Students Continue LGBTQ+ Programs Despite Texas DEI Ban

Texas Tech University LGBTQ+ students are hosting programs for themselves after the state cut diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) funding.
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Updated on January 31, 2024
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  • Texas' anti-DEI bill officially took effect Jan. 1. It bars universities statewide from funding DEI initiatives — including those for LGBTQ+ students.
  • Three Texas Tech University student organizations banded together to continue campus LGBTQ+ events despite the bill's enactment.
  • Five states have passed anti-DEI bills, and at least 18 others have proposed them.
  • Even though many have opposed anti-DEI legislation, some Texas students are afraid to speak against the bills for fear of retribution.

Students at Texas Tech University (TTU) are fighting back after state Senate Bill 17 (SB 17) officially took effect Jan 1. Similar to legislation in Florida and other states, the bill bans all state funding of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs — including those for LGBTQ+ students — on college campuses statewide.

But even without state funding, several student-led campus organizations at TTU have continued to host events tailored to LGBTQ+ students.

Funds left over from student dues, Texas Tech University Gender and Sexuality Association (Tech GSA) Vice President Silas James said, along with private donations, have taken the place of funding that traditionally came from the university and have made organizing the events possible.

Just because this legislation went into effect doesn't mean our organization or community is going to go away on campus. It just means we'll have to work a little bit harder to keep it around without state funds, said James, a junior media and communications major. We're up for the challenge.

In addition to affecting LGBTQ+-related programs, SB 17 banned state funding of interfaith and intercultural initiatives on campus. TTU's Black Cultural Center was renamed following the passage of the bill so that it didn't directly reference Black culture.

But at least it was allowed to stay open.

The hub of the LGBTQ+ student body at TTU, the LGBTQIA office, closed for good following the passage of SB 17 last year, as did the university's DEI Center.

Both were informally replaced by a new office, the Office of Campus Access and Engagement. Its website offers guidance on the implementation of SB 17, as well as resources for intercultural education & engagement.

However, it makes no mention of information relevant to the LGBTQ+ student body.

Rising to the Challenge

Texas Tech closed its DEI and LGBTQIA centers at the beginning of the fall semester. So, even though SB 17 didn't take effect until Jan. 1, James said their team has been operating as though it's been in effect for a while.

But that doesn't mean it's been easy.

When the LGBTQIA office was dissolved, it presented a problem because they had previously run campus events that a small student organization like ours didn't have the manpower to put on, James said.

As a result, James had to take on a lot of the planning. He handled all the reservations for programs and events, managed promotions, and, together with Tech GSA's treasurer, tackled the issue of funding.

We took a lot of money from member dues we had sitting from past semesters, James said, while conceding that such money would only go so far for so long.

For the future, he said, We're looking into different fundraising opportunities, maybe trying to partner with a restaurant for an event, an organization that allows us to volunteer and maybe contributes based on the work we do.

Coming Out Stories: Ice Cream Social was one of the events the Tech GSA continued as a result of James' planning efforts. Formerly hosted by the LGBTQIA office, it gave attendees the chance to share their coming out stories over ice cream and coincided with National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.

Another campus event, Pride Campus Week, also took place around National Coming Out Day and included a town hall with student leaders and popup events with games and giveaways.

It was organized by the Rainbow Leaders Association — rather than the LGBTQIA office, as it had been in years past — a separate LGBTQ+ student organization that James said has worked alongside Tech GSA to pick up the slack in the wake of the LGBTQIA office's closure.

We have community meetings every Wednesday where all the organizations get together and plan, James said.

A third student organization, the Student Intersectional Leadership Council, also participates in the meetings and hosts the university's annual Pride Gala in the fall. It features speakers, food, and networking opportunities for LGBTQ+ students.

A Nationwide Fight

As of June 2023, several states have signed anti-DEI bills into law, affecting schools in various ways. They include:

  • Florida
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

Similar bills have been proposed and are at various stages of the legislative process across the country.

Opposition to these bills has been significant throughout the nation — by students and educators:

  • At the University of Houston, its student-run LGBTQ+ organization GLOBAL organized a protest, which included 90 participants (and a state representative). The university closed its LGBTQ Resource Center anyway but quickly announced the creation of the Center for Student Advocacy and Community, which offered many similar resources without carrying the formal title.
  • In a June New York Times op-ed, one Florida professor said she and her colleagues feel like they are living and working at ground zero of what feels like a culture of repression from the McCarthy era, in the wake of the state's anti-DEI legislation, SB 266.
  • Public protests against anti-DEI legislation have been held in Ohio, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

However, some students are hesitant to speak out against the bills.

Outside of Texas Tech, BestColleges contacted DEI-related student organizations — and their faculty advisors — at five different Texas universities seeking input for this article. They either declined to comment or didn't respond.

A lot of people are scared to have these conversations because of what they perceive as actions that could be taken against them if they voice their opinions, James said. For a lot of students, it's really scary. For adults, too. In our area specifically, Texas has proven itself to be an unkind place for minority groups. A lot of people feel like by putting themselves out there, they're only potentially making their situations that much worse.

But even in spite of this, James said, he — and Tech GSA — plan to keep fighting.

We've talked about this legislation extensively, and regardless of how we're looked at, we want to support and grow this community. It's been more work than any of us expected, but we've all come together and reassured the anxious hearts of queer kids on campus. I'm proud of us.