Lavendar Celebration honors LGBT students, allies

Chartonay Sumpter, Todd Sheets, Tori Tomalia and Katie’B Jarvis of Safe Schools.

In light of the recent Supreme Court cases and the dialogue regarding those now-infamous pink equal signs all over Facebook, Eastern Michigan University’s 2013 Lavender Spring Celebration took place at an interesting time in LGBT history.

The goal of the Lavender Spring Celebration, hosted by the EMU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, is to honor exceptional LGBT students and their straight allies. The occasion is not unique to EMU—a number of universities around the nation have their own similar event.

The celebration was thrown on the morning of April 8 in Student Center Ballroom B, which was dressed up with cloth napkins in light and dark violet and vases of mauve flowers. Many attendees channeled the spirit of the event by donning ties and suspenders in shades of purple, including lavendar, of course.

The program coordinator for the LGBT Resource Center, Mary Larkin, acted as the celebration’s emcee, introducing the honorees and the speaker, 22nd Circuit Court Judge Carol Kuhnke, who is openly lesbian. Larkin’s performance went over well with several attendees, including Kuhnke who praised her skills as a host.

“She has a great energy,” Kuhnke said.

Larkin had kind words for Kuhnke, who was chosen as the event’s speaker after winning the election last November.

“Watching that happen last semester I think was really great for young LGBT folks to recognize that someone was out, ran for a state seat and got it,” Larkin said. “We thought she’d be a great pairing for Eastern.”

Kuhnke, who is from Milan, Mich., spoke about her former high school, which now has a Gay-Straight Alliance—something she would have never imagined while growing up there—and how quickly the collective mind of society is changing on the topic of LBGT rights.

She stressed that while winning the right to marry whomever they choose would be a huge step toward equality, LBGT Americans and their allies cannot forget about the youth who identify as gay, bisexual or transgender growing up in the ever-hostile environment known as high school.

“I think we’re doing much better in general and especially with adults, but I have great fears for the children who, as I said, are far more visible now as being gay and subject to harassment and danger,” Kuhnke said. “The biggest thing is going to be broader acceptance of the LGBT community in general so that being gay isn’t a reason to be teased.”

Soon-to-be Student Body President Desmond Miller and EMU President Susan Martin were also among those in attendance.

“The Lavender Awards are always a great event,” Martin said. “And you look at the kind of work that they do, it’s always nice to see that in the spring and to share some awards for people that have really put in a lot of time to make this a welcoming community.”

Awards handed out included the Stonewall Awards, given to Jessica Lohmann and Michael Evitts. Graduating seniors Jennifer Rokakis and Lia Adamopoulos were honored in the program in addition to a number of role models and mentors in the community. Also handed out were the 2013 Trailblazer Awards, given to Rokakis for her extensive efforts to provide peer mentorship and gender-neutral options on campus and members of the Safe Schools Project, who performed at several schools throughout the year to help teachers and staff understand ways to make their environments safer for LGBT youth.

“We’re seeing a lot of really big things happening right now across the country and I can only see it getting bigger and more accepting of LGBT people and LGBT rights,” Rokakis, a women and gender studies major, said.

The celebration not only served as an outlet to honor exceptional students—it gave a glimpse back on the school year through the lens of LBGT rights and the efforts of EMU students to achieve them.

“I think just celebrating all the work that is done in the course of a year is what is really great,” Larkin said.

“I think it’s great because we don’t always have this kind of recognition,” Rokakis said. “So to have this space to just really be around each other and to be in this safe space and recognize the awesome work that people are doing, it’s a lot of validation. Especially for the years of struggle many people have gone through.”

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