By: Brahiam Villanueva and Debbie Jean Brown
I first heard of Lavender Celebration as a senior, less than two months before I would be receiving my diploma in a blue and white robe. I have to say that the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community on campus was lacking for much of my time here—to describe being gay on campus in one word. I learned of our LGBTQ+ resource center as a sophomore, when the office staff helped me apply for the Pride Foundation and GSBA scholarships.
I recall walking into the resource center to ask if there were any scholarships available for gay students like myself. I literally said it like that. Coming from a small town like Moses Lake meant I never got in on the proper lingo to use when discussing an identity I had been aware of since I recall being able to be aware.
The hardest part for me about coming to Gonzaga lies somewhere in trying not to feel jumbled as I juggle my Mexican roots and my gay identity. There was literally no another person on campus with whom I could decompress with about our shared struggles. However, solitude has its perks. I learned that while both of these pieces of me have dictated the way I experienced Gonzaga, I can step outside of myself and feel welcomed by students, staff, and faculty who are so much unlike me in heritage and sexual orientation.
I see it as a moment in my senior year when I can say that walking through campus as a gay man is very different than walking through campus as a straight man. I see it as a time to acknowledge that I was aware of this difference for four years, while perhaps the vast majority of our campus was able to just think of themselves as students.
Lavender Celebration to me will be acknowledging, for myself and for younger students, that you can be openly gay and successful at Gonzaga. Even if I am the only one who understands the background I bring to this campus, Lavender Celebration will mean having succeeded as an openly gay man in a world that did not show me many examples of people like me.
The Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies is designed to meet the needs of working adults. Classes are held in the evenings from 6-10 p.m. and on Saturday mornings. All classes are held in Tilford and many students in the program go through their entire Gonzaga experience without ever setting foot in another building. I have been blessed to be the graduate intern for the Lincoln LGBTQ+ Resource Center in Hemmingson for the past year and a half and to be a part of wider campus life. Student life in Hemmingson is vibrant, exciting, and alive!
One exciting student program at Gonzaga is the Lavender Celebration—a special luncheon honoring graduating LGBTQ+ students. Students are given a rainbow tassel that Gonzaga allows them to wear on their mortarboards at graduation, should they so choose. Although Gonzaga is ahead of many universities in having an LGBTQ+ center and programming for LGBTQ+ students, there are very few campus-wide events specifically recognizing the accomplishments of this larger-than-people-realize student population.
Last year, I attended Lavender Celebration in my job capacity. This year I am very excited to attend as a graduating student! At graduation, I will be proud not only to receive my Ph.D. after seven years of hard work at Gonzaga, but to wear my rainbow tassel as a living testament that LGBTQ+ Zags are Zags too!