The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of America’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization; and GLSEN, the leading national organization focused on LGBTQ issues in K-12 education, announced it will hold a virtual graduation ceremony to honor the LGBTQ+ high school and college class of 2020 on Friday, May 8 at 4 p.m. ET. As the country is encouraged to practice social distancing, many institutions are canceling or postponing their graduation ceremonies; this effort will honor the nearly half a million LGBTQ+ students HRC estimates are graduating this spring, who may be impacted by these cancellations and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Those interested can register for the event here.
“Leaning into and creating community spaces is as important as ever during this global public health crisis. LGBTQ+ students who have been asked to leave college campuses or to take classes from home may not have a supportive environment to return to — and some may even be forced to go back into the closet as a means of safety during these trying times. Some students may even face homelessness or housing insecurity as a result of simply living as their authentic selves,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “Through this event, we want to send a message to the LGBTQ+ Class of 2020 that we are proud of you and have your backs. This moment is for every LGBTQ+ graduate yearning for community and love during this difficult time.”
“Generations of LGBTQ+ student advocates have fought to be included in the big events of school life, and every LGBTQ+ senior deserves to be celebrated for having made it through high school, given the barriers in their way,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. “Even in the midst of this crisis, as schools are closed and communities scattered, we see LGBTQ+ students reaching out to connect, advocate, and support each other at a frightening and uncertain time. We cannot wait to applaud their accomplishments, cheer their resilience, and express our love and admiration for each and every member of the LGBTQ+ class of 2020.”
The event will include many traditional elements of a graduation ceremony, including an official welcome from the HRC President Alphonso David and GLSEN Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard, a commencement address, valedictorians for exceptional, dynamic LGBTQ+ students and music. It will also highlight the HRC Foundation’s Historically Black College and Universities (HBCU) Program, the only national project that partners with HBCUs on establishing an LGBTQ+ inclusive campus climate and leadership convening. Following the event, HRC Youth Ambassador Nhandi, formally known as DJ Young 1, will perform to honor the graduates.
For decades, graduates around the country have been celebrating both their academic achievements and their cultural heritages at specialized commencement events. LGBTQ+ advocates began their celebrations as “lavender graduation” ceremonies that recognize LGBTQ+ students of all backgrounds and acknowledge their achievements and contributions as students who have completed the college or high school experience. You can learn more about the history of Lavender Graduations here.