When Elías Gonzalez first arrived on Temple’s campus, he felt like he lived a double life—one as a person of color and the other as a queer person.
“Learning about culture is cool and it’s fun but there’s still a part missing where my gayness or the history of gay people isn’t raised and I can’t really see it,” he said. “It’s harmful and prevents us from fully expressing ourselves.”
It wasn’t until his sophomore year that Gonzalez, a media studies and production major graduating this week, joined Temple’s Queer People of Color and was finally able to have conversations about the intersectionality of his identity.
As the current president of QPOC, Gonzalez continues these conversations on Main Campus. He was honored for his advocacy efforts within the LGBTQIA community, along with 10 other graduating seniors, at the Lavender Graduation in the Underground at the Student Center last Tuesday.
The seniors honored were anonymously nominated by a fellow member of the Temple community who recognized the student’s drive to promote inclusivity on campus, whether through founding organizations or dedicating the rest of their life to that mission.
About 50 people attended the event, which has been hosted for the last three years by the Wellness Resource Center and Temple’s Division of Student Affairs, creating a more close-knit and intimate atmosphere than the official commencement ceremony that will take place on Friday.
“It’s more personal. The people who are awarding you know you and that brings a whole new level of humanity to it,” Alexa Segal, a public health major and one of the seniors being honored, said about Lavender Graduation.
Kim Chestnut, director of the Wellness Resource Center, said the stresses of college and the many “measures of performance” students encounter are enhanced when they are trying to negotiate their identity, making this event’s recognition of the LGBTQIA students important.
“For us and for others, it feels like there is a growing importance and culturally we are just getting better about recognizing the inclusion and really making a campus environment feel welcome and inclusive,” Chestnut added.
“A lot of students that I do interact with do feel like if they don’t speak up for some of the issues that affect them then it’s not something Temple is going to do alone,” said Sheena Sood, the gender and sexuality inclusion director at the Wellness Resource Center.
Lavender Graduation featured performances from Singchronize and Pitch, Please, two LGBTQIA advocacy a cappella groups on Main Campus, as well as a speech by Nina Ball, a 2005 film and media arts and African American studies alumna.
Ball, also known as Lyrispect, has become a nationally recognized advocate for issues like race and gender studies. She spoke at the event and provided the seniors with 12 tips on “how to make your life’s work and how to live while doing it.”
“Drink a glass of water to start every day so you know what truth tastes like,” Ball told the event’s attendees.
“Never stop building community,” she added. “You will need to recharge your batteries when the ignorance and prejudice and the heartlessness of the world becomes too much. Build your tribe and create your own safe space.”
Gonzalez, who gave Ball a standing ovation after she finished speaking, already has plans to take what he learned from QPOC and apply it to the real world.
“I actually think it’s more important to have these organizations be outside of college campuses,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just seen as a college thing. After you’re gone, what do you do? I don’t have a QPOC now that I can go to.”
“I believe in bringing queer people of all different backgrounds together to fight the same thing, not just based on queer identity but based on our differences from what is considered normal,” he added. “I’m going to bridge the gap in the outside world, not just on a college campus.”
Grace Shallow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Grace_Shallow.