CHARLOTTE – Twenty-three years ago, Jewish Lesbian Dr. Ronni Sanlo was denied the opportunity to attend her children’s graduation because of her sexual orientation. Through this experience, she came to understand the pain felt by her own LGBTQ+ students at the University of Michigan who had to hide their identities while taking part in public ceremonies like graduations.
Encouraged by the school’s Dean of Students, Sanlo came up with the idea for a “Lavender Graduation,” a ceremony that would honor lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally students and acknowledge both their achievements and contributions to the University.
The first Lavender Graduation ceremony was held at the University of Michigan in 1995 with three students, but the idea caught on, and by 2001, there were over 45 Lavender Graduation ceremonies held at colleges and universities nationwide.
On Wednesday, May 10, Time Out Youth Center joined colleges, universities and other institutions both here in North Caroline and throughout the country in hosting its eighth annual Lavender Graduation.
“Tonight’s ceremony is very special because too many times your identities are ignored or faulted rather than uplifted and celebrated,” said Time Out Youth Community Engagement Manager Haeley Robinson in her welcome. “Our space is designed to ensure you each have your voices heard and that you can show up as your full, authentic selves . . . Whether today is your first day at Time Out Youth or you’ve been involved for ten years, Time Out Youth is here to support you through the tough times and to celebrate your accomplishments too.”
Time Out Youth Center offers support, advocacy, and opportunities for personal development and social interaction to LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24. Its mission is to inspire inclusive communities where all youth are equally empowered to reach their true potential.
Creating safe spaces for self expression through leadership, community support and advocacy is part of Time Out Youth’s mission, and Robinson congratulated this year’s Lavender Graduates on the inspiring steps they have already taken as leaders and advocates at such a young age.
“Watching you all engage in your schools, resist anti-LGBTQ policies, raise awareness to LGBTQ+ issues at schools, and just by living your truth and by being your authentic selves has inspired all of us here at Time Out Youth,” she said. “You’ve deepened your relationships with administration and forged your way to inclusion on campuses. Thank you for what you do for your school communities, your peers, and other young people seeing a place to call home.”
“We are all so grateful for each and every one of you,” said Robinson in closing. “We see your triumphs and your hardships. We recognize your successes. Many of you have faced great struggles to make it to this room today. Your bold tenacity in the face of those struggles is inspiring, and we are so proud of you.”