On Friday, April 21, 2017, the Dickinson community came together to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating LGBTQ-identified seniors at the 5th Annual Lavender Reception. Ceremonies like this happen across the country and, over the past few years, the Lavender Reception has become a staple in the experience of seniors as they prepare for graduation. The reception began with opening words by Erica Gordon which provided some historical context for the event and shared LGBTQ-related events from earlier in the year. We then heard a reflection by Joyce Bylander on the strides that have been made in the past four years for the community and the impact our graduating seniors have had on Dickinson. Following these remarks, Becky Hammel introduced the keynote speaker, Gabe Martinez, Class of ’08, and described the personal relationship she had developed with him as his mentor.
I met Gabe earlier in the week when he came to chat with my Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies seminar. I would use two words to describe him: gravitas and radiance. During his keynote address, Gabe commanded the attention of the room. It’s hard to imagine now since the Posse Program is such a fixture of the campus but Gabe was a part of the fourth New York Posse. He is the Director of Clinical Services at the GLBT Center in Orlando. His keynote touched on many different topics, from the aftermath of the Orlando Pulse shooting, as his ex-partner was shot four times during the massacre this past summer (he survived), to his experiences working for the GLBT Center, to his personal investment in the work he does as he is HIV positive. For me, and I can imagine for the rest of the LGBTQ identified people in the audience, it was really impactful to see someone with HIV thriving and actively taking a role in the work necessary in the prevention of this disease. HIV still influences queer and trans communities and, keeping the historical context in mind, it is super important for queer and trans people to see people with the virus living life at the fullest. Although the content of his speech was relatively heavy, he kept the audience engaged and enthused with his energy and effervescence. Some of the key components of his speech addressed self-confidence and not letting anyone push your train off the track, as Gabe likes to say. Gabe also commended the work the office and its staff have done over the past few years, saying he never could have imagined this kind of dedication to the LGBTQ community during his time at Dickinson.
Following the keynote address, Erica shared additional reflection and commentary on the events we’ve held over this past year. She then segued into the presentation of awards. The Ally Award is given two cisgender heterosexual individuals, FAS and student, who have committed to improving the campus climate for queer and trans Dickinson community members. It was given to Angie Harris of Residence Life and Housing and Sam Moller, Class of ’17. The next award was the OUTstanding Service Award, given to queer or trans individuals from both the FAS and the student body who have shown remarkable dedication to the LGBTQ community at Dickinson. The award was given to Professor Katie Schweighofer in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies — and to me, Liam Fuller, Class of ’17.
Receiving the award was an honor and I was in tears just listening to what people had written to justify my earning of this award. The fact that people took time out of their busy day just to write about why I deserve the award means a lot to me. I’ve seen this place change over the past four years and, while I can’t say that we’re perfect, it’s been an honor to be a part of these changes. My presence on campus has made it apparent to faculty and staff alike that this school is not accommodating enough of queer and trans students. Due to my commitment to forming relationships with people of all different backgrounds, people were compelled to enact change in order to adjust to my needs, and the needs of other students. While there is still progress to be made, the school’s commitment to progress and adapting to meet the needs of the students is encouraging. It seems like each incoming class brings in more and more queer and trans students. To see them on campus, involved, looking out for each other, and having an impact on others is all I could ask for in a legacy. It has been my pleasure and passion to make this campus safer and more affirming and my only wish is that the kids on this campus I have mentored will continue on this foundation I have already laid down.
After the awards was the Significant Person Ceremony, in which a graduating senior recognizes someone who has had a special impact on their life over the past four years. Seniors reflected on heart-felt moments they’ve shared with their friends, partners, and advisors. It was a very emotional moment in the program and everyone in the audience was touched. The ceremony closed with Sarah Zimmer, a graduating senior, and Jonathan Long, her significant person, singing “For Good” from the musical Wicked and Erica ending with some final words.
Personally, I felt a lot of closure participating in this ceremony and very much enjoyed celebrating the achievements of my fellow queer and trans seniors. We have seen this institution and the world around us change a lot over the past four years and it is very affirming to know that, as queer and trans people, our accomplishments are valid and integral to this college.
Liam Fuller ’17, Office of LGBTQ Services intern