By Sam Desatoff
Fresno State will host its first ever commencement ceremony for its LGBTQ graduates this year.
The chairperson for the inaugural LGBTQ graduation ceremony is Curtis Ortega. He has been planning the event since August of last year and envisions the graduation as a significant step forward for the homosexual, bisexual and transgendered community at the school.
“[This is] a project that has derived from my own personal history,” said Ortega, who experienced hardship for being openly gay while in high school.
“The heckling that took place was a sort of narrative that overshadowed my high school years. After high school, I [worked] odd jobs, but had no drive to return to academia.”
This year, Ortega will be graduating in the LGBTQ ceremony.
Speakers will include current master’s student Zoyer Zyndel, United Student Pride founder Peter Robertson and university President Joseph Castro.
Ortega currently serves as treasurer for USP and has worked closely with his peers to make the commencement a reality.
“Just like any other job, there [have been] obstacles along the way,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge organizers faced was securing funding for the ceremony. Despite months of fundraising, USP failed to bring in enough money to pay for the entire commencement.
Using his position as USP treasurer, Ortega requested funding from the Associated Students, Inc., but was denied on grounds that the event was too exclusive. After a lengthy appeals process, Ortega managed to convince ASI to allocate funds to move forward with the graduation ceremony.
While ASI may have been reluctant to assist the USP in the endeavor, the event garnered support from a number of students and organization on campus.
The Arne Nixon Center, Student Involvement, Reservations, the Women’s Resource Center, and the social work department have all shown backing for the ceremony.
“We have found outstanding support throughout campus,” said Ortega.
Ortega has made an effort to keep the traditional skeleton of other commencement ceremonies in place while at the same time acknowledging aspects of LGBTQ culture.
“The end result is a program that consists of two guest speakers, two performances, a recognition ceremony in a very intimate setting and closing statements by President Castro and myself,” he said.
While Ortega hopes the ceremony receives a warm reception, he hopes it does not become overly controversial in nature.
“There are people who would politicize this [event],” Ortega said. “But I do not want this ceremony to enter the political arena. I hope never to have to fight for the right to participate in an openly gay ceremony.”