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KERA news and the Denton Record Chronicle are tracking the impacts of Texas' Senate Bill 17, the ban on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in higher education on schools, students and educators across North Texas.

Pride gets canceled: UNT Libraries can't plan LGBTQ+ events and comply with DEI ban

Denton Record Chronicle

University of North Texas legal counsel recently advised the campus libraries to suspend planned events for Pride Week, according to an email sent to library staff last week. The events are the latest casualty of a ban Texas lawmakers handed down to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, programs and recruiting documents in Texas public colleges.

UNT administration complied with the new law, Senate Bill 17, by reorganizing the longstanding Multicultural Center and Pride Alliance into the UNT Center for Belonging and Engagement for the entirety of the student body.

The Denton Record-Chronicle received a tip about the decision in the form of an email that appears to be sent to UNT Libraries employees on Feb. 9.

"Last week the university's legal counsel informed us that using staff and faculty time on the activities we were planning around Pride Week would be in violation of SB17," the email said. "As a result, we have canceled all of our planned activity for the week to remain in compliance with the new law."

The email didn't specify what the planned events were. Last year, the UNT Libraries hosted Pride Week events from March 27-29. It offered information about the system's LGBTQ content and materials, including the substantial Phil Johnson Historic Archives and Research Library, which was transferred to UNT from Dallas in 2012. The Johnson library, now called the Resource Center Dallas LGBT Collection of the UNT Libraries, is considered a comprehensive history of the North Texas LGBT community. The collection spans six decades.

During last year's Pride Week, UNT Libraries also hosted a zine-making workshop, a film screening, an LGBTQ-themed bingo game and a reading of LGBTQ-themed children's books.

Melisa Brown, senior director of UNT Relations, told the Record-Chronicle that UNT will continue to observe the Civil Rights milestones commemorated in national observances, such as Black History Month, Pride Month, International Women's Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Disability Pride Month and the like.

"The recognition of commemorative months is something the university has celebrated for years, and UNT plans to continue this," Brown said. "What is changing in the university’s recognitions is that any event the university funds must focus on the history of the culture being celebrated in order to be compliant with the law."

The university can create library displays highlighting official commemorations of Civil Rights achievements by historically marginalized groups, but faculty and staff can't lead activities that were once defined as DEI office activities.

The new law defines DEI offices broadly. It includes "any unit" of a public higher education institution that conducts "trainings, programs, or activities that advocate for or give preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation... " Under the law, the university's libraries qualifies as a unit of the institution.