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New Utah law brings closure of LGBTQ+ centers at public universities

University of Utah
Facebook @UniversityofUtah

The new law leaves students without safe spaces.

Resource centers for LGBTQ+ students at universities across Utah have been closed in response to the anti-DEI H.B. 261. The new law bans public universities from “discriminating” against individuals based on “personal identity characteristics” including ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The bill was signed into law earlier this year and took effect on Monday.

The new law does not specifically require impacted schools to close their LGBTQ+ resource centers, but schools have chosen to do so to ensure full compliance.

University of Utah announced the closure of the Center for Equity and Student Belonging, LGBT Resource Center, and Women’s Resource Center. The school said the resources and services provided by the closed centers would be moved to two new centralized centers.

“I recognize the emotional impact of any organizational restructuring, particularly on our dedicated employees and the students they serve,” Lori McDonald, vice president for student affairs, wrote in a message to students. “These changes were made with great care and consideration to follow the new law. It required extensive effort, including gathering feedback and collaborating with colleagues, to find the best possible solutions.”

Utah Tech University announced it was “dissolving” its Office of the Chief Diversity Officer and the Center for Inclusion and Belonging, including its LGBTQ+ Resource Center.

Utah Valley University announced it was also reorganizing its diversity and LGBTQ+ efforts, consolidating all LGBTQ-centered support services and resources within its First Year Experience and Student Success (FYESS) program.

Utah State University announced its Inclusion Center and programs have been reorganized within existing centers and programs.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Republican State Rep. Katy Hall said the new law does not require the closure of service centers. Instead, she told Inside Higher Ed the intent of the law is to treat all students equally.

“The intention of the law is to promote student success for all students in our schools and universities and ensure any student who needs support and services has them available,” State Rep. Katy Hall (R-TK), wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed. “As I understand it, some of the universities have chosen to [close certain student centers] to better meet the goals I just described. I hope that students who benefitted from these centers in the past know that the expectation is that they will still be able to receive the services and support that they need to succeed with their educational goals.”

Such claims hold little water for Kailah Figueroa, 18, and her twin brother Glenn. The two found the closed student centers at the University of Utah to be their safe spaces. The pair are of Native American descent, and Kailah frequented the LGBT Resource Center where she could embrace her identity.

“But now we’re going to have to find new spaces,” Glenn said at a gathering to mark the closure of the facilities, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“I don’t know where we’ll even find space, though,” Kailah replied. “I just don’t know.”

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