Pride Center celebrates high school, university students


Photo by Sam Sargeant

Vanessa Moss (center) was nominated for the Lavender Ally Award on May 1 at the Lavender Graduation.

By Jaclyn Archer, Eagle Life Editor

Singing, poetry, spoken word and a celebrity guest speaker — these were all elements of this year’s annual Lavender Graduation, held May 1 in Showalter Auditorium.

“It’s a celebration that we do every year to support LGBT and ally students,” said Sandra Williams, EWU Pride Center coordinator. “It’s my favorite thing that I do every year. … I never make it through without crying.”

EWU’s Lavender Graduation, hosted by the pride center, is part of a tradition of similar ceremonies designed to celebrate the achievements of high school and college graduates who have shared similar struggles.

According to Campus Pride, a national organization created to promote LGBT support services on college campuses around the United States, the Lavender Graduation derives its color theme from a combination of the pink triangle gay men were forced to wear in the concentration camps and the black triangle which designated lesbians as political prisoners in Nazi Germany. LGBT activists combined these symbols to create a symbol of pride.

EWU’s Lavender Graduation ceremony honored allies as well as LGBT students.

“Allies are a large part of the reason why there’s a center,” said Williams. “Often it’s allies who step up and take the heat for LGBT people who aren’t safe to be out. That’s something that should be honored. … I would say half the folks who come in here are allies. It’s a joint thing.”

In keeping with this joint mindset, EWU’s Lavender Graduation routinely includes an ally nomination ceremony, during which Lavender graduates are given the chance to nominate an individual who was a personal ally to them throughout their experience, thus helping them to achieve the scholastic goals they now celebrate.

This year, the Lavender Graduation keynote speaker was Emmy Award winning actor and producer Crystal Chappell. She is well known for playing Olivia Spencer , a mother who falls in love with another woman in “Guiding Light.” She subsequently produced and acted in several web series featuring openly gay and lesbian characters and has continued to be an outspoken LGBT ally.

“This woman took a lot of heat for the stance she took in favor of the LGBT community,” said Williams.

Of course, the primary spotlight is on the Lavender graduates. The ceremony, which included LGBT students from the local high school, community college and EWU, has grown from 10 to 25 graduates in the last five years.

“For me, it’s an event that I can be recognized as part of a minority group for the achievements I’ve made,” said Sierra Vanderhoogt, a Lavender graduate who has worked at the Pride Center for two years.

“I want to encourage people to support. You don’t have to be part of the LGBT community to feel elements of common struggle.”

Katie Schoel, Lavender graduate and event coordinator for the EWU Pride Club, appreciates the ceremony for its intimate quality.

“We’re being recognized for who we are, rather than just our student ID numbers. I guess for me it’s important to go not just for myself but to support the people in our community,” she said.

Williams explained that for some graduates this is the first time their sexuality or gender identity is acknowledged in a positive context. “Sometimes you have high school students who are homeless because they were kicked out their house for being gay, … I think it’s important for people to be celebrated for who they are, and for some, this is the first time that happens. I’m happy to be a part of that.”