Updated: May 17, 2021
The Lavender Graduation Ceremony promotes unity for LGBTQIA+ members across the district.
By Marcos Franco, News Editor
The Los Angeles Community College District will host its third annual Lavender Graduation Celebration on Monday to honor LGBTQIA+ students across its nine campuses.
This year’s commemoration is expected to host 420 attendees, featuring guest speakers from the district as well as a recorded message from Mayor Eric Garcetti — complete in a lavender tie for the occasion. The event will also include musical performances from LGBTQIA+ groups West Coast Singers and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles; both of which include faculty from the LACCD.
The purpose of the Lavender Graduation extends beyond the standard celebration of academic achievement. Not only does the event honor students for their accomplishments during their time as a part of the district, but it also helps them connect with other LGBTQIA+ members in the community. Through mentorship and support from those involved, students are able to leave their college with a positive last experience that they can carry with them past graduation.
“What students will take away from this celebration is having graduated and achieved their academic goals with people who celebrate their identity,” said Trustee David Vela, Chair of the LGBTQIA+ Chancellor’s Advisory Committee. “The district acknowledges and welcomes them so they will leave with more confidence to take on the world.”
The Lavender Graduation was created by Ronni Sanlo in 1995, the director of lesbian and gay programs at the University of Michigan at the time. After marriage and two children, Sano came out as lesbian at the age of 31 which caused her to lose custody of her kids and subsequently prevented her from attending their college graduation ceremony. Encouraged by the Dean of Students at the University of Michigan, Sanlo formed the first Lavender Graduation which had three attendees. Over the past 26 years, the tradition has expanded to more than 500 colleges, universities and high schools nationwide.
The lavender color comes from a combination of two emblems that were initially used to identify queer prisoners during the Nazi Germany era. Gay men were marked with an inverted pink triangle on their jumpsuit in concentration camps while lesbian women wore a black triangle. This badge was used to cast shame towards homosexuality, showcasing people as political prisoners because their lifestlye conflicted with the views of government. The color has since become a symbol of pride, representing the progress that has been made by the LGBTQIA+ community who continues to fight for equality.
In modern day struggles, the former presidential administration removed the planned sexual orientation question from the U.S. Census which was used to account for LGBTQIA+ Americans. The administration also reintroduced the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, an approach to discourage trans military members from serving openly.
The Lavender Graduation was created to embrace identities that were once forced to be concealed and advocate for change and equality. The event is a cultural celebration where people from all walks of life are welcome and accepted.
“For me personally as the first openly-gay Trustee, it gives me a sense of purpose to not only represent people of color but to also represent the LGBTQIA+ community by being a voice on the board,” said Vela. “It gives me a lot of hope and optimism that our students will go on to become whatever they want and create their own path.”
The Lavender Graduation is one of many steps the LACCD is taking to create a community and environment for people of color and LGBTQIA+ students to thrive. The district plans to implement queer studies departments across its campuses which would be similar to the ethnic studies departments arleady existant at all nine campuses.
LACCD Dean for Student Success Deborah Harrington, understands the historic obstacles faced by the LGBTQIA+ community, being gay herself. The dean praised the celebration for being a powerful affirmation for students’ identities.
“If students experienced difficult times during their college years — times when they felt shamed or demeaned because of who they are — I hope this moment replaces those experiences and let’s them know how proud our colleges are of their achievements,” said Harrington. “I hope they understand how much we owe them for helping us build a better, more resilient and loving learning community.”