When the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity was formed in 1999, the pride flag had been in existence for 19 years; the bisexuality flag had only been created the year before; the lesbian flag would be created a year later; and the pansexual and non-binary flags wouldn’t be created for another 10 and 15 years, respectively.

Now, twenty years later, the center is adorned with an array of colorful flags representing the diverse identities of the LGBTQ+ community. Max Abrams / Daily Nexus

Now, twenty years later, the center is adorned with an array of colorful flags representing the diverse identities of the LGBTQ+ community — and representing how far the UCSB community has come in embracing individuals who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. 

“The UC system has been a leader in having LGBT centers for their campuses; among the UC system, most of the centers are between 20 and 30 years old,” current RCSGD director Craig Leets, who is the center’s ninth director, said. 

“There were many students, staff and volunteers and other students who all have made the center of what it is today, who have brought the center through 20 years,” Leets added. 

“It’s always important to me, to honor and recognize like the people who came before us.” 

The center kicked off its 20th anniversary celebrations with an event on Tuesday evening, with Leets giving attendees a small history of the RCSGD. He started by describing how the center, then known as the Queer Resource Center, was first started by a group of student activists in 1999 after the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was murdered in 1998.

“[The students] organized to convince Chancellor Yang, who was here then and is still here now, that we needed a specific resource center for LGBTQ students. At the time that MCC existed, as well as the Women’s Center. But there was no university-funded space for LGBTQ students,” Leets explained.

The staff members then began a video call with former students, staff and activists who had worked with the center in the past, all of whom reflected on the activism involved with the RCSGD to celebrate it. Sabrina Kwist, dean of equity and inclusion at Los Medanos College, who was a key part of the activism behind the founding of the RCSGD, was on the call and spoke to attendees about the experience of creating the center.  

According to Kyle Richards, the director of the RCSGD from 2002 to 2007, the center was originally located on the third floor of the University Center (UCen), next to University and Community Housing Services — Leets said that this was why the kickoff was held in the UCen as opposed to the center’s current location on the third floor of the Student Resource Building.

“[The center was on] the third floor next to the community housing office and it was a small lounge and an office with a desk and a little library and then some sofas and that was about it,” Richards said. 

“It was during my time here that we moved over … That was when the Student Resource Building was first built and we were one of the first tenants that moved into it when it was opened.”

It also during Richards’ time as director that the center changed its name from the Queer Resource Center to the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, citing concerns that “queer” was inapplicable to people who did not identify as such.

“There was a concern that the word ‘queer’ may be off-putting to some people, or they may be scared or didn’t identify as queer. So we wanted a name that was more inclusive to people, that felt like a broader terminology that was more representative of the greater community,” Richards explained.

He joked that despite the center’s name change, “RCSGD” wasn’t quite the nice, quick acronym they had hoped for.

According to Richards, during the center’s early days it only had a very small budget to work with, so the center would partner with other campus organizations such as the MultiCultural Center and the Women’s Center to bring in speakers. 

“If it was a queer-related theme, then we would co-sponsor it with them and add it to a programming calendar of events that we would distribute. We would cross list things; that’s how we kind of maximized what we did, by partnering with other campus offices. That was the main way,” Richards said.

But the kickoff isn’t all the center has planned for the 20th anniversary. During Winter Quarter, the center will have 20th anniversary keynote speakers — to be announced in the coming weeks — for its trans revolution series, Leets said. 

He also added that the center plans to invite alumni back to its annual drag brunch and will finish up the year by inviting alumni and past center staff for a dinner that will “recognize the history of the center.” 

At the end of the kickoff event, Leets announced the launch of a photo installation project for the outside of the director’s office at the RCSGD. 

“If you post [photos] on social media and use any one of these four hashtags, we will use those at the end of the year to create a permanent photo installation that will live on in the center, similar to the mural that was created for the 15th anniversary,” Leets said.

Leets added that he hopes to expand on the services offered by the center — referencing the recent initiative by the center to implement pronouns across several university systems — and to continue making the campus a more inclusive place for LGBTQ+ people. 

“We have a vibrant community within our lounge here in the Student Resource Building — [we’re] trying continually to make UCSB be a welcoming place for all LGBTQ+ people.” 

A version of this article appeared on p. 7 of the Nov. 14, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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