Gone in the Night

The Near-Disappearance of an LGBTQ Resource Center

Tom Sebacher
5 min readSep 22, 2023
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

Regretfully, the closure of this physical space was not communicated to students in advance. Understandably, this action led members of our community to question plans to support LGBTQ+ students moving forward. Campus leaders met this week with students who have expressed concerns about the LGBTQ+ Resource Center closure. Follow-up meetings are scheduled with students so that we can work together to communicate information more clearly about the resources available on our campus and in our community. We commend the student leaders who gathered feedback from their peers and shared their ideas to move forward.

— Debbie Below, on behalf of Southeast Missouri State University, to the Arrow

University Politics

Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) closed its LGBTQ+ Resource Center, effective September 8. From a practical perspective, this was an understandable position, but far from the “welcoming message” the University pretends to give its students, the institution has mired itself in state politics at great detriment to its student population. The student newspaper (the Arrow) recently reported that students were given no warning, and that SEMO Pride, a student organization, initiated a petition to keep the center open.

Ultimately, the center was kept open. Despite the efforts and bad-faith actions of the University, the institution bowed to student demands. Yet the short-sightedness of the students responding to the immediate demand is worrying. After the administration committed to re-opening the center, which it had closed unilaterally and without input from faculty or students, the president of SEMO Pride had a worryingly positive outlook.

Peyton Redinger struck a strange tone speaking to the press, stating “it is refreshing to know that the university is listening, that they are willing to do the things it takes to make their students feel safe on campus even if it is a minority group.” However, this dodges the problem presented by the closure in the first place. The university administration clearly did not view the closure of the LGBTQ resource center as a political action.

An anonymous source noted last semester that the university advised professors not to take stances on political topics. Among these forbidden political stances were condemnation of Missouri House Bill 634, which banned all secondary education regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and the decision by Attorney General Bailey to ban trans healthcare for adults and minors. The reason for this was to prevent professors (even tenured professors) from acting in a way that could negatively impact the institution’s reputation.

Talking Strategy

The SEMO Pride response is concerning. The organization had significant political leverage by which to influence long-term university policy, but advocated only for a highly conservative demand. Instead of pushing for increased publicity and advertisement of the center to make it more of a communally based institution, the group only advocated for reopening.

This could easily have been a much more substantive push to force the university into actively considering the welfare of students. The idea that the university is even “listening” to students negates the corporate nature of the decision to close the center in the first place. The university likely discussed the center extensively prior to closing it, attempting to determine the best time and means of doing so.

SEMO takes action deliberately with a view to its public image. This is the only reason the university ordered the center reopened in the wake of significant resistance. It wanted to avoid a public scene in closing the center, which is why students were left completely in the dark. Sources have noted that the institution’s marketing and public relations departments seem to be in charge of university affairs, rather than experienced educators.

So why does SEMO Pride take this position? Why do they assert that the University is “listening” to students? If it were listening, it would never have closed the LGBTQ resource center in the first place. Pleading to the powers that be is a poor way of achieving lasting results; having organized at Truman State University during my undergraduate, I realized that university politics are generally useless at achieving long-term change.

My organizing experience shows that this is a losing strategy. If the university is willing to pull the rug out from under the queer community without informing them, we should learn from that experience, rather than ignoring it. The university might simply wait until the summer, reverse its decision, and without students to contest it, little could be done.

Resolving the Problem

The clear resolution to this problem is to remove the university from the picture altogether. Students are consistently hampered by university politics, so why play nice with the powers that be? The strategy for the opposition seemed to be explaining the importance of the center. It should have been pointing out the obvious political and public relations fallout of doing so.

SEMO Pride should have taken a more critical look at its friends and enemies. Institutions such as the university are rarely friends. SEMO’s first LGBTQ student organization were denied university funding and office spaces for years, and reached for support from places as distant as North Dakota for legal and strategic advice. Should we not build a network of support as distant as that? Should we simply wait for something to happen so we can respond to it, rather than proactively pushing for meaningful change?

These questions are difficult ones. They expose historic contradictions which remain unresolved. Understanding the history of this struggle means taking critical stock of the university’s action in their historic and political context.

Escape the Academy

The obvious answer is to create a space outside of the university staffed by volunteers. Due to its position within university politics, SEMO Pride has likely not seriously examined this possibility. An examination of the possibilities within the local community should be undertaken; organizations friendly to the community, including those dedicated to other causes would be a start.

Organizations already well-grounded within the community and with substantial support from the masses should be prioritized over petty bourgeois or student organizations. Student organizations should become part of the local community, otherwise they risk losing all support with variations in student involvement.

More substantial investigation is necessary to explore the opportunities for organizing among the people. Most importantly, the queer students must remember their place in the community; asking for the support of strangers is highly ineffective. So we should ensure we are not strangers to the community at large. This will minimize strife between the student body and the residents of Cape Girardeau county.

A more in-depth political, economic, and social investigation is necessary to determine what form the connection between community and students will take. Yet completing this analysis is the first step to achieve an understanding of the conditions on the ground and building lasting support for political programs.



Tom Sebacher

Genderfluid BA in Philosophy, BS in History, masters student at Southeast Missouri State. I write about philosophy, history, and politics.