A hue and cry went up on August 15 when a sign taped to the door of University of Houston’s LGBTQ Resource Center announced “In accordance with Texas Senate Bill 17, the LGBTQ Resource Center has been disbanded.”
That August 15 announcement, University officials said, was premature. But in accordance with Senate Bill 17 that takes effect January 1, both the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion will close on August 31, and two new organizations—the Center for Student Advocacy and Community, and the Center for Student Empowerment—will open.
In an email sent August 23, Daniel M. Maxwell, Ed.D., UH’s interim vice president for student affairs, wrote:
Earlier this year, the Texas State Legislature passed, and Governor Abbott signed into law, Senate Bill 17. This new legislation prohibits public institutions of higher education from maintaining diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices, and conducting DEI-related trainings, programs, and activities. In preparation of this law going into effect, student affairs staff and administrators began working this summer in consultation with other departments and offices across campus to ensure that our programs, activities, and services satisfy the requirements of SB17. As a result, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the LGBTQA Resource Center will no longer operate effective August 31, 2023.
The Division of Student Affairs is opening a new Center for Student Advocacy and Community with a primary goal to provide robust support to all students, ensuring they have the resources and opportunities to be successful, thrive, and graduate. This center will make available wide-ranging advocacy, a support network for both undergraduate and graduate students, comprehensive basic-needs services and resources, and facilitate a variety of events and programs to foster student success, achievement, and community building.
In addition, the Center for Student Empowerment will expand programs and services, focusing on academic access, leadership development, summer bridge programs, student success coaching, and various mentorship programs. These terrific new programs will be open to all students.
Our staff in the Division of Student Affairs are committed to supporting students and will continue to engage with them and registered student organizations, as well as faculty and staff, to evolve our programs, services, and events in the new academic year. We look forward to the opportunities [that] the formation of the Center for Student Advocacy and Community, and the expanded vision for the Center for Student Empowerment, will bring to our Coog Community.
Dr. Maxwell referred questions to the school’s media office, which has not yet responded to OutSmart’s request for an interview comment.
Kevin Nguyen, director of the LGBTQ Resource Center, also referred questions about the closing to the UH media office. He did say that the new Center for Student Advocacy and Community would not replace the LGBTQ Resource Center, whose mission is “to cultivate safe spaces on campus and within our Center’s programs, empowering LGBTQ students to develop their authentic identity and become proud, successful, engaged members of the UH community.”
Jaimie Gonzales, president of the UH LGBTQ Alumni Association, and a former program coordinator for the LGBTQ Resource Center, says the Center filled a need. “What I saw working there was that it was a safe space, and often the only safe space, that some students had where they could feel comfortable being around others who respected their identity and pronouns,” she recalls. “It was a physical space where they could go from 9:00 to 6:00 every day. I am a bit concerned about the rush to close it, since the bill doesn’t become law until January 1. We just don’t know a lot yet about what we will be able to offer, but we are committed to helping to fill the needs of LGBTQ students.”
The UH LGBTQ Alumni Association offers scholarships and emergency aid to the queer Coog community, although they haven’t held a major fundraiser since the pandemic. Gonzales says they are currently working to raise more funds to face whatever is needed.
On August 23, students from GLOBAL, a social organization for UH LGBTQ students, held a rally to protest the closing of the LGBTQ Resource Center. This is a developing story.