Doug Bunch, a gay Board of Visitors member and a College of William and Mary alumnus, told a crowd that a former president of the college threatened to sue the William and Mary Lesbian and Gay Alumni Association for using “William and Mary” in its name. Until recently, same-sex unions were banned in the Wren Chapel. He also acknowledges that decades ago, students who came out were pressured to withdraw from the college.
But on Friday, William and Mary hosted its first Lavender Graduation, honoring 27 LGBTQ+ students.
Lavender Graduations are a pre-commencement ceremony started in 1995 at the University of Michigan. These events provide a space for LGBTQ+ students to be recognized for their accomplishments. Camilla Hill, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, said colleges around the country hold Lavender Graduations every year. VCU has had one for the past six years.
Jeff Trammell, the first openly gay Board of Visitors member and a College of William and Mary alumnus, said this is a good first step for the college.
“Occasionally, I speak on diversity and its importance in higher education,” Trammell said. “Diversity is reality … so focusing on diversity is nothing more, nothing less than trying to bring into alignment what we do with the world as it actually exists.”
One of the two student speakers, John Hollander, called his fellow graduates his “queer family.”
“Queer people often hang together in college,” Hollander said. “That is because many of us know how lonely it was growing up in the closet. Being afraid to be ourselves.”
The second student speaker, Jordan Gillard, used her speech to talk about love. She read a letter she had wanted to send to her mother and any Christian family member who couldn’t accept their loved one or partner.
“I don’t believe we are the ones acting out of God’s way, you are,” Gillard said. “God is love. We are acting through love. You are the one who is choosing not to love my love as you should because you are following secondary laws, likely written by men.”
She went on to say that rejecting LGBTQ+ people does nothing but spread hate, not love.
While the ceremony touched on serious subjects facing the LGBTQ+ community, it was also a day of celebration. Graduates wore a rainbow stole bestowed on them by one of their friends or family members. Graduates beamed with pride as loved ones embraced them or cheered from the crowd.
At the end of the day, it was a celebration of individuality and self-acceptance, as well as the completion of college. Students were encouraged to embrace themselves and help others.
“Lastly, be you,” Gillard said. “Represent the class of 2018 so proudly that you all shall be the galactic guardians of queerness.”
Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.