BCSGA hosts pre-commencement celebration for LGBT students that will graduate in Spring

Paige Atkison, Reporter

The Bakersfield College Student Government Association (BCSGA) is hosting a Lavender Pre-Commencement Celebration for LGBT students graduating this spring.

“Lavender Graduation is a cultural celebration that recognizes LGBTQIA students of all races and ethnicities and acknowledges their achievements and contributions to the university as students who survived the college experience,” said Helen Acosta, the Communication department chair.

The first Lavender Graduation ceremony was started by Dr. Ronni Sanlo, a mother who was not allowed to attend her children’s’ graduation ceremonies due to her being a lesbian, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The celebration will feature Whitney Weddell, a local LGBT advocate, as the keynote speaker.

“When people think of the LGBTQIA community in Bakersfield, they often think of Whitney,” said Acosta. “Whitney has been KHSD teacher of the year twice, she is one of the founders of Bakersfield LGBTQ, she has worked for years with the high schools to decrease bullying and build Gay-Straight Alliances and today she is running for the Kern County Board of Supervisors.”

The BCSGA is expecting between 20 to 30 students to attend the event, according to Nicky Damania, director of the Office of Student Life.

Acosta noted that many of the LGBT students to be celebrated before the ceremony are also community leaders.

Dean Welliver, a graduating student to be celebrated at the event, focused his efforts on ensuring transgendered individuals have quality access to healthcare.

Belinda Lopez, who will also be celebrated, is a member of the Kern County Homeless Collaborative and the founder of the Burrito Project, a local organization that supports the Bakersfield homeless community.

Melanie Cohen, another LGBT student participating in the celebration helped develop the supplemental instruction program in the Communication department and is the top Communication student of 2018, according to Acosta.

“College is still significantly more dangerous for LGBTQIA students than for heterosexual cisgender[non-transgender] students,” said Acosta.

“Additionally, many students in the LGBTQIA community wait to come out until their 18birthdays. As a result of family rejection, many find themselves suddenly homeless or without the levels of family support they had expected,” said Acosta. “This is a huge problem because it is very difficult to get financial aid without family support until the age of 23. While there is a process people can go through with our financial aid office if their families have rejected them, most don’t know about the process. As a result, LGBTQIA students often find themselves in serious financial trouble while they struggle to complete their degrees.”

Acosta has also witnessed LGBT students face adversity in the way they are treated by some faculty at BC.

“I have had some frank and serious conversations with several instructors who refused to call trans students by their names, even after legal name changes because BC never changes email addresses that have the students’ dead names,” said Acosta.

A “dead name” refers to the now discarded birth name of a transgender individual.

“This is quite frustrating because these same instructors often have no problem calling a cisgender student by a name they choose to use but, will often discriminate against trans students because they don’t agree with their existence,” said Acosta.

The Lavender Pre-Commencement Celebration will be held from 1-2 pmin the Fine Arts building on May 11.