The national LGBTQ+ community has been facing heightened levels of anxiety due to nationwide threats to their livelihood and The University of New Mexico’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center (LGBTQRC) is working hard to quell students’ fears.

More than 75 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been signed into law in 2023 so far more than double the total that was passed in 2022. In June, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest, nationwide queer civil rights organization, officially declared a state of emergency for queer people in the United States during Pride month.

This decision was made after the passing of discriminatory state laws and the growing popularity of extremist groups threatening the LGBTQ+ community made safety an even larger concern. The state of emergency is representative of a rapid national decline in LGBTQ+ health and mental well-being.

“Mental health for queer folks living in New Mexico is crucial,” said Frankie Flores, director of LGBTQRC, who has been involved with the center for 12 years. “Students are here at UNM to get an education, and the LGBTQRC is here to provide queer education as an intersectional center. It is our job to further our students’ holistic well-being.”

According to the Trevor Project, the U.S. National Survey on LGBTQ+ Mental Health, nearly one in three LGBTQ young people said their mental health was poor most of the time - or always - due to anti-LGBTQ policies and legislation. Nearly two in three LGBTQ+ young people said that hearing about potential state or local laws banning people from discussing LGBTQ+ people at school made their mental health a lot worse. 

To further this well-being, the center offers counseling through UNM Student Health and Counseling. Each counselor is safe-zone trained to provide support to LGBTQ individuals in a confidential setting.

Additionally, UNM Health, in collaboration with the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, is providing education and training on LGBTQ+ patient-centered care. UNM Health also offers a “Caring for the LGBT Community'' class that educates staff on proper terminology, historical and cultural approaches to care, and other exposure to the queer experience. There is also a panel discussion in which queer individuals can share their story.

Flores wants to challenge people’s perception of mental health and to further community care through a variety of events put on by LGBTQRC. Seeing new or unfamiliar students engaging in the center’s programs is what reminds them that the UNM queer community is here for them. 

“This work is suicide de-escalation for LGBTQ youth,” Flores said. “I am honored and excited I get to do this.”

The center’s conscious efforts and dedication to making UNM’s queer community feel safe and included on campus are insurmountable. Pride events, and other events throughout the year, are proof of that, according to Maya Pacheco, LGBTQRC undergraduate associate.

“Often, we host a bunch of events and then talk about what went well and what needs work,” Pacheco said. “Where did it succeed, where did it need support?”

The center is different from all of the other research centers on campus. It’s under the Values Division of Equity and Inclusion (DEI.) That means it offers its services to not only students but also staff and faculty. 

“We are for anybody on campus that may need help or resources,” siad Pacheco.

Another element of support through the center is through something many take for granted: a meal. At many events during Pride and beyond, the center makes its own food. Pacheco, herself, is happily there from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., making sure all of the food will be ready for breakfast the next morning.

“We pride ourselves in being able to say people had a home-cooked meal. Frankie talks a lot about how queer people have to form a found family. In some families, you can't always find a home-cooked meal. Here, you can get one,” she said.

At their Back-to-School Barbecue alone, last year, the center welcomed over 50 people According to sign-ins, there were over 175 people in attendance for the fall 2023 event. It was accessible enough that many students felt comfortable enough to stop by before class. 

“People are so excited to come, especially because many just moved in and don’t know what’s going on. It’s a really big event that a lot of people love,” Pacheco said.

Efforts like these are what really set them apart from a lot of other places, Pacheco said. It’s where the center gets a lot of its positive feedback. 

“Everyone says the food is amazing, and they're so excited that they got to have something that's even somewhat cooked,” she laughed.

Community bonds such as these are why the center’s focus is mainly on the campus community, recently. There’s more intent to give back to the UNM queer community because of the weight of the world well beyond UNM’s main campus.

“That's why we're focusing it there right now with the intent, especially with all of the laws!” Pacheco said. “Albuquerque is slowly becoming a safe haven and we're trying to make the center strong so that when these people do come, they have a cool, established safe space. Even without these laws, this has always been a focus of the center: safety, care, and love.”