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Co-Creating Our Community: From Attending to Planning

The Annual Lavender Celebration: A QPOC Perspective

This post was written by Carlos A. Turcios 15’, 17’ M.A. (he/him/his), Coordinator for Student Diversity and Inclusion. Carlos is also a Senator on the Professional Staff Senate and Treasurer of the Chapter of Black and Latino Alumni. During his spare time, he enjoys playing with his dogs and has currently been playing (a lot of) Animal Crossing New Horizons.

*Trigger Warning: Includes hate-based language, bullying, and experiences of homophobia and racism. 

College isn’t easy. Admittedly, I reminisce about some of my favorite classes but being a student can involve long nights, lots of studying, and an insurmountable amount of internal pressure to succeed. These experiences as a student become exacerbated when you have pressures tied to your identities - for me that was specifically being a 1st-generation American/college student and a queer person of color (QPOC). 

However, I would never trade this experience for another. UMBC holds a special place in my heart because it was the first place that I felt fully seen for who I was as a person. I’ve been recently reminded of how special our campus is to me after reconnecting with so many of my LGBTQ+ friends during our COVID-19 quarantining.  

Those that are close to me  know that from the third grade, I was bullied mercilessly because of my masculinity...or lack thereof. I still remember being sucker punched and called a f*gg*t by the other boys at school simply because I did not have the mannerisms of a “man.” My parents noticed that I lost the drive to go to school. My parents eventually stepped in by contacting the schools but due to their limited English skills, they didn’t get very far. The school’s response instead was to put me into my own corner in the back of the classroom.

As a kid in the late 90s/early 2000s, positive portrayals of LGBTQ+ characters/celebrities were basically non-existent to me. This was before the widespread use of social media that facilitated communication with other LGBTQ+ folks. As I got older, I was not fully aware of my gay identity but I knew that I was different than the other boys. I was scared to talk about this with my parents. I felt ashamed to share what I was feeling because clearly my identity was “wrong” and “bad,” otherwise I wouldn’t have been bullied. By the time I got to high school, the majority of the bullying had stopped. However, I had internalized the experiences I had from the 3rd-8th grade so much so that I withdrew from others and had a very limited number of friends. Others probably viewed me as awkward or introverted, but inside I wasn’t happy about what I was feeling. 

Fortunately, my high school counselor saw that I was struggling and served as a mentor to me as I was going through the first stages of my queer identity development process. I was finally able to share my identity with someone and it felt liberating. After a few months of meeting with her, I finally mustered up the courage to come out to my parents. I wrote a letter and it didn’t go well. My parents didn’t want to accept it because they were scared of the potential danger I could encounter as a gay man. During my time in high school, I developed close friendships with other students who were great allies. They  were the first peers who I came out to in my junior year of high school. As the following year progressed, my parents came not only to accept me but also become my biggest supporters (Admittedly, it was still super awkward having them meet my first boyfriend at age 17). I eventually graduated high school and got accepted into UMBC. 

UMBC was a culture shock for me. Not racially, but from an LGBTQ+ standpoint, It was the first time that I knew what it meant to have community. It was the first place that I was able to fully explore my identities and integrate them into who I have become today. Most importantly, it was the first place that I felt safe. I was able to meet some of my best friends. I did experience some academic challenges at UMBC but they were connected to my first-gen college student, second-gen immigrant identity, and some personal unexpected health and financial challenges in my family. These challenges could have been easier to navigate if I didn’t have the unnecessary feeling of embarrassment to ask for help. This cost me taking an additional year of school. Regardless, I recognize the privilege it has been to have access to a post-secondary education. But I digress, that is for another post. In the end, I was able to finally graduate and attend the second Lavender Celebration. It was really nice to know that I was sharing this celebratory milestone with my peers. 

Throughout my many years at UMBC, I have been able to get two bachelor’s, a masters, a certificate, and been a staff member while still taking courses for my continued educational growth. One of my main roles (previous to Heidy George’s arrival) was planning the Annual Lavender Celebration. I planned the 4th-6th Lavender Celebrations with the assistance of our past student interns/peers and the rest of the Student Diversity and Inclusion staff. This also could have not been done without the student, alumni, staff, and faculty members that have spoken at our annual celebrations and volunteered in the award selection process, supported our marketing and promotion, and speaking at our annual celebrations. Our students have joked in our office about how much I pay attention to detail when it comes to creating the color scheme for the decor, the program, the awards, and other key parts that make the program possible. I confess that I do enjoy seeing all the Lavender for the day. However, I put a lot of energy into this event because I wanted to celebrate our newer graduates. 

Today, my parents, my friends, and my partner Josh have become my main support system and have been my biggest cheerleaders in both my academic and professional careers. 

Although my experiences as a queer kid bring back a lot of the pain and something that should be acknowledged, I don’t want to be pitied. This is an experience that is very personal to me yet one that unfortunately I know I am not alone in. Instead, I, like everyone else, deserve to be celebrated. This celebration goes beyond me, our office, and our campus. It’s about celebrating the fact that LGBTQ+ people persevere in attaining their degrees, despite the sociopolitical barriers placed on us because of our sexual/romantic orientation and/or gender identity/expression. Like I said in the beginning, college isn’t easy, but we should take the time to honor all the work we did to make it through our journey. 

So you may be wondering “what I can do to be a better ally?” or “how can I show my support for a graduating LGBTQ+ student?” Well, now that you know more about my coming out story,  I encourage you to come to our 7th Annual Lavender Celebration. I know things look a little different this year, but we hope that we can create a similar communal feel through a virtual experience. I want to give a special shout out to Heidy George, Program Associate for Student Diversity and Inclusion and Amelia Meman, Assistant Director of the Women’s Center for taking the lead on planning this year’s celebration. It has been an honor to be part of the 2017-2019 Lavender Celebration planning process.

This is just my story and connection to the Lavender Celebrations/Ceremonies/Graduations happening across campuses globally. If you want to know more about its history, I encourage you to visit this link. As for those who are struggling or know someone who is struggling, I encourage you to reach out to our staff (i.e. Campus Life’s Mosaic, Interfaith, and Pride Centers) or seek help either through the UMBC Counseling Center, UMBC’s Women’s Center, or National LGBTQ+ Hotlines such as the Trevor Project, GLBT National Help Center. Don’t be embarrassed because you may be struggling or falling behind. I can attest that there are countless staff and faculty members that care about you not only as a student but as a person. 

Remember that you matter, you are valued, and that you are loved. 

Posted: May 18, 2020, 12:01 PM