Lavender Graduation and Rainbow Tassles for U-Maryland's LGBT Students

By Penny Starr | April 30, 2012 | 6:48 PM EDT

(AP Photo)

( – In a letter on the website for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at the University of Maryland, the program’s director touts the program as an effort to “queer the turtle,” referring to the school’s mascot, the diamondback terrapin.

“We hope you enjoy your virtual tour of LGBT Studies at Maryland,” Associate Professor of English and Director of LGBT Studies Marilee Lindemann says in her letter. “We invite you to see what we mean when we say, Queer the Turtle!”

The banner on the home page of LGBT studies says “Fear The Turtle, Queer the Turtle,” referring to Testudo, the name of the diamondback terrapin made the school’s mascot in 1932.

The site also lists LGBT news and events on campus, including the upcoming May 19 Lavender Graduation, which takes place one day ahead of the official university commencement ceremony on May 20.

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“Lavender Graduation recognizes an important milestone in the lives of our LGBTQ and Allied graduates,” the event announcement states. “Each LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied) graduate will receive a rainbow tassel and a certificate of distinction.”

“This event also provides an opportunity for our community to come together and honor those among us who have worked to make College Park a better place for LGBTQ people,” the event announcement states.

In a video of the 2011 Lavender Graduation posted on YouTube, Luke Jensen, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender Equity Center at the university called it a “celebration.”

“Lavender Graduation is a celebration of the accomplishments of our graduating students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, heterosexual ally and many, many other names, and those who choose to not identify with any label referencing gender or sexuality,” Jensen said in the video.

This year’s Lavender Graduation is the 14th at the university, which Jensen noted in the video takes place at “hundreds of campuses in the United States.” The first Lavender Graduation was held at the University of Michigan in 1995, he said.

For the first time in its history, Virginia Commonwealth University held a Lavender Graduation on April 27. About 40 students participated, according to news reports.

In her letter describing the LGBT studies program at the University of Maryland,  Lindemann states, “We hope you will find the information you need about a program of study that cuts across disciplinary boundaries and asks vital, vexing questions about what it means to be human:  What are the social, psychic, and cultural consequences of the division of human beings into ‘male’ and ‘female,’ ‘straight’ and ‘gay’ (or ‘bi’ or queer)?  What is the history of such a system of classification?  What might the alternatives to that system look like?”

LGBT Studies at the University of Maryland offers a certificate and minor in the program. Some of the courses offered include “Theories of Sexuality and Literature”; “Seminar in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies: Queer Theory”; and “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender Community Organization Internship.”