and the Psychology Department. Because I work at DU I have the privilege of serving as a role model for other LGBTQ faculty, staff and students at the university who may wonder if it is safe, or even appropriate, to be out about one’s sexual orientation on campus.”
Mitchell hopes that news of her wedding will help bring LGBTQ issues to the forefront of concern at DU. “Perhaps in some small way, media coverage of my wedding might spark additional discussions about same-sex marriage on campus, while also serving to put a face to the debate,” said Mitchell.