Students who have had to pick between a general graduation ceremony and a ceremony for their department now have a third option: Rainbow Graduation.

It’s a new ceremony for LGBTQ students and their friends (and allies) organized by the LGBTQ Resource Center.

Alma Rosa Silva-Bañuelos, the center’s program coordinator, said the ceremony is meant to honor LGBTQ students and allies for the additional struggles they may have faced at the University because of their sexual orientation. She said the Rainbow Graduation recognizes students not only for academic achievement, but for sticking with college despite potentially challenging circumstances.

“I think LGBTQ students were not acknowledged nor were allies (in the general graduation ceremonies),” she said. “So, now that the Resource Center exists, we are acknowledging these students, and we are also acknowledging the additional struggle that they might have had during their college career as out students.”
Frankie Flores, a volunteer staffer at the Resource Center, said he and the Resource Center staff helped to organize the ceremony.
“We’re all working on it together,” he said. “I’ve been looking at other college campuses’ Lavender Graduations or Rainbow Graduations and seeing what they’re doing and kind of following their models.”

UNM’s Resource Center chose the name Rainbow Graduation, but a lot of schools use “lavender graduation,” Flores said. He said the use of lavender to represent the LGBTQ community dates back to Nazi-era Germany.

“The color lavender is significant for the LGBTQ community because it’s a combination of the pink and black triangles that were used during the Holocaust,” he said. “So that’s why they use ‘lavender graduation’ so much. It’s a color for pride and stuff.”
Flores said he singled out a couple of schools to model UNM’s Rainbow Graduation ceremony after, and it will stick fairly close to the model of those other schools.

“Ours, I think, isn’t going to be too different,” Flores said. “There’s kind of this overwhelming sense of just being who you are. That’s one of the cool things we like about these ceremonies is it’s not cap-and-gown required. You can dress however you want. One of the things we’re not doing is we’re not charging people, and a lot of schools do charge for their graduation ceremony. We thought that was kind of ridiculous. One school, it was only $10, but that’s 10 bucks that most people don’t have.”
Silva-Bañuelos said the center staff has been planning the ceremony since the center was founded at the beginning of last semester.

“We’ve had the date saved for a while,” she said.
The graduation is open to all who want to walk, but participants must register by May 6 if they want their name to appear in the program, Silva-Bañuelos said. She said anyone who wants to speak at the ceremony will be welcome after the graduates walk.
“We’re encouraging friends and family to come support the graduates, and we will have an opportunity for friends and family, at the end of the ceremony, to come make comments on behalf of the graduates,” she said.

The ceremony will be held in Hodgin Hall’s East Plaza, followed by a reception in the center. Silva-Bañuelos said the center staff chose to hold the ceremony outside so that community members will see it as they walk by. They will hand out special cords so that graduates can identify themselves as having participated in the Rainbow Graduation when they walk at the general graduation.

Flores said the ceremony is important to build support for the LGBTQ community.

“I think that people kind of undermine that, and people don’t realize how difficult it can be for some people,” he said. “So we’re just kind of acknowledging that accomplishment. And by doing stuff like this it encourages people to come out and know that there are allies and supporters out there.”

Guest speakers from the LGBTQ community will talk and members of UNM faculty and administration will put hoods on graduates and give them their cords, and a number of surprise events are planned, Flores said.

“I think we might have a couple of cool things in store that aren’t confirmed yet, so we can’t talk about them. But there’s going to be some cool stuff,” he said.

Silva-Bañuelos revealed one surprise people can expect when they come to the Rainbow Graduation.

“We are asking for some of the drag queens in our community to be ushers and to really represent that constituency in the graduation,” she said.