University of Utah closes LGBT Resource Center to comply with new Utah law

A pride flag flies above the entrance to Mountain West Cider in Salt Lake City. The University of Utah’s LGBT Resource Center farewell took place here on Friday, June 28. (Emily May)

The University of Utah closed three of its student resource centers to comply with Utah’s new law regarding diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, including its LGBT Resource Center.

The LGBT Resource Center held a farewell event for current and former students and employees to share gratitude and memories of the center on Friday, June 28 at Mountain West Cider in Salt Lake City.

The student resource center reorganizations arose from the passing of Utah’s Equal Opportunity Initiatives law, which requires services to be accessible to all students and prohibits resources from being provided to specific students based on personal identity characteristics at public Utah universities. According to the law, “personal identity characteristics” refers to an individual’s race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or religion. This law went into effect on July 1.

Along with the LGBT Resource Center, the University of Utah’s Women’s Resource Center and the Center for Equity and Student Belonging closed to comply with the law, according to the University of Utah.

Tomoya Averett, the coordinator for community engagement at the LGBT Resource Center, described the news of the LGBT Resource Center’s closure as a “punch to the gut.”

Attendees mingle at the University of Utah LGBT Resource Center farewell event. The farewell event invited current and former students and employees of the university to share memories and celebrate the resource center. (Emily May)

“We are just a lot of our students’ second home and an opportunity for people to find community,” Averett said. “I don’t think I’ve ever left an event feeling unwelcome, feeling unsafe, feeling unheard or (un)seen.”

She noted the resource center’s Pride Week events as one of her favorite memories of the center. The center hosted a drag show, a prom and more for Pride Week.

“Seeing the students really be confident in their identities and confident in themselves is always my favorite thing,” Averett said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll still be able to support students in a meaningful way.”

The LGBT Resource Center also expressed their hopes to continue supporting LGBT students on Instagram.

“Though we are going to miss the center and what it allowed us to do for students, we will continue to do the work that needs doing to help our community feel seen and safe on campus,” the post said. “It will just have to happen in a different capacity.”

The comments under an LGBT Resource Center Instagram post expressed gratitude for the center as well as heartbreak at its closure.

“I remember seeing the center form while I was at university. I loved being able to partner with them for events my last two years on campus,” @gheetasmith commented. “Despite what state government is doing, I hope the community knows that they are still loved, and that we with privilege will continue to fight.”

Other commenters reminisced working for the center, saying it was the “most rewarding part of (their) undergrad” (@adelaidasalmeron) and the “highlight of (their) time at the U” (@jl_oro).

Lauryn Hansen is a former metallurgical engineering student at the University of Utah who attended the event. She described the resource center as a “safe haven” that provided resources for students such as a social space, scholarship opportunities and counseling services.

“These resources saved my life, saved so many other people’s lives, gave us the support we needed,” Hansen said.

During her time at the University of Utah, Hansen was a Point Foundation scholar. She said this scholarship, as well as the LGBT and women’s resource centers, helped her to graduate.

LeiLoni Allan-McLaughlin, former associate director of the University of Utah LGBT Resource Center, speaks at the farewell. She thanked the attendees for joining and praised attendees for “living authentically.” (Emily May)

“All these centers have always been on the margins,” Hansen said. “They’ve always been underfunded, and they’ve always been at risk but have had more impact than, I think, any other center on campus.”

The University of Utah will instead implement two new resource centers for these students: the Center for Student Access and Resources and the Community and Cultural Engagement Center.

According to the University of Utah, the Center for Student Access and Resources will provide referrals to mental health services, scholarship coordination and advisement.

The Community and Cultural Engagement Center will provide cultural education and engagement. This center is still pending approval from the Utah Board of Higher Education, according to the university.

“It was shocking to me that the University of Utah decided to comply by closing the centers, to completely get rid of them,” Hansen said. “We will always exist. We will not be eradicated no matter what laws are passed.”

A live band performs a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” The University of Utah LGBT Resource Center farewell event offered live music for attendees as they mingled. (Emily May)

Laura Milliken Gray is an attorney and LGBT activist who gave the first commencement speech at the center’s first lavender graduation a couple decades ago. According to the Human Rights Campaign, a lavender graduation is an annual ceremony that recognizes the contributions and achievements of LGBT and ally students at a university.

“I’m really heartbroken about the new law that the legislature passed,” Gray said. “I’m here to support the LGBTQ community and the other communities, including the Native American, African American, women’s resource centers that are also closing and just being in solidarity with those communities.”

Gray also discussed times during the 1990s when a BYU law professor invited her to BYU to debate topics such as gay marriage.

“After I would speak, all of these students would come up to me and thank me because, of course, there’s this hidden gay community down there even back then,” Gray said.

An attendee holds a University of Utah T-shirt with a pride flag. The event offered free flags, T-shirts, pins and more for attendees. (Emily May)

Lori McDonald, vice president for student affairs at the University of Utah, said in a university blog post the university faced difficult decisions complying with the law.

The university said the resources and cultural celebrations from the three closed centers will be preserved in the two new centers.

Despite the reorganization, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, Mitzi Montoya, expressed her confidence these centers will allow students to continue to receive the individualized services they need to succeed.

McDonald also said in her post the reorganization will not eliminate any jobs. Employees from the discontinued resource centers will have positions in the new resource centers.

Other public Utah universities have also reorganized their student resource centers to comply with the law. Utah Tech University dissolved its Center for Inclusion and Belonging, which included its LGBTQ+ Resource Center. Student resource centers at Utah State University and Utah Valley University are currently undergoing reorganization to comply with the law as well.

More information about the new resource centers at the University of Utah can be found on this blog post.

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