'We Survived and Thrived': LGBTQ Students Reflect During Lavender Graduation - NBC News

Suzanne Ashworth, professor of Women Gender and Sexual Studies at Otterbein University. Courtesy of Otterbein University

Many of these students don't have the family support and safety nets others do, so Otterbein sponsors an organization called FreeZone.

Lily Mann, a 20-year-old junior from Hamilton, Ohio, is on the executive committee of the Lavender Graduation and heads up the FreeZone.

"It's hard enough for those dealing with parents disowning you and not being comfortable in class when a professor calls you the wrong name or when people don't respond to your pronouns," she told NBC News.

The club meets weekly for social gatherings, educational programs and guest speakers. "When someone says, 'Hey, I just came out to my parents and I need to talk about it,' we love and affirm each other."

For first-year students, the club is "kind of like LGBTQ 101," according to Mann. "We talk about what this community actually is, rather than what you think it is. How do you conduct yourself around LGBTQ students and talk about identity."

Mann, a junior and English studies major, hopes to go to law school and fight for members of the LGBTQ community on issues like guardianship and parental rights.

Ashworth said Mann, Kilmer and other students who are part of the LGBTQ community at Otterbein inspire her every day.

"They mean the world to me," she said. "They move me and teach me. It's kind of epic what they accomplish."