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University campuses across Utah are closing LGBTQ centers
University campuses across Utah are closing LGBTQ centers

Several college campuses across the state are closing or restructuring their LGBTQ+ resource centers as new laws take effect.

HB 261, also known as “Equal Opportunity Initiatives,” replaces diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Utah schools with “student success and support” programs.

BACKGROUND:

House Republicans stressed that the move was aimed at preventing discrimination, saying they believed DEI programs had become too political – just like public hiring.

“I wouldn’t introduce this bill if I didn’t think it was a step in the right direction,” said Republican Rep. Katy Hall of Davis County, who introduced the bill.

Democrats, on the other hand, said the measure showed some people that they “don’t matter” and that racism still exists.

“By passing this bill, we are telling people – and I’ve heard this from my constituents and I know Rep. Hall has done this too – that we don’t matter,” said Rep. Angela Romero, Democrat of Salt Lake City.

The University of Utah said student services under HB 261 must be available to all students and cannot be provided to individual students based on “personal identity characteristics.” At the same time, all on-campus cultural centers must be approved by the Utah Board of Higher Education under a new process unveiled on June 6.

“As we evaluate how best to comply with the legislation, I want to be clear that we faced very difficult decisions,” said Lori McDonald, vice president for student affairs. “The law and subsequent policies require a fundamental change in how we approach supporting students, and we will comply with the law. It’s not about changing the words we use; it’s about changing how we approach the work.”

In response, the university’s LGBT Resource Center announced its closure and invited the campus community to join in a “heartfelt celebration” marking 21 years of the center’s existence.

“Let us come together to honor the center’s legacy of support, advocacy and resilience, and also recognize the 21 years of commitment that have gone into creating a safe environment where everyone is valued, not despite their identity, but because of it,” the statement said. “The work and legacy of the LGBT Resource Center will continue at the University of Utah.”

Weber State University’s LGBT Resource Center also published a post, but instead referred to the change as an “impending restructuring.”

“As part of our response to HB 261 and our upcoming restructuring, Weber State will close identity-based centers and instead offer services focused on student mentoring and programming. This will allow WSU to offer personalized support tailored to the individual needs of each student,” the statement said.

Brian Mullahy contributed to this article.

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By Isla