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Ceremony will honor GLBTA success

Efforts to create health benefits and teach about gender will be recognized.

Students, staff and faculty will be awarded Monday for their efforts to make the University of Minnesota friendlier to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally students.

Ross Neely, the program’s assistant director, along with other students and faculty members, have been planning the 16th Annual Lavender Celebration and Awards Ceremony, which will be held at 5 p.m. April 30 in Coffman Union’s Whole Music Club.

The celebration will recognize and honor the accomplishments of GLBTA students, staff and faculty and community members at the University. Both University graduates and scholarship recipients, in addition to community achievements made throughout the past year, will be recognized at the event. This year’s recognized graduates will also receive a letter from U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

There are four different categories of awards and scholarships, one of which, the Schochet GLBT Studies Awards for Excellence in Creativity and Scholarship, has four categories under it, making a total of seven scholarships.

Maria Kamenska, who also helped plan last year’s Lavender Celebration, said the Schochet prize is awarded for undergraduate and graduate papers and academic achievements. Kamenska, a junior studying psychology and sociology of law, said the applicant pool is large, and a panel of professors will evaluate applicants and select winners.

Neely said the Lavender Celebration is about more than recognizing individual accomplishments.

“We are acknowledging in this year-in-review kind of way a few of the really big accomplishments we’ve made together,” Neely said.

Kamenska and Ian Schroeder, a junior in the College of Education and Human Development, will be recognized for their community efforts involving transgender-inclusive health benefits at Monday’s ceremony.

“Trans-inclusive health benefits basically means that folks that want to go to therapy, get hormones, get surgeries, now have that covered if they use the undergraduate student plan,” Schroeder said.

Students have attempted to include these benefits in the University’s health coverage plan for six years.

“So if someone wanted to start hormones, they would’ve had to pay for that out-of-pocket, which is a huge barrier,” Schroeder said. “It’s really exciting that we have it now.”

The Lavender Celebration will also recognize GLBTA education and training programs which aim to make academic departments and staff “GLBTA friendly,” Neely said.

Biology teaching associate professor Sehoya Cotner is a leadership award recipient for her efforts to do just that.

“[Cotner] has invited us into her classes for the past several years to talk about how gender and sexuality are largely socially constructed, and not just about chromosomes or genes,” Neely said.

In addition to her inclusive classroom environment, Cotner has also been involved with the GLBTA Programs Office outside of her biology lecture hall. At a fall GLBTA advisory group meeting, Cotner gave a presentation with another faculty member titled, “A Biologist and a Philosopher Walk Into a Gay Bar…: Team Teaching Around Sex, Biology & Gender…”

Neely said he thinks people from all corners of the University often face obstacles concerning their sexual orientation, disabilities, race and other factors.

“People work hard all year to create change … positive justice at the University and beyond,” he said. “We’re taking a moment at the end of the year to celebrate — we come together as a community and hold and support each other as the semester ends.”

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