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Graduation celebrates LGBTQ seniors

Katie Phernetton, Life Writer
March 13, 2013
Filed under Life

Rory Cowart, a senior psychology and human development major, will be graduating at the end of the semester. But before he puts on the cap and gown, he’ll be recognized in a different graduation ceremony. Beside him will be his family, friends and boyfriend of five years.

Lavender Graduation is a graduation ceremony and dinner that honors the achievements of graduating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students at UW-Green Bay. This is the second year UWGB will hold Lavender Graduation and Cowart is very excited.

“It will be great to be recognized for the work I’ve done for the LGBTQ community,” Cowart said. “Those of us who are LGBTQ don’t just graduate as a Phoenix or certain year but also a member of the class ‘We Made It.’”

Although this is only the second ceremony held at UWGB, the Lavender Graduation has been a part of senior tradition at universities around the country for several years. The first was held at the University of Michigan in 1995. In those 18 years, students who have self-identified with the LGBTQ community have been able to feel recognized and accepted by their university.

“Our college experience is, or can be, much different than other students’ and sometimes a lot harder,” Cowart said.

“Research shows students who come out on a college campus probably struggle the most,  both socially, economically,” Mai Lo Lee, multicultural adviser at UWGB, said. “If they come out to their parents, there might be a financial cut-off.”

Lee said Lavendar Graduation and similar events are for the LGBTQ community to feel supported by the university.

Lee was one of the main contributors in bringing the ceremony to UWGB. After attending a staff member workshop at the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference in Madison, Lee’s interest sparked when a staff workshop was tailored to ways to be more supportive. That’s when she heard about the Lavender Graduation.

 

“This is just like how other academic departments have their own little reception or ceremony,” Lee said. “I was looking at the history of it and I thought this is something that I could easily do.”

The ceremony includes dinner, speakers and awards. Faculty, staff, students, family and friends are all invited to attend.

“For our LGBTQ students who are freshmen, sophomores and juniors, I think its really important for them to see that there are graduating seniors,” Lee said. “That allows them to see there are resources and supportive people out there.”

At the ceremony, the Lavender Award is presented. It’s awarded to any faculty, staff or senior who has contributed to creating a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ students.

“In the crowd, there were deans. People were like, ‘I didn’t realize this many people supported me and this lifestyle’,” Lee said.

Last year’s guest speaker was a UWGB alumnus who spoke on his experience of coming out and self-identifying in the ‘90s. Lee said she thought this was important for the graduates to hear to realize that they too can be successful.

Anyone is welcome to attend the event for free. Lee said she feels it’s important for all students to be aware of the importance of what this event represents and that students don’t have to be part of the population to be part of the change.

“To use an analogy, it wasn’t black people who voted themselves to be free slaves. It had to be white people for the cause who had the power,” Lee said. “For the LGBTQ population, they may be fighting for it, but as a straight person who has privilege, I’m the one who should be advocating.”

Cowart thinks the event is important for showing support.

“I think it’s great that we can show those who haven’t identified yet that we’re a good and open community with great support from faculty and staff,” Cowart said. “Each member comes from different walks of life and is willing to support one another.”

The event will be held Thursday, April 11, at 5:00 p.m. in the 1965 Room in the University Union. For more information or to RSVP, visit uwgb.edu/aic/lavender.