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LGBTQ grads recognized at lavender graduation

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Section: Features, Front Page

April 27, 2012

Sporting shades of lavender, the graduating members of Brandeis’ LGBTQ family paraded into the Intercultural Center lounge amid cheers and cello music on Tuesday. With excitement and nostalgia, Brandeis commenced its first Lavender Graduation.

Lavender Graduation is a ceremony specifically set aside for the graduating members of the LGBTQ community and their allies. It celebrates the contributions and accomplishments this community has achieved for the past four years.

The LGBTQ and ally community at Brandeis appreciates the recognition since it speaks to the numerous difficulties the community continues to face.

“It’s recognizing the efforts of those who are trying to create a space for people who generally don’t have much of a space,” Lavender graduate Dan Flores ’12 said. “The LGBTQ community tends to deal with issues that are outside the normative experience. There are issues such as coming out. There are issues of constantly having to explain your identity. People who are generally considered heterosexual don’t have to explain their erotic interests; they don’t have to say ‘Oh I came out to my mom and dad when I was 17 years old.’”

Liberal universities and colleges across the nation have been gradually developing their own versions of Lavender Graduation. When Jesse Beal became Brandeis’ first program coordinator for sexuality and gender diversity this year, she decided to bring Lavender Graduation to Brandeis.

Members of the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ allies, and Brandeis’ faculty and staff were overjoyed to participate in the ceremony.

“The fact that this is happening for the first time here is momentous because it shows we’re moving from being an openly accepting student body to being an openly accepting campus,” Lavender graduate Simon Zahn ’12 said.

Lavender Graduation is named after the queer community’s long history with the word “lavender.” According to Beal, the phrase “Lavender Scare” was used in reference to the persecution of gays and lesbians in the 1950s. Furthermore, a feminist in the late 1960s supposedly coined the term “Lavender Menace” in reference to the lesbians who she believed were infiltrating the feminist movement. The queer community reclaimed the term for its own use as a source of pride.

Consequently, the Intercultural Center lounge was adorned with lavender balloons, lavender streamers and even a few lavender plants as Brandeis faculty and staff thanked the graduating seniors and graduate students for their dedication to the LGBTQ community. Involved in a variety of leadership roles within the community, these students deserved to receive recognition.

“We’re constantly working with people one-on-one, with the administration and with professors to get our voices heard. And having Lavender Graduation is just a way to thank people who work tirelessly but otherwise don’t get recognition,” said Lavender graduate Cynthia Simonoff ’12.

Dean Jamele Adams took the stage with a slam poetry performance. His rhymes spoke of the pride, diversity and accomplishments of Brandeis’ graduating LGBTQ family.

Following Adam’s performance, Vice President of Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel delivered the keynote speech.

“Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, I was in all the cool things; band, debate, the chess team,” he said, to the crowd’s laughter. He then continued on a more serious note, explaining how the contributions of Brandeis’ LGBTQ community have created an atmosphere that enables hopeful applicants to see Brandeis as a safehaven.

Specific students were also selected to give words of encouragement. Each graduating senior and graduate student then received a certificate of recognition and a rainbow tassel. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” sounded throughout the lounge as the ceremony concluded. The students now hope Lavender Graduation will become an annual event at Brandeis.

“The student reaction to this has been overwhelming. They’re thrilled and honored that we have this. I didn’t have to do much to get them here … My line the whole time has been ‘this is our opportunity to thank you for your four years of service, for all the achievements you’ve had, for making this a safer campus for all of us,’” Beal said.

Some of the graduating students also expressed how privileged they feel to have been able to attend a university that has a well-developed Women’s and Gender Studies department and a growing Sexuality and Queer Studies department. According to Flores, many of the students who take courses within these departments begin to rethink their original understandings of sexuality and gender.

“These departments bridge the gap by giving a voice to those who haven’t had a voice for a long time,” Flores said.

Although Brandeis possesses a growing Sexuality and Queer Studies department and a relatively open student body and administration, the LGBTQ members of Brandeis hope that people will still recognize the everyday discrimination they continue to encounter. While Brandeis as a university has made major steps by opening up gender-neutral bathrooms and introducing a Sexuality and Queer Studies minor, students look forward to future improvement.

“As a whole, Brandeis is a very open and accepting institution; however, that does not mean that we’re perfect. There are still some changes that need to be made,” Zahn said. “As of now, we have a part-time program coordinator for sexuality and gender diversity [Jesse Beal], but making this position full-time would allow more to be accomplished. Also, our campus is in desperate need of some gender-neutral bathrooms in certain buildings. These are just two things that we need to further Brandeis along the path to being the perfect open and accepting institute.”

As Lavender Graduation demonstrated, the LGBTQ community at Brandeis has acquired the set of tools necessary to make these types of changes. Involved in leadership roles throughout the community, the Lavender Graduation participants are prepared to take their endeavors to make Brandeis a safer campus into the outside world.

“I think the queer students on this campus and the ally students have done amazing work without a lot of institutional support,” Beal said. “And now that they’re getting institutional support, I really think the sky is the limit and I’m excited about what’s going to happen in the next couple of years.”

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