Line drawings of lavender
Campus News

Lavender Languages Institute Finds Safe Haven at CIIS

When Florida laws threatened queer scholarship, CIIS provided a new home

April 4, 2024

Found family is a queer tradition that creates joy and connection in the midst of exclusion. It has been sadly all the more necessary in the wake of repressive legislation across the U.S., and recently the Lavender Languages Institute, a queer linguistics program, found itself without support or a home base in Florida. That’s when CIIS stepped up to meet community need. Now, in time for the 2024 Institute to go forward, CIIS’ Department of Human Sexuality is proud to welcome the Lavender Language Institute into this family of scholars and activists.

The Lavender Language Institute is a 10-day training program that grew out of the annual Lavender Language Conference, which for decades has provided a place for scholars to gather and discuss queer linguistics. “The one thing that comes up every year at the conference is that people regret there's no place to go for training,” said William Leap, Professor Emeritus at American University and coordinator of the Lavender Language Conference for more than 30 years. In response to this consistent demand, he founded the Lavender Languages Institute, a training program in queer linguistic scholarship for younger scholars and those newer to the field.

Bringing [the Lavender Languages Institute] into the CIIS community hits on so many of our core principles. What a great opportunity for us to sustain this work, because over time, this means that our students, all of the students at CIIS, can really take part in world-renowned training on linguistics and language.

– Michelle Marzullo, Chair, Department of Human Sexuality

“The Lavender languages Institute is a group of scholars who are passionate about the things you're passionate about and who know things that you don't know and who want to learn from you about what you know,” explained Dr. Nicole Morse, Director of the Institute. “Together we're building a new way of studying these crucial questions. We’re challenging academic hierarchies and creating international learning opportunities that allow people to connect with LGBTQ+ scholars and researchers from so many different backgrounds to study so many different topics at this intersection of language and sexuality studies.”

The program was previously held at Florida Atlantic University. However, the state of Florida has now enacted multiple regressive laws restricting or banning LGBTQIA+ rights, freedom, and health. This has had a cascading effect, inhibiting academic freedoms, and many schools have been uncertain about their ability—or simply unwilling—to defend their vulnerable LGBTQIA+ programs and scholars. “They're widening the net to really clamp down on academic freedom overall,” Prof. Leap said, shaking his head.

The much-loved Lavender Languages program was sustainable and ready to continue expanding, but political fearmongering put the Institute’s future into question. With no clear idea of whether it could run or even continue to exist at all, this state of limbo might have eventually caused it to fold. However, Prof. Leap reached out to share the dismal news with Michelle Marzullo, alumna of the Institute and current Chair of Human Sexuality at CIIS, and she swiftly got to work.

Their conversation took place in January 2024. By February, paperwork had been submitted. “[The Provost, Kathy Littles] didn't miss a beat. She said, ‘Michelle, whatever you need, we'll make it happen.’” By the end of March, the Board was fully behind the plan, and everything was set. In collaboration with the Offices of the President and the Provost, the Department of Human Sexuality quickly set up a place for the Lavender Languages Institute to land.

“Bringing this into the CIIS community hits on so many of our core principles,” Prof. Marzullo reflected. “What a great opportunity for us to sustain this work, because over time, this means that our students, all of the students at CIIS, can really take part in world-renowned training on linguistics and language.”

Prof. Leap agreed, and voiced an even more urgent optimism. “When I think about what we’re doing in this institute, in LGBTQ linguistics, the starting point is that people are dying. Understanding language and the impact of language in daily life is a way of trying to short circuit some of that hate speech, those microaggressions. Whether we're talking about healthcare delivery, about voting rights, about classroom activity—we're talking about keeping young people safe.”

The annual Lavender Languages Institute—now at the Human Sexuality Department!—offers 10 days of online class discussion, research opportunities and informal conversations exploring topics in language and sexuality studies and queer linguistics. Introductions to these topics will be part of the curriculum, as will advanced discussions. Leaders from Lavender Languages and Human Sexuality are eager to build a community of mutual support and open dialogue, and welcome all who want to take part.

Explore this and related topics further with CIIS' Human Sexuality Department.

Related News

Alumni News

CIIS was overjoyed to hold its 56th Commencement on Saturday, May 18, 2024. Festivities began at the Sydney Goldstein Theater in San Francisco with a commencement reception on Mission campus. 

Campus News

"Continuously weight your heart at every moment. Decide whether or not it is in alignment with other bodies, the planet, and your ancestors. Every moment. Because the world will tell you you’re going in the wrong way and you’re not."