Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

This is Intersectionality

Reflections of an aging queer rights advocate on Peralta’s Lavender Graduation ceremony

On May 5, 2023, the Peralta Community College District (PCCD) held the first-ever district-wide Lavender Graduation ceremony for LGBTQIA+ graduates from the district’s four community colleges. I am a first-year journalism student at Laney, and covered the event for The Citizen. From my own perspective as a gay man who graduated from college over 30 years ago, I offer this opinion on the significance of the District’s inaugural support for Lavender Graduation, as a reflection on this moment in the movement for LGBTQIA+ rights and dignity today. 

In the hour-long ceremony, Peralta’s Lavender Graduates were called to the stage by name by Laney Student Services Coordinator Angela Torres-Moreno, who fitted each graduate with a lavender-colored stole, a rainbow-flag lapel pin, and lavender mortar-board tassel.

An image of lavender-colored tassels in the foreground and rainbow pins in the background.
Photo by Timothy Lane

The presidents from the four PCCD colleges presented each of their respective graduates with their certificates and posed for a photo taken by yours truly. Special guests in the audience recognized from the podium included PCCD Trustee Louis Quindlen.

The program featured a televised message from Interim Chancellor Janett Jackson, and in-person speeches by Laney College President Rudy Besikof, and Merritt College President David Johnson. 

The ceremony also featured speakers from the PCCD community who each shared from their own experience as LGBTQIA+ persons becoming confident in their public identities. Emcee and Laney Student Services Specialist Danielle Burroughs opened the ceremony with a quote from James Baldwin: “Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” 

Torres-Moreno introduced the ceremony’s theme, “Rise Up, Stronger Together” in her welcome. 

“We are strong together in numbers when we use our voices as a collective,” she said. 

Laney Gender and Sexuality Alliance President Cyrus Paris spoke on their experience of being bullied as a high-school student for being transgender, coming to California from the Midwest to seek gender-affirming healthcare, and their path from high-school drop-out to earning an Associate’s Degree in their 30s. 

“I’d nearly given up on the thought of finishing school by the time I enrolled,” Paris explained.

He also summarized the findings of his thesis research on the harmful effects of anti-trans legislation on LGBTQIA+ students, speaking eloquently about finding resilience in the face of adversity through kinship-building within the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Keynote speaker and Laney College Professor Christian Gonzalez Reyes offered gratitude to the organizers for “this very important and needed space, since it means that one more queer, trans, and/or gay kin will have another degree, especially for those of us who are of color.” 

And it was indeed a very diverse group of students, both in terms of racial identity and gender expression, who walked onto the stage that day, cheered on by the enthusiastic crowd. Each of the four college presidents showed genuine affection and respect for their LGBTQIA+ graduates and their achievements. 

As an aging gay man, queer rights advocate, aspiring journalist, and the ceremony’s walk-on photographer, it was a very inspiring and affirming celebration of diversity and intersectional solidarity.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the audience of allies came to the stage with the graduates, laughing and waving the rainbow flags handed out by the ushers at the beginning of the ceremony. 

This safe space for public support may seem to be nothing out of the ordinary for our Bay Area-based community college district, but it is worth noting that PCCD’s Lavender Graduation occurred during a time of significant headwinds with respect to the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. In much of the United States, and around the globe, our rights are under relentless assault.

Only the week before, Democratic Montana State Representative Zooey Zephyr, a transgender woman, was banned from the Montana House floor by the chamber’s Republican-majority, after fighting against a bill that would ban gender-affirming healthcare for Montana children. 

And just yesterday, Uganda enacted a harsh anti-LGBTQIA+ law, calling for the death penalty for repeated offenses of “aggravated homosexuality.”

Having the space to celebrate PCCD’s LGBTQIA+ students in this context feels like a privilege, even though it shouldn’t be – it’s a right. It’s an act of defiance in solidarity with our LGBTQIA+ comrades and allies around the world who struggle to claim a space of their own, a space to be themselves, and a space to advocate for their rights in environments that would prefer that they simply shut the ‘actual-eff-up’ and go away quietly.

Seeing and hearing our LGBTQIA+ students claim their space and celebrate their achievements, with the full and unambiguous support of our allies in the PCCD’s faculty, administration, and governing board, was a welcome respite from the toxic news of LGBTQIA+ persons, expression, and art being demeaned, censured, and banned elsewhere. (And also a welcome change of temperature from the fractious debates within the PCCD community about how to run a functional, accountable educational institution.)

It seemed that everybody in the PCCD was aligned in demonstrating that LGBTQIA+ students are a vital constituency in the district, are free to be themselves, and are worth celebrating as full members of the PCCD community.

About the Contributor
Timothy Lane, Opinion Editor
Known to friends as Tim or “TL”, Timothy Lane was raised in western Massachusetts. His hobbies and passions as a young boy included reading the Encyclopedia Americana and National Geographic at random, studying maps and atlases, and swimming the breaststroke for the Westfield, Mass. YMCA youth swim team. Tim has spent has spent much of the last 30 years as a teacher and scholar shuttling between the US and South Africa: first as a volunteer teacher in a rural high school in the northern Limpopo region of South Africa; then doing oral historical research in those rural communities as well as South African national archives in Pretoria; and since 2003 working with international public health scholars and community organizations throughout the US and South Africa to end the HIV epidemic. He has lived in the Bay Area since 1993, and has called Oakland home since 2015.
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