Former Brigham Young University instructors Daniel Barney and Roni Jo Draper organized a Lavender Graduation ceremony on April 15, ahead of BYU’s official graduation ceremonies. Lavender Graduation is an event that celebrates and honors LGBTQ+ students as they complete their studies.
The ceremony took place at a residence about a mile from the BYU campus. A colorful inflatable rainbow arch marked the entrance, and chairs were set up on the lawn for the attendees.
Addressing the crowd of around 20 graduates, Draper, wearing earrings that read “BOLD” and “LOVE,” spoke about the significance of the event. She acknowledged the challenges the LGBTQ+ students faced during their time at BYU and praised their resilience. Each graduate’s name and a brief biography were read aloud by Barney, drawing cheers and applause from the audience, particularly when it was announced that one student would be getting “gay married” later in the year.
As a symbol of recognition, Draper presented each student with a purple and white cord to wear with their graduation gown and cap. She also embraced some of the graduates, fostering a sense of support and unity.
While Lavender Graduations are official events at some universities, this event was not sponsored or endorsed by BYU. As an institution owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which opposes same-sex marriage, BYU has strict policies outlined in its Honor Code that prohibit “same-sex romantic behavior.”
Many LGBTQ+ BYU students face challenges due to the fear of being reported to the Honor Code Office. Julia Sasine, a recent sociology graduate and president of the Cougar Pride Center, expressed the sadness of not being able to openly share her life and love with her peers at BYU. Openly identifying as LGBTQ+ also resulted in frequent questions about her experiences at the university and within the church, which Sasine found exhausting as they often included recounting traumatizing encounters.
However, the Lavender Graduation ceremony focused on celebrating the graduates’ achievements and looking towards their future rather than dwelling on past difficulties. Rin Butler, a biology major, created a paper chain countdown to graduation, symbolizing their eagerness to move beyond BYU. Butler mentioned instances where they felt unsafe on campus and described an incident where their roommates incorrectly assumed they were on a date, resulting in a conversation about violating the Honor Code.
For many graduates, the Lavender Graduation held greater significance than the official BYU ceremony. It provided an environment where they felt seen and recognized as complete individuals. Maddison Tenney, founder of the RaYnbow Collective, emphasized the importance of being able to integrate their identities as a queer person and a person of faith. The event allowed LGBTQ+ friends to celebrate one another’s accomplishments and inspired a sense of self-worth and potential for success.
J.J. Seo, a psychology student, felt the need to censor themselves during their time at BYU. However, after graduation, they expressed a desire to fully embrace their identity and challenge the norms enforced by the university. Seo looks forward to speaking up and becoming an advocate for change.
As the Lavender Graduates prepare to cross the stage at BYU’s official graduation, Draper hopes they will proudly wear the purple cords they received and go on to make a positive impact in the world. She encouraged them to let their “queer fire” shine bright and make a difference through their education.
The Lavender Graduation ceremony provided a space for LGBTQ+ students at BYU to celebrate their achievements, acknowledge their unique journeys, and look forward to a future where their identities are embraced and celebrated.