WKU hosts first LGBT recognition ceremony

Andrew Henderson

For the first time ever, WKU will host a Lavender graduation ceremony to recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender graduates, along with their families and allies. 

The Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion are heading the ceremony. The first Lavender Ceremony began in 1995 at the University of Michigan, said Andrea Garr-Barnes, director of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. 

“A lavender graduation is an institutional response to, ‘We know you’re here. We welcome you here. We understand how society is when it comes to differences, and we’re proud you’re part of our community,’” she said. 

Garr-Barnes said she had interest in bringing this ceremony to WKU when she interviewed for her position in 2012. Over time, a group of faculty, staff and students emerged as a planning committee for the ceremony. 

She said the committee did grassroots organizing in order to get the word out about the ceremony. They also sent out an email inviting the entire campus to persuade them to take part in some way.

“To do one of two things, or preferably both, to attend the ceremony on May 11 and support the students and in addition to that to share that information,” Garr-Barnes said. 

She said the atmosphere on WKU’s campus regarding LGBT inclusion is moving much like the rest of the country from tolerance to acceptance. She believes this is evidenced by the ceremony receiving no pushback from the university. She presented the idea before President Gary Ransdell and the administrative council and received full support. 

Ransdell said having the Lavender Ceremony is a natural step for the university. He said the university already hosts other ceremonies such as ones for black students and students in ROTC. He believes the ceremony will also bring recognition to students in the LBGT community. 

“I’m all for any student or academic community that wants to celebrate their success,” Ransdell said.

Garr-Barnes said she sees WKU laying blocks down in our university’s foundation, moving the campus from tolerance of different groups of people towards respect. She said college can be challenging when you identify with the majority group and those challenges are magnified when you’re in the minority. She hopes the ceremony will be a celebration of LBGT students who have obtained their degrees and achieved their goals.

“The goal of this celebration is for the campus community to come together, to celebrate these students and say, ‘Job well done— we appreciate you,’” Garr-Barnes said.

The Lavender Graduation Ceremony will be May 11 at the Augenstein Alumni Center. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the ceremony beings at 7:00 p.m.