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Lavender celebration honors LGBTQ graduates and their allies

“I thought, oh my God, women can be gay? I didn’t know that until college.”

Kate Drabinski of the gender and women’s studies department offered a lighthearted and funny keynote address for the Lavender Graduation Ceremony, which took place at 6:30 on Tuesday, May 2. Originally from Boise, Idaho, Drabinski went to college in New York City, and discovered through the women’s center at her school that women can, indeed, be gay. Drabinski also offered some reassurance, saying that they can be queer after college:

“’Will I have to be straight?’ I genuinely worried about this,” she said. “But I’m still a total lesbian. Still queer. You can survive this and it will be wonderful.”

The Lavender Graduation ceremony honors lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students and their allies at over 100 college and universities throughout the country. Dr. Ronni Sanlo designed the first Lavender Graduation ceremony in 1995 at the University of Michigan after she was prevented from attending her biological children’s graduation due to her sexual orientation.

This is UMBC’s fourth annual Lavender Graduation. Despite a last-minute relocation, Commons Mainstreet was fully decorated with bundles of purple balloons, candles, lanterns and flower petals.

According to the Human Rights Campaign website, “The color lavender is a combination of the pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear in concentration camps and the black triangle designating lesbians as political prisoners in Nazi Germany. The LGBTQ civil rights movement took these symbols of hatred and combined them to make symbols and a color of pride and community.”

During the program, a dozen awards were presented to students, faculty, staff and alumni. The awards recognized student leaders as well as offices, departments and individual faculty and staff members that are allies to the LGBTQ community.

Anyone could submit nominations for these awards through a Google form. A committee of students, faculty and staff voted on the awards, though individuals could not vote on an award for which they were nominated.

Departments from across disciplines were nominated for awards, including psychology, gender and women’s studies, American studies, social work and health administration and public policy. Many of the students, faculty and staff in attendance are involved with the Women’s Center, Mosaic Center, or student organizations that advocate for LGBTQ individuals.

Callie VanAntwerp, a sophomore English and gender and women’s studies major, is the Vice-President for external affairs, education and activism in the LGBTQ Student Union, a new organization. She became involved in QUMBC, which no longer exists, when she started at UMBC.

Previously, QUMBC used to focus on external affairs, education and activism and the Freedom Alliance worked with internal affairs. Instead of two different organizations, they are now two branches of the same organization. While they started meeting as a group at the start of this semester, the merge only became official about three weeks ago.

“It’s easier now because we have a better support system within the organization; we don’t have to compete for resources or deal with events that may conflict,” said VanAntwerp.

The event was hosted and organized by Carlos Turcios, program assistant for Diversity and Inclusion. He donned lavender pants and a matching tie for the occasion.

Turcios has been at UMBC since he began his undergraduate career in Fall 2008 studying sociology and psychology. This semester, he will complete his master’s degree in advanced sociology while working full time under the supervision of Lisa Gray, Assistant Director of Student Life for Cultural and Spiritual Diversity. While there are several interns, Turcios and Gray are the only two full-time staff members in the Mosaic Center.

Turcios said he plans to continue his efforts even after he completes his degree: “Our goal for next year’s [Lavender Graduation] is to keep making it bigger and bigger,” he said.