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Ira Bauer-Spector (left) and husband, Nathan, at 2011 Lavender Graduation ceremony. Ira Bauer-Spector (left) and husband, Nathan, at 2011 Lavender Graduation ceremony.

A Milestone for SDSU's Lavender Graduation

President de la Torre is scheduled to welcome attendees at the 10th annual celebration for the LGBTQ+ community, started by faculty members and a student.
By Leslie L.J. Reilly

“I remember it being full of colors, rainbow decorations, celebration, love, affirmation, value, and inclusion.”

As San Diego State University prepares for its 10th annual Lavender Graduation on May 8, celebrating the achievements of undergraduate and graduate students who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, there’s a natural impulse to look back to the time when it began.
In 2010, same-sex couples were not permitted to marry in most states, and they were ineligible for federal marriage benefits. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people could serve in the U.S. military only if they kept their sexual orientation to themselves.

At SDSU, however, the atmosphere was decidedly welcoming. An LGBT studies minor was just underway, and the university had been named one of the nation’s top LGBT-friendly campuses. There was a gay fraternity and a lesbian sorority.

Women’s studies professors Esther Rothblum and Susan Cayleff and a student leader, Ben Cartwright, decided to organize SDSU’s first Lavender Graduation, a ceremony to take place at Scripps Cottage ahead of commencement, similar to other long-established cultural and ethnic graduation events at the university.

“I remember it being full of colors, rainbow decorations, celebration, love, affirmation, value, and inclusion,” said America Islas, who was among the 16 graduates in attendance.

This year, more than 80 students and additional guests are expected to participate in Lavender Graduation, scheduled for 2-4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8, at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center.

President Adela de la Torre is scheduled to attend and make opening remarks. Cayleff, co-chair of SafeZones@SDSU, and Cartwright, now director of community outreach at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, are among the speakers.

Rainbow cords

Graduates receive a certificate and rainbow cords to wear with their academic regalia during the SDSU Commencement. In addition, awards are presented to faculty, staff, students and others for their contributions to the community.

Rothblum said she remains moved by the emotional range of experiences represented by the graduates, from those kicked out of their homes as teenagers for coming out as gay, to married students attending with their spouses. “I think that’s powerful for everyone to see,” she said.

Ira Bauer-Spector (’10), who graduated with an MFA in musical theater, remembers the first ceremony made him “feel completely seen and heard in unexpected ways.”

“When I participated in the Lavender Graduation, I was surprised how much I instantly felt proud and inspired to be a member of the SDSU community, as much during that hour-long ceremony as I had ever felt in my entire two years of attending classes,” Bauer-Spector said. “The following year, my husband, Nathan, participated in the second Lavender Graduation and it was very meaningful to him as well.”

Islas, who minored in LGBT studies, also recalls the gathering as a memorable and important event.

“It was a time where I was doing a lot of self-growth and what better way to show my pride in my community than to be part of this historic event,” she said. “I felt like I belonged for the first time on campus.”

As the celebration has grown over the years, Rothblum said, “it is wonderful to see the diversity of students, the diversity of majors and programs, and the excitement of the families and guests.”

SDSU Imperial Valley last year initiated a Lavender Graduation that includes graduates from other higher-education institutions in the area. This year’s event was held Saturday.

“I am very grateful to have been a part of history as a member of the first SDSU Lavender Graduation class,” Bauer-Spector said. “Clearly, the lessons reinforced during that experience— lessons about the importance of being visible, living openly proud, and thriving as your authentic self—have continued to have an undeniable impact on my life many years later.”