On May 2, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) held its 17th annual Lavender Graduation Ceremony in front of a crowded room of queer graduates and their friends, allies and families.
The event was held in the Illinois Room at the University Student Center, and featured an array of speakers including activist Precious Brady-Davis, a live band and a full-course buffet dinner.
The traditional Lavender Graduation is an annual event conducted at colleges and universities across the nation to honor LGBTQ+ students for their accomplishments and contributions. The event is an informal complement to an institution's formal ceremony rather than a replacement.
Honoring 11 graduate and 23 undergraduate students graduating from UIC this year, the event kicked off with a Native Land Acknowledgement and a welcome address delivered by Moises Villada, associate director of UIC's Gender and Sexuality Center, as well as the Center's Assistant Director for Civic Engagement Yasmine "Yaz" Tadross. Associate Chancellor and Vice Provost for Diversity Dr. Amalia Pallares spoke next, tying the history of queer expression with indigenous history and survival.
In presenting the Hattie B. Woods-Hayden Award, Dr. Stephvon "Bo" Cook advised the graduating students to embrace what he called "the three f's." The first was to continue fighting, while the second was freedom, and the third was "your future." He said, "As you leave this comfort zone and go out in this world, show them who you are. When you fight, you are telling people, 'My freedom is worth it.'" Recipients of the award included Roni Lee and LeeLoo Rose.
Keynote speaker Precious Brady-Davis opened her speech with words from poet laureate Lucille Clifton, adding, "She reminds us that even without a map, even on ground that feels unsteady, we can shape our lives into what we want them to be. This is what so many of you have done in order to be here tonight. A Lavender Graduation exists because you have been subject to unrelenting threats just for being who you are. This celebration recognizes your power, your innovations, your shared humanity, and also your ability to survive and thrive in the face of so many obstacles."
Speaking on the current political climate, Brady-Davis said, "But even as we celebrate your achievements to this institution as LGBTQ students, you are graduating into a society, into a world, into a time wherein the forces of darkness are very strong. Homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, ableism and classism serve as leading forces of oppression. All around us there are forces guided by fear and ignorance, operating out of a desperate attempt to maintain power in a world that is constantly evolving beyond the narrowness of their understanding and imagination. Although we've come a great way since President Dwight Eisenhower's Lavender Scare in 1953, these forces are still very much at work, with recent attempts to ban trans folks from serving in the military, roll back protections for same sex marriage, and…silence our voices.
"Even as we celebrate, my message to you is clear; this fight is far from over, and our communities continue to navigate persistent inequity, lack of representation, and increasing levels of violence. This year alone we've witnessed over 400 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures across the country.
"…And so I believe that clarion call of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera still remains true over 50 years later ... Our pride is still a revolution...throwing a brick at what's rightfully ours."