Last week my friend and editor-in-chief of The Seattle Lesbian, Sarah Toce, told me she had been invited to go to Eastern Washington University (EWU) and be the keynote speaker at their Lavender Graduation. She said there would be a ceremony with both high school and college LGBTQ kids graduating. At first I was a little hesitant, because over the years I had been told so many stories about eastern Washington being a bit homophobic. After thinking about it, I decided I didn’t care where this graduation was, I was going! I decided that if I thought Spokane was homophobic, so did many other people. That just meant that the gay community in eastern Washington needed all the support they could get to help educate people about the fact that LGBTQ people are human beings, just like everyone else.
We drove for five hours over the mountains and the gorge to Spokane, Washington were we had booked a hotel. We thought we’d feel safer staying in Spokane than in the actual town of Cheney where the college was located. I know, this is the year 2011 and it is very sad we even felt that way.
That night we drove to EWU and were greeted warmly by the LGBTQ students and staff. The second Sarah and I walked through the door I immediately felt the warmth and love from everyone there. I was so happy and amazed to find out that EWU had a Pride Center on their campus! Wow! When I was in college in the 1980’s, people were too afraid to even let anyone know they were gay because of the possible repercussions. These kids at EWU had a safe place to go where there were other kids and adults just like them.
The ceremony was beautiful! Every single one of the kids was sparkling and exploding with pride for their graduation. Many of them did a speech, and every one of them brought tears of joy and admiration to the audience. Sarah, the keynote, did an incredibly inspiring speech.
Afterwards, the kids came up to both Sarah and me with all sorts of questions and stories. When Sarah was whisked away to take photos for the school newspaper, one of the young gentlemen told me, “I bet Sarah has no idea how many hearts she touched tonight and how many lives she just inspired.” I was amazed and heartbroken over some of their stories. One thing was for sure – the kids had great respect and admiration for a lady named Sandy Williams.
Sandy is the Pride Center Coordinator. One of the kids told me that if it weren’t for this amazing and courageous woman, he wouldn’t even be alive today. This young man was so cute and smiling with such great pride. Living in Cheney and Spokane, these kids have a double battle on their hands. Not only are they young and trying to figure out who they are, there are also a lot of negative anti-gay people that they have to deal with on a daily basis.
Here is the Pride Center Mission, which I think says it all in a nutshell:
“The EWU Pride Center is dedicated to providing a safe and accepting environment for EWU’s LGBTQQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and ally) students, faculty and staff. The goals of the center are to promote a campus wide culture of inclusion and respect for diversity through education, outreach and collaboration, and to provide students at EWU with a positive and successful academic experience.”
We also met some great kids and facilitators from the Odyssey Youth Center – a nonprofit organization that helps out LGBTQA in the Spokane area. This is also a place where the kids can drop in and utilize all of the resources available which include meals, activities, and educational programming (suicide prevention, HIV/STDs, substance abuse, crisis intervention, leadership, and life skills).
Above all, I was amazed and so touched by the camaraderie and love that was felt at EWU’s Lavender Graduation 2011. No matter where they live, LGBTQ kids need all the support we can give them so that they have all the tools possible to become all that they can be and more!