Lavender Graduates, Class of 2020

Posted: May 17, 2020 in Blog
Tags: , , ,

Yesterday, I had the honor to address the Youth Outlook graduates, Class of 2020. It was our first Lavender ceremony; typically we attend when the schools have them and invite us. Since we knew many of our drop-in center members were not going to be able to attend a commencement, let alone a Lavender ceremony given the disruption to our routine brought by COVID 19, we wanted to celebrate our 8th graders, high schoolers and associate degree recipient. Cheers to the folks who are taking their next steps starting today!

Hello, Lavender Graduates Class of 2020!

Greetings, parents, family and Youth Outlook friends!

I wish we could be doing this in person. We have these moments over our lifespans that are pivotal, that we remember for a long time, sometimes forever. If we were doing this in person, I’d tell you thank you for inviting me. I wouldn’t be here unless you invited me. Isn’t this the oddest thing that Youth Outlook invited you all to your own graduation? So…since I haven’t exactly been invited this feels more like being included in one of the most important milestones you’ll experience.

When the program leaders and I started talking about convening this ceremony, we were busy dividing who was going to do which job to help get us ready. I would tell you that I offered to keynote nonchalantly, but the truth would be more that this was something I really wanted to do. When so much of what we take for granted is out of reach, it felt so important that we show up for your graduation and celebrate …so it wasn’t really an offer—I asked to do it.

Before we consider where you might go on your next adventures, let’s take a moment to consider where you’re coming from. Y’all have wonderful history. Y’all have beautiful, talented community. You’ve started to meet that community in the drop in centers, but that only soooo the beginning.

Youth Outlook launched just a couple of years before our Associate’s degree recipient was born in 1998. As I got started in my new job here, we were looking forward to a new show called Will and Grace that actually had openly gay characters. Our college students have been around long enough to see that show in its first run and then in its remake over the last couple of years.

An associate degree recipient is part of the graduating class born mostly, if not entirely, in this century.  That’s kind of a fun fact to own. The number one song in the country in the year 2000 was Breathe by Faith Hill. Looking back over what has happened since you arrived, that may not be simply a song title. It is an excellent suggestion for how we’re all going to get through a global health crisis brought to our doorstep.

There are some interesting tidbits to LGBT history and what topics folks of different generations will recall.

Kids of the 80s—a lot of the drop in center staff folks– will recall the beginnings of HIV and the panic that struck the gay men’s community, and the support that poured in from the lesbian community to take care of our brothers. They will remember the emergence of the bisexual and transgender identities in a new and more assertive manner—people who had been key members of the LGBT movement from the beginning who were rightly insistent that their existence stop being written out of our culture. Our reflection on the night of June 28, 1969 had become a movement, a demand for our recognition as a community and a culture, one in which we refused to be defined by the limitations of a public health crisis.

Consider that. …Our demand for recognition as a community and a culture in which we would not be defined by the limitations of a public health crisis. Consider the headlines we’ve been greeted with for the last three months. If our history is any indication,you will not be limited by this.

Kids of the 90s grew up in the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, a decision that was meant to keep military folks safe and closeted, and it was suggested to us that safe and closeted was an improvement over a dishonorable discharge. And then…then it happened. Then we had Ellen.

We know that what we see today is not how things got started. Ellen’s decision to come out publicly in 1997 was unprecedented. Her show was canceled. The actor who played opposite her couldn’t get work for a year after playing her role. Oprah, who played her therapist in that episode, got hundreds of messages telling her to go back to Africa.

When I moved to IL in 1998, this area was soooo different from what I was used to. The western burbs were devoid of rainbow anything. I had never lived anywhere that LGBT people were so invisible. Well into 2002, when some of our high school graduates were born, school representatives often refused to speak to me, or hung up on me, or argued with me about the very existence of LGBT youth. Over and over, I was told that high school students were too young to know if they were LGBT. Or if there WERE LGBT students in a school, the counselors got them help, making it immediately clear that having an LGBT identity equated needing help. Sometimes I countered that comment with my own question—Get them help? How about if they just want to make friends?

There was exactly one GSA operating in DuPage County. There were none in any of the other counties Youth Outlook serves and the thought that middle schools at some point might launch them was out of the question.  Well, until you came along. Students were regularly told that they couldn’t take a same gender date to prom. When a faculty member at another DuPage County high school organized the first ever gay prom, the subsequent public outcry called for her termination.  The demand that LGBT students stay safe and closeted, very much like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, was so loud, it often drowned out the rumblings of support from faculty allies.

That was your lifetime, high school and associate graduates.

Right as you were arriving was when our movement started to gain traction and we were pushing back against those recommendations that we stay safe and closeted and obedient.  In April 2000, estimates say up to a million people gathered for the Millennial March on Washington,rainbow- flag- waving, pride- tee- shirt wearing or no-tee-shirt-wearing, respect- demanding queers. You arrived to the queers in full rebellion and I suspect some of you came into this world already waving your own rainbow flag!

Since you joined us, we have seen the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We have seen the end of the Defense of Marriage Act. In 2000, Vermont become the first state to legalize civil unions between same gender couples and in 2015, we saw the outcome of the Obergefell lawsuit, allowing same sex marriage.

When we do public speaking about LGBT youth, we often speak of their challenges. Today, let’s flip that and talk about your courage. College students arrived here when we were in an uproar over Y2K. Everything was supposed to crash and life as we know it was supposed to stop because of computer coding. It was one of those pivotal moments. And yet here we are.

High school graduates, if my math is correct, you are the first class born into our yet again new world post 9/11 when our country was attacked on our soil. Everything crashed and life as we knew it stopped. For days, our skies were empty, our roads were empty and there was a short stretch where we didn’t even know where our president was, because he’d been squirreled away. In that uncertain time, your moms brought you into the world. You are the first generation of people to arrive after that pivotal moment.

8th graders, you arrived as the state of Illinois banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. You arrived to a rebellion in high gear, and you have introduced to the rebellion causes that needed to be added—your generation is the wave that is redefining gender as a dynamic concept, paving the way for the gaybies and the queerlings that follow to have a much smoother path.

Class of 2020, all 3 levels of you, we commend you for your monumental courage. You are, from the start, warriors and survivors and this blip on our radar…this current public health crisis will not hinder you and it certainly will not be what defines you. I am quite happy to imagine a world in which you lead the decisions that protect us from such situations—a safer, kinder, more compassionate world. For that, I thank you in advance. We need you. We need your courage.

As you head out on your next adventures, remember this. Take it with you today that you have an intricate cultural history as part of the LGBT and allied community. You belong to a movement where you…where we…have always been recognized as an important part of the effort, where we are warriors working for social change, sharing our knowledge and our sense of belonging with the next generation down, and the next, and the next.

To summarize:

Remember your history.

Remember that you are a key part of the movement that helps shape our shared future.

Remember that you are a warrior and a survivor.

Even though you are a warrior, remember to be kind. We all need each other to be kind.

Remember you have a tribe.

Remember to be someone else’s tribe. We need that too.

Remember the world according to Peter– Glitter is an acceptable hair product, art supplement, and drink mixer.

Remember Faith Hill’s suggestion and BREATHE when things feel like a rollercoaster.

Most of all, remember how very highly we think of you and remember that you are loved.

Congratulations, Lavender Classes of 2020, and welcome to the rebellion!

Lav grad

Comments
  1. Nancy Carlson says:

    Beautiful, inspiring. 💗

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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