The LGBTQ Resource Center and the Tagliabue Initiative for LGBTQ Life hosted the eighth annual Lavender Graduation, which seeks to celebrate the contributions and stories of Georgetown’s graduating LGBTQ community and its allies, in the Healey Family Student Center on Wednesday.
The ceremony featured speeches from University President John J. DeGioia; keynote presenter Dinaw Mengestu (COL ’00), a novelist and writer; and student speaker Bassam Sidiki (COL ’16), followed by a reception in the HFSC Social Room for faculty, students and alumni.
The center distributed eight different awards to faculty and students, honoring 112 graduating undergraduate and graduate students for their commitment to the LGBTQ community at Georgetown. Any LGBTQ or allied student can register to participate in the ceremony.
In his speech, DeGioia said the graduating LGBTQ community has made a significant impact at Georgetown.
“Today we come together in appreciation and recognition of all that you’ve accomplished as students here at Georgetown, the contributions you’ve made, the leadership you’ve demonstrated and the service you’ve performed,” DeGioia said.
Mengestu said he saw Georgetown as a safe space where he could escape the community in which he grew up.
“I’m fairly certain I’m not the only person in this room who came to Georgetown in flight, who arrived here grateful in part for all the miles between this campus and the community I come from,” Mengestu said.
Sidiki, a Pakistani Muslim and LGBTQ advocate, emphasized the importance of including all narratives when recounting LGBTQ history. Sidiki said Lavender Graduation is a time for celebration as well as serious discussion on how the LGBTQ community can grow more inclusive of minorities.
“One point I hope people take away from my speech is the exclusion of people of color from queer narratives, especially South Asian and Middle Eastern Muslims,” Sidiki said. “People have this preconceived notion that, from what ISIS does, Islam and being gay are incompatible. I don’t feel this way.”
Sidiki said it is also necessary to be aware of the issues facing the transgender community.
“Trans people of color are actually being killed and facing violence. They can’t use the bathroom,” Sidiki said. “Those are issues that should be much more visible and salient than same-sex marriage, which is a luxury for people who have that support system.”
Sidiki praised Lavender Graduation as a unique platform for conversations about LGBTQ rights.
“As opposed to other celebrations, the speeches are geared toward what we need to do further to make a more accepting and inclusive community,” Sidiki said. “We celebrate ourselves but also talk about these issues that are hard to talk about.”
Eric Nevalsky (SFS ’16), who has worked for the LGBTQ Resource Center since his freshman year, received the Commitment to the LGBTQ Campus Community Award. According to Nevalsky, the Lavender Graduation honors students who may not have much family support on their official graduation day from the university.
“For a lot of students who are LGBTQ, we can’t have the out-and-proud moment at graduation,” Nevalsky said. “For students whose families aren’t completely accepting, this is really the space when we can come together with our friends, professors and mentors who have become our family on campus and be proud of the work we’ve done at college.”
Director of Georgetown’s theater and performance studies program Maya Roth, who received the Staff and Faculty Commitment to the LGBTQ Community Award, said supporting the LGBTQ community exemplifies Georgetown’s goals.
“There is no award that would be more meaningful to me at Georgetown,” Roth said. “To help Georgetown to manifest what is truly the best about the university is what it’s all about — not only honoring the whole person, but also pluralism and honesty, being of and in the world. This event and community mean a huge amount to me.”
Assistant Director of the LGBTQ Resource Center Julian Haas said Lavender Graduation embodies the university’s Jesuit ideals.
“Lavender Graduation is the one time of the year when, without a doubt, you get to see how much love and compassion there is on this campus for all of its students, especially those that identify as LGBT,” Haas said. “LGBTQ students and their allies are also a big part of what makes Georgetown great.”
Nevalsky said he was thankful for the event’s administrative support, which provided optimism and validation for LGBTQ students.
“For an LGBTQ student to see these high-level officials in the university saying, ‘Thank you for being here. Thank you for the work you’ve done,’ it’s really validating,” Nevalsky said.
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