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Southern Illinois' Rainbow Cafe to be honored by Equality Illinois

Southern Illinois' Rainbow Cafe to be honored by Equality Illinois

2019 Pride March

Marchers fill the sidewalk on June 1, 2019, along Illinois Avenue in Carbondale for the Southern Illinois Pride Fest march. Rainbow Cafe has been active in organizing the annual Southern Illinois Pride Festival. It will be honored by Equality Illinois at its annual gala next month.

CARBONDALE — A Southern Illinois social service group will be honored next week for its 20 years of service to the LGBTQ community.

Carbondale’s Rainbow Cafe will be recognized on Feb. 1 during Equality Illinois’ 2020 gala in Chicago alongside Chicago Reader publisher Tracy Baim. Staff and volunteers of the Rainbow Cafe will be presented with the Equality Illinois Organization Award.

Equality Illinois is a state organization that promotes legislation to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.

Rainbow Cafe's mission for the past two decades, according to its website, has been to provide a safe and welcoming environment for youth of a wide array of sexual and gender identities as well as for those who may be questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This is a very, very big deal for us,” Tara Bell-Janowick, Rainbow Cafe board chair, said Friday. She said for their relatively small organization to be named in the same list as other huge groups is meaningful.

"The Rainbow Cafe demonstrates that a small group of dedicated individuals can have an outsize impact on their community," Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, said in a news release announcing the award. In a phone interview Friday, Johnson went further. He said previous recipients have been the likes of Planned Parenthood of Illinois and the Illinois AFL-CIO.

“We just think the Rainbow Cafe kind of rises to that bar of excellence,” Johnson said.

Bell-Janowick said in her six years of involvement, she has seen the Rainbow Cafe grow. She said when she started, the group’s regular Friday night gatherings had between eight and 12 youths attend. That number now is routinely three times that.

There’s been an expanding program list, too. What started as a small group meeting once a week in a church basement has blossomed into not only the regular Friday night meet-ups, but also other groups dedicated to transgender youth and adult issues, as well as regular meetings for LGBTQ middle school children and the Unconditional group, which is made up of family and allies of LGBTQ people in the region.

In this, Johnson said the reach of the Rainbow Cafe, despite it’s size, is huge.

“Its scale of impact has gone far beyond (its mission),” he said.

As for its next 20 years, Bell-Janowick said she has hopes of seeing the Rainbow Cafe expand even further. She said there are youth who come from all over the region, from places including Harrisburg, Chester and Mount Vernon. Because of this, she hopes to set up satellite centers to serve these youth better.


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