Carbondale, IL – Tara Bell-Janowick is the board chair, community relations director, and a volunteer at the Rainbow Café LGBT Youth Center. A founder and the lead coordinator of the Southern Illinois Pride Fest, she has organized many LGBTQ events in Southern Illinois, particularly in Jackson County. She is also a member of Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerich’s LGBTQ Advisory Council and a member of Equality Illinois’ Community Advisory Group.
WSIU Public Broadcasting, a service of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is pleased to announce Tara Bell-Janowick and Rainbow Café team members as the new ‘Neighborly’ award in the Community category.
As a native of Southern Illinois, Tara recognizes that many areas across the region are not as welcoming and accepting of the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ youth are at higher risk because of their gender identity and/or orientation. In smaller, rural communities, there is rejection, isolation, and fear. Unlike more urban areas, resources across the region for this community are limited. Risks are higher for youth to become homeless from being kicked out of their homes or running away. LGBTQ homeless youth are at an increased risk of human trafficking, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. In general, suicide rates are higher for all LGBTQ youth. Many adult LGBTQ remain closeted their entire lives, facing extreme psychological damage in fear of rejection from their families and communities. This is why the work of the Rainbow Café is so important.
Other struggles LGBTQ youth face include bullying and a lack of understanding from some teachers and faculty. Transgender issues in schools are particularly difficult— especially in intimate environments such as restrooms and locker rooms.
"What might seem as very flighty or a fad to adults is a very real struggle for youth as they search within themselves to find that expression and a safe space. As we work more with the adult community, we see some of the same issues. Because of the advancements that have been made for the LGBTQ community while we strive towards equality, there’s a more accepting atmosphere now. Many youth feel safer to express themselves than they have in the past. But there are still so many factors, especially for a marginalized community in rural areas. For example, LGBTQ youth of color in Southern Illinois have a double disadvantage, particularly trans youth of color. Even one supportive adult can reduce that suicide risk; even one," said Tara.
During Tara's time on the board, the Rainbow Café has expanded programming and service from youth-focused to several different groups across the community—trans youth, trans adults, LGBTQ families and parents, youth ages 13 to 19, and a middle school group for youth grades sixth through eighth. Tara personally facilitates Unconditional, a group for LGBTQ families and parents.
Tara has worked for the betterment of the LGBTQ community for almost 20 years, including six years with the Rainbow Café. She has worked for five years with Equality Illinois, the past two years focusing on legislation and the Inclusive Curriculum Act. The act ensures recognition and representation of LGBTQ people within school curricula. On Advocacy Day in Springfield, a group from Southern Illinois goes together with Equality Illinois to speak with legislators about various bills. With organizations like Illinois Safe Schools Alliance that partners for rights in schools, they are working on more inclusive sex education in schools, gender markers, name change, and restroom access.
Expressing her views on being a good neighbor and what it means to her, Tara said, "A good neighbor would be someone who cares a lot about their community and wants to help and uplift those who exist around them in their environment. The idea of the LGBTQ community across Southern Illinois, not just focused on Carbondale, is really important because, with a marginalized community, you have to find your people. So, it’s not necessarily the family living next door-it’s about the entire community and reaching out to those people specifically that you feel you can support and uplift and be there to strengthen those connections across that marginalized community. I just feel like helping others is something that we should automatically do. Being human beings and interacting with one another in the same community is a moral and ethical obligation for us to be good neighbors to one another."
"As a long-time LGBTQIA+ activist and advocate and parent of a transgender son, Tara is committed to raising awareness and education of issues that affect queer youth in Southern Illinois and to always maintaining a safe, accepting and affirming space for them. She collaborates with state and national organizations to help the LGBTQ community and has led the Rainbow Café through becoming their own non-profit and expanding," said nominator Otis "O.J." Duncan, a board member and the fundraising chair at the Rainbow Café.
Nominate Your Neighbors
WSIU encourages the public to participate in the One Region, All Neighbors campaign by nominating neighbors online and sharing on social media using #WeAreAllNeighbors.
About WSIU Public Broadcasting
WSIU Public Broadcasting is licensed to the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University and is an integral part of the College of Mass Communication & Media Arts on the Carbondale campus. The WSIU stations reach more than five million people across six states and beyond through five digital public television channels, three public radio stations, a radio information service, a website, and education and outreach services.
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WSIU's programs and services are partially funded by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.