Lavender Graduation Ceremony: Graduate Speaker, Chelsea Villalba, Remarks

Lavender Graduation, May 19, 2022
Remarks by Graduate Speaker, Chelsea Villalba, BSW '20, Advanced Standing MSW, '22

Buenos dias! Good morning! Mi nombre es Chelsea Villalba y mis pronombres son ella y elles. My name is Chelsea Villalba, and my pronouns are she/her/ella, and they/them/elles. Before I begin, I want to take a moment to thank every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit and intersex person with us here today, and those who came before us. Thank you for being genuine, thank you for standing up for yourselves, thank you for being here. Your lives add vibrance and nuance to a world that is too often divided into binaries that limit the full spectrum of the human experience. We all know that life is never easy, but when there are politicians and religious groups hell-bent on targeting you over who you love or how you authentically show up, it adds another layer of difficulty to existing, to say the least. I am grateful to and for all of you.

I also want to thank the individuals here who do not identify as LGBTQ2+, but whose support for our community has been unwavering. Without a doubt, the family, friends, and mentors who love without judgment, defend without being asked to, and take the time to educate themselves on queerness are a reason young queer people continue to hold onto hope.

The Human Rights Campaign estimates that 8% of Americans identify as LGBTQ+. This means that at least 20 million adults in the US are part of our beautiful and involuntarily resilient community. A 2021 study guesses that globally, 10% of people identify as LGBTQ+ and 11% do not know or won’t disclose their sexual orientation. Up-to-date, relevant research on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirited, and intersex persons is limited. I know because I searched for it. This is not from a lack of people in our community to learn from, but because we are an underrepresented demographic across many sectors, and our lives and rights are not respected in the same way as those of cis and heterosexual individuals. 

However, one trend I kept seeing is that of Gen Z having the highest rates of queer-identified persons yet. This signals to the shattering of a generations-old stigma that heterosexuality is the only way to live a wholesome and happy life. The fact that more young people than ever before feel comfortable enough to disclose the non-conformity of their gender and orientation means that the work of our queer ancestors has paid off. Now, it is certainly our turn to take up the mantle of demanding the rights and safety of queer youth and adults.

At this moment, there are active plans and legislation across the country restricting healthcare for transgender youth, mandating single-sex facilities, excluding trans kids from sports, removing gender identity as a protected class, stripping birthing parents of bodily autonomy, and more. These regressive policies are being proposed without compassion, evidence, or secularity. I do not tell you this to scare you, I’m sure the news of it has done that enough. I tell you this because the hate and vitriol being spread with these actions are a clear advisory that the fight for our rights will not be over in our lifetimes. In 2022, we cannot rest on our laurels because, like our powerful predecessors, we must continue to demand, create, and hold space for the rising youth of our community, and for those who have yet to learn that we are there for them. 

Storme DeLarverie. Marsha P. Johnson. Sylvia Rivera. Josephine Baker. James Baldwin. Karl Ulrichs. Michael Dillon. Alan Turing. Virginia Woolf. Bayard Rustin. Eleanor Roosevelt. Frida Kahlo. Nancy Cardenas. Simon Nikoli. Ifti Nasim. Freddy Mercury. Jean-Michel Basquiat. These are the names of LGBTQ+ people who made it into history. Yet there are so many others whose names we will never know, because their identities were intentionally erased or masked.

I know you’re tired, because I’m tired. Everywhere we turn, it seems society is in some sort of decline. Earning a degree through an ongoing pandemic, increasing poverty and inflation, social unrest, and ever-present war is no small feat. Revel in your accomplishment, celebrate the completion of this chapter, and sleep for 2 weeks straight if you need to. You deserve it, and more. But I humbly ask that once you’ve had your fill of the positivity that is your right, you remember to thank those who paved the path you’re on. And the best way to honor those brave activists is to continue their work, in whatever capacity you can, whatever that means to you. 

I decided to become a social worker because from a young age, I knew there were things wrong with the world, that had nothing to do with orientation or identity. I firmly believe that the intersection of my identities as a first-generation, low-income, neurodivergent, Latinx queer and gender non-conforming person informs how I interact with others, and has led me to on this journey to support and advocate for social wellness and justice. I am proud of everything I am, as you should all be. No one can ever truly understand what it took for you to be where you are now, but the graduates in this room can definitely relate to the hardships surrounding gender and sexual orientations. Today, I am here with my loving fiancee, my supportive siblings, and my nurturing mentor as my chosen family. It is because of the love I have received from communities like these that I stand here before you. Without it, I would not be here. And because of that love, I know I will always do everything in my power to do the same for anyone who needs it. I know you will do the same. Gracias. Thank you!