Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Western Kentucky University (WKU) hosted its first ever Lavender graduation ceremony on May 11 to recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender graduates. Critics are wondering when an explicitly heterosexual ceremony will be held. WKU President Gary Ransdell told the WKU Herald the ceremony is a natural step for the university. “I’m all for any student or academic community that wants to celebrate their success,” Ransdell said.

So how did a prominent Kentucky university find it appropriate to hold a ceremony based solely on the distinction of graduates’ sexual practices? An article in last year’s Advocate explains what has been going on in Hilltopper country:

  • "In WKU’s community, students have also collaborated with local residents to spearhead Bowling Green Fairness, a group dedicated to getting the city of Bowling Green to include LGBT people in its citywide nondiscrimination ordinance. WKU students have also stepped beyond their immediate community and organized the Owensboro Fairness group on top of Bowling Green’s.

The institute was a founding sponsor of the student-organized and student-run Fairness on Fountain Square initiative, which seeks to demonstrate local business support for an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. Fairness on Fountain Square currently has 33 local business sponsors advocating for a nondiscrimination ordinance — the most of any city’s fairness movement in the state.

WKU’s queer and trans student group, Student Identity Outreach, has partnered broadly with other progressive organizations, such as Hilltoppers for Choice and and the Coalition for Gender and Racial Equality, creating networks of brave spaces across campus and fostering these environments in public with events like Condomonium and Rock 4 Choice, both of which had representatives from Student Identity Outreach present to visibly represent and educate visitors on LGBTQ issues.

WKU is also home to Kristen Guin, founder of Queerability — an LGBTQ and disability rights advocacy organization that is run by and for LGBTQ people with disabilities and works to ensure that the voices of LGBTQ people with disabilities are heard in the conversation around LGBTQ and disability issues. Queerability has been a constant advocate for fairer registration practices at WKU "What strikes me most about the WKU queer and ally community is their bravery and willingness to stand up for what they know is right even when it flies in the face of the administration," said Rachel Adams, faculty sponsor of Student Identity Outreach. "No matter how many times they are turned away or turned down, they do not give up — and their tenacity is slowly but surely starting to pay dividends on the Hill. I am proud of the LGBT and ally community on our campus and excited to see what's next for equality, both at WKU and in Bowling Green."

What's next for "equality" will likely be more shocking than a mere graduation ceremony.  But this is clear: "Lavender" graduations don't happen in a vacuum. They are a work in progress. For the homosexual community, such pomp and circumstance donned with public approval represents just a portion of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the LGBT movement.