Same-sex alumni couple denies donations

Same-sex alumni couple denies donations

Elliot Mitchell and Clark West, a same-sex couple and alumni of the University, decided not to leave their multi-million dollar estate to the University because of Alabama’s laws and attitudes regarding gay rights. Photo Courtesy of Clark West

Elizabeth Elkin

During a football game years ago, Mitchell said he received emergency services for dehydration. He said he realizes if he had been taken to the hospital, he could have been separated from his partner.

“They took care of me at the stadium. If I had had to go to Druid City Hospital – I have a brother who lives in Tuscaloosa who doesn’t particularly care for me – Clark could have been denied access to my hospital room,” Mitchell said. “If I passed away while I was there, he could have been denied access. Even though we are Florida residents and our wills are from Florida, if my family claimed my body while I was there, I think the probate judge of Tuscaloosa would allow him to do that and who knows what would’ve happened.”

After that incident West and Mitchell decided they would not visit the state of Alabama until the issue of same-sex marriage legality in the state is resolved. They agreed to not leave their estate, estimated to be worth $15 million to $18 million, to The University 
of Alabama.

“Under no condition would I spend a night in Alabama prior to the Supreme Court decision this summer that we think will take care of a lot of that,” Mitchell said.

After graduating, they married in Hawaii and moved to Florida. Mitchell found success in the corporate world and then became a real estate developer. West is a licensed mental health counselor.

Since 1995, they planned to leave their estate to the University. However, in 2013 they cancelled those plans.

“In June of 2013, the United States Supreme Court reversed the federal part of the Defense of Marriage Act which said that same-sex marriage bans, on the federal side, violated the U.S. Constitution,” Mitchell said. “When we saw the reaction in Alabama, it really gave us pause and we decided that we kind of needed to rethink that.”

The decision had nothing to do with the University, Mitchell said. However, the two said they discovered a lack of diversity 
programming at the University.

“We have come to discover that there are no programs for LGBT students at The University of Alabama, unlike many other southern colleges and schools,” Mitchell said. “Alabama has a student organization called Spectrum, which really has nothing to do with the faculty, the staff or sponsored programs at all. While we are quick to say that we did not have a dispute with the University, and we very much love this school, we are now aware of how far behind The University of Alabama and Auburn University are in diversity programs.”

In a statement, University President Judy Bonner said the University appreciates West and Mitchell for their past generosity and contributions.

“Elliott Mitchell and Clark West have been loyal members of the UA family for many years, and we very much appreciate their unprecedented generosity and support for their alma mater,” Bonner said. “During my term as president of The University of Alabama, I have enjoyed several opportunities to talk with them, especially about the progress we have made regarding issues that are important to them… Elliott and Clark will continue to be valued members of the UA family, and we look forward to many years of working with them to make a difference in the lives of our students.”

West said the atmosphere in Alabama can make it uncomfortable for them when they visit.

“When we’ve gone to ball games and there’s some 
wonderful people that we know, great friends of ours that we know, but still, even with that said, when we’ve sat in special boxes and been with certain groups of people for ball games, it is kind of uncomfortable,” West said. “You are aware that they are aware of who you are, and you are also aware that they don’t particularly care for you in that situation and it just makes things so uncomfortable and it throws up a wall that really shouldn’t be there.”

The men said the March 3 halt on same-sex marriage was an excuse to discriminate and they were deeply disappointed.

“We’re no different, and we want to be treated the same,” Mitchell said.