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UI sees spike in participants at LGBTQ graduation ceremony

BY JENNY EARL | MAY 09, 2012 6:30 AM

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Rainbow stoles lit up the Old Capitol on Tuesday evening, worn by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students graduating from the University of Iowa.

This year's Rainbow Graduation Ceremony — an annual event honoring the achievements of LGBTQ students who choose to be recognized — celebrated the success of 17 UI graduates, one of the highest turnouts the ceremony has seen since its beginning in 2000.

"It's my heartfelt desire to send accomplished, talented young people out into our community and into the workforce to make life better not only for [our students] but our greater society," said UI President Sally Mason, speaking at the ceremony for the first time.

UI officials said they were pleased with the high attendance, compared with previous years in which the number of participants ranged around four or five.

"Our ultimate dream is that more and more people will feel that this is for them, and they can come in whatever identity they choose to present," said Roy Salcedo, the coordinator for multicultural programs at the UI.

Jefri Palermo, a co-head of the UI LGBT Staff and Faculty Association, estimated universities the size of the UI graduate around 300 LGBTQ students each year — a number she would like to see at a future Rainbow Graduation Ceremony.

"I'm hopeful it will only get bigger and better from here on out," she said. "I want to get to that 300 point."

One of the graduates, transgender student stef shuster, said the UI can be an exciting but scary place for LGBTQ individuals — but there's plenty of room to grow if students take advantage of their time here.

"I think for those of us that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender … at some point [you have] an experience where it feels really hard and really challenging," shuster said. "At the same time there are those really beautiful moments in which we can build communities, cross-communities where it feels like everything's worth it."

In 2011, the UI was given a 4.5 out of 5 stars on the LGBT Campus Climate index for its LGBT-friendly policies, programs, and practices. The index is owned and operated by Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization supporting LGBT-friendly learning environments at universities.

"I think it shows the UI is dedicated to making the university inclusive and welcoming to all students," Salcedo said.

Bret Gothe, a creative coordinator for IMU marketing, said the ceremony is also important for families and allies as well.

"It's really a meaningful and touching change for everyone to recognize what's going on in communities and moving forward and acknowledging those relationships," he said.

Gothe said spreading the word on campus and better marketing for next year's LGBTQ events will help make the UI a safer, more-aware campus.

Students and faculty agreed visibility will be the key to the future success of the UI LGBTQ community and events such as the Rainbow Ceremony help show the university's commitment to diversity.

"I definitely think [the Rainbow Graduation Ceremony] shows how progressive the university is and how open and proud they are of us," said UI senior and ceremony participant Xavier Woodson. "It shows Iowa is a safe environment for a student who is unsure where to go."


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