Everyday, LGBTQ Resource Center director Frankie Flores supports and advocates for queer and transgender communities at the University of New Mexico. National Coming Out Day on Monday, Oct. 11 proves to be no different.
Flores started their undergraduate program at the University of New Mexico in 2008, where a feminism action capstone course drove them to get involved with the then-new LGBTQ Resource Center, which has aimed to support education and advocacy efforts for queer and trans communities at UNM.
“There is no right or wrong way to be out,” Flores said. “If you come out to just you and your partner, that’s okay. I encourage you to be as out as you can and to push those boundaries. I also acknowledge the emotional tax (coming out) carries and that not everybody can do so.”
Though working with the LGBTQ Resource Center wasn’t what Flores had in mind for a career path, Flores said they “really fell in love with the work and with assisting students.”
Flores started with the center as a volunteer and assumed the role of program aide in 2011, eventually taking on the role of director in 2017.
“I didn’t have queer mentorship … There’s not a lot of safe spaces for queer folks to go,” Flores said.
Flores said they seek to create safe spaces on campus for LGBTQ+ youth where the mentorship of trusted older, queer adults are available to support those students.
“(Flores) is a fierce advocate for people who are not always given a seat at the table,” said Alejandro Mendiaz-Rivera, long-time friend and member of LGBTQ Resource Center advisory board.
Mendiaz-Rivera said Flores has their heart set on empowering LGBTQ+ youth of all backgrounds in collegiate spaces.
“Sometimes (Flores) is a one-person show, in the best sense of the expression,” Mendiaz-Rivera said. “They don’t let a small budget or being short-staffed get in the way of doing the things they have to do … to make sure that LGBTQ students are being advocated for and have a safe space on campus.”
Flores said UNM President Garnett Stokes has been a steadfast ally to the resource center, even attending the LGBTQ+ spring graduation ceremony in 2019 and a pride parade with Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Assata Zerai in August 2021.
“(The LGBTQ Resource Center) has had very strong support across this campus,” Flores said. “This administration under President Stokes has been the most inclusive that we’ve had in the past ten years.”
Zerai is the first Black, openly queer vice president to serve in the equity and inclusion division at UNM, according to Flores.
“(Zerai) has really pushed diversity on this campus forward,” Flores said. “It is so profound to have someone at such a high level of leadership reflect who we are.”
Stokes highlighted and honored Transgender Day of Remembrance in a weekly communication email last year, which Flores said meant a great deal to queer students as they saw solidarity and support from her.
“It validates our existence and experiences,” Flores said.
Flores said they grew up embracing LGBTQ+ people, and coming out was a “non-event” met with acceptance from their family.
“My queerness was never something I doubted (or) was ashamed of,” Flores said.
Flores said the LGBTQ Resource Center is part of the queer culture, which is valuable for cultivating connections for queer and trans students.
“Coming out is an ongoing process,” Flores said. “I am in a place of extreme privilege that I get to be out continuously.”
Rebecca Hobart is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rjhobart