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Rainbow Coalition's decade-long journey to build a space for LGBTQ+ students

University students are advocating heavily for a physical location so that students in LGBTQ+ communities can feel safe and accounted for


"The Rainbow Coalition, along with former members of the group, are now strongly advocating for opening an LGBTQ+ center for ASU students who feel like they are unsafe on campus."

For over a decade, University students have been searching for a physical location at ASU for LGBTQ+ students to socialize in a safe environment, and organizations are now deciding to work independently from the University to actualize that idea.

Organizations like Rainbow Coalition, TransFam and their affilated clubs have stressed the prospect of a new space for LGBTQ+ students for more than a decade with no avail. 

In light of recent events, such as the incident between queer University instructor David Boyles and members of Turning Point USA, ASU administration has reached out to these organizations to discuss plans to make the campus safer for students. However, members of these groups worry the plans will not come to fruition and may move on without the help of administration.  

The ongoing battle for a safe space

Emma Martinez, a junior studying fashion and a member of TransFam, talked about the challenges faced by the transgender community on campus. TransFam is a club dedicated to providing support and community for transgender students. 

Emphasizing the importance of creating a welcoming environment, she said, "I think a big part of advocacy is advocating for that safe space, and we're trying to create a clear student center to support our students."

Brenna Garcia, facilitator of advocacy for the ASU Rainbow Coalition, expressed their concerns about the absence of a LGBTQ+ student center on campus.

"Rainbow Coalition (has) existed for 30 years this year," Garcia said. "But we still don't have a physical space for queer students when there's so many universities across the U.S. that do have queer centers, including UA, which is in the state."

Kelly Baur, a fifth-year Ph.D. student studying linguistics and member of GRADient, a club for LGBTQ+ graduate students, said that when the organization was given the office in 2020, it had hopes to take the surrounding offices on the floor and turn them into other safe spaces for students, including a women’s center and an LGBTQ+ center, but the University ended up filling the offices with staff and faculty. 

According to Michael Kintscher, the president of GRADient and a former Rainbow Coalition executive board member, the establishment of ASU's current Multicultural Center deviated from what students asked for when working with administration to plan the center. 

"The Multicultural Center of Excellence that we see today is the product of the administration going off and doing their own thing, which is a very, very small piece of what the students had asked for, and in some ways, not at all of what the students had asked for," they said.

READ MORE: ASU investigation finds two MSC members violated code of conduct in multicultural space confrontation

The Rainbow Coalition, along with former members of the group, are now strongly advocating for opening an LGBTQ+ center for ASU students who feel like they are unsafe on campus.

"Basically, what we're doing is going back to that proposal and bringing it back up and saying, 'You're not done yet. We're not done here. You (University administration) gave us the bare minimum,'" Baur said. "And you've even backtracked on the bare minimum."

The Multicultural Solidarity Coalition's efforts

A 2009 LGBTQ+ center proposal voiced these same concerns when students noticed resources usually available at other universities weren’t present at ASU for LGBTQ+ communities.

"It was a little bit of a different world than now in some ways, but in other ways, things are very much still the same," Kintscher said. "And I think it is raising a student's public consciousness of the seriousness of this, of how much we need a dedicated space that understands who we are."

In 2020, the Multicultural Solidarity Coalition – a blanket organization for seven coalitions representing marginalized communities – created another proposal for a multicultural center, reaching over 5,000 signatures on their petition. The coalition has been attempting to get a physical space since 2015.

"Originally, their work was just not really taken seriously by the administration at all. They were working independently,” Kintscher said. 

The University's attitude toward the idea changed in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, according to Kintscher. "That point is when the University administration started to pay attention to the Multicultural Solidarity Coalition and took them a little bit more seriously," they said.

The Multicultural Solidarity Coalition – an external coalition not affiliated with ASU – released a 21-page document detailing their mission, titled "Executive Summary of the Cultural Excellence Center & Scholars Program." 

The document highlighted some of the biggest concerns the organization had for their communities and their requests for ASU in the future. These requests included a Native American Center, Rape Crisis Center, Women’s Center, Muslim Prayer Center, Queer and Trans Center and a meeting space for coalition organizations. 

During this time in 2020, University President Michael Crow sent out a list of 25 actions for ASU to support marginalized communities during the Black Lives Matter protests, taking directly from the original plan by the MSC.

"ASU commits to establishing a multicultural space on campus and establishing and funding a working group to assess and begin design options for this space," the fifth action read. However, the spaces created for marginalized communities were limited, and not as comprehensive as administration promised.  

Other actions pleaded for in the MSC summary are still not available for students today. Neither the rape crisis center nor the assault advocacy center has yet to be implemented, with MSC's original proposal being presented in January 2021 to University administrators. 

The same document was recently revised in April 2023 to include an endorsement letter from the Arizona Students Association that supports the Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault and their advocacy for more efforts to help those impacted by sexual violence. 

But today, a standalone LGBTQ+ center is not a reality for students on campus. Instead, there is an office on the second floor of the Student Pavilion.

The present need for a safe space

After the recent incident in October between two members of Turning Point USA and queer instructor David Boyles on the Tempe campus, the push for a safe center is becoming more crucial.

"When that happened, it created more urgency of 'we need to do something now,'" Garcia said. "It wasn't that the conversation had died, it was just that we realized that we need to work faster and find a solution sooner."

READ MORE: ASU community calls on University to take further action against Turning Point USA

"I think the Rainbow Coalition office is actually one of the bigger coalition offices, and it's still so small," said Ruby Maderafont, a former facilitator of advocacy for the Rainbow Coalition at ASU. This office is cluttered with supplies and flyers from events Rainbow Coalition has organized and only has one table for an organization which hosts more has a dozen clubs under its umbrella, according to Maderafont. 

These conditions aren’t fit for an organization like Rainbow Coalition, and it leads to physical meetings for the umbrella club being scarce, according to Baur.

Issues with ASU about the office also arose in one of Baur and Maderafont’s last meetings with the administration. They spoke about lack of furniture and the University’s unwillingness to cooperate with their requests.

Maderafont said in a 2021 meeting – one of the last they had with administration staff – the University argued with Baur and Maderfont about the furniture the Rainbow Coalition wanted to buy. If the University did approve the new furniture, it would have to be ASU-branded, which is not what the organization had requested. 

Maderafont and Baur said this issue showed them just how little ASU cared about the real intention of the center. 

"If they can't even listen to us about the color of the furniture, there's no good faith or effort to even meet us halfway," said Baur. 

Maderafont said this small disagreement over furniture was representative of all the communication between Rainbow Coalition and the University administration. Most of the time, Rainbow Coalition would attempt to pitch an idea, and the staff would circle around the initial proposal and morph it into something entirely different, they said.

"And they talk in circles, or they have one of the deans there to speak to us, and they talk in circles," Maderafont said. "Or they have a special guest, and they talk in circles."

Now, students from the Rainbow Coalition are looking to form a physical space without the help of ASU administration. Members are looking to have a location sometime around next semester – with or without University backing.

"We're going to make it happen, but we just can't wait for the administration any longer at this point," Kintscher said. "So we're going to do what we can to make this space happen, and we would love to continue to work with the administration if they choose to work with us."

Sita Sudhakar contributed to this reporting.

Edited by Grey Gartin, Sadie Buggle and Grace Copperthite.

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