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CARBONDALE – Whether you’re LGBTQ, female-identifying, or a Person of Color, the Rainbow Cafe LGBTQ Center and a new  group want you to know: you’re welcome here, especially if you don’t feel welcome where you are.

The center is joining with the new Carbondale Assembly for Radical Equity (CARE) to raise awareness and funds that support relocations to Carbondale. Their goal is to further project a message that’s already spreading strong: that Carbondale is an oasis of safety, understanding and resources for marginalized populations.

Those marginalized groups include:

• LGBTQ+ people living in states like Iowa and Florida that have passed legislation that alienates sexual and gender minorities in some way

• women living in states like Tennessee and Missouri that have severely restricted a woman’s right to choose an abortion

• and People of Color in states – again, including Iowa – that have passesd laws restricting the teaching of Black history in public schools and universities.


C.A.R.E. is focusing on transgender people for now

Right now, says CARE co-founder Cassandra Coffey, the most urgent needs are inquiries coming from people who identify as transgender or nonbinary. Coffey said they first learned of this need through TikTok videos posted by people coming from states with oppressive environments.

Almost a dozen states have passed legislation that either limits transgender access to bathrooms, or bans transgender health care to minors, or prevents pronoun recognition in public schools, or some other form of anti-transgender legislation.

Many of the CARE organizers have themselves experienced anti-transgender communities and made their way to Carbondale to escape them. Coffey is one.

Cassandra Coffey with Carbondale Assembly for Radical Equity

Cassandra Coffey with Carbondale Assembly for Radical Equity

“I came to Carbondale to get away from a city where there was medical gatekeeping for trans health care. I was also having difficulty getting on (hormone replacement therapy). I know several others who moved here for the same reason.

“Carbondale is, in my opinion, one of the best places to live your truth and be open in southern Illinois.”

In addition to several fundraisers, C.A.R.E. is also putting together a video featuring local transgender people sharing what it’s like to live in Carbondale.

New Carbondale City Council

New Carbondale City Council include (far left) Clare Killman, first-ever openly transgender City Council member in Illinois, and (second to left) Carolin M. Harvey, first-ever Black mayor. In addition, Adam Loos was re-elected, and long-time activist Nancy Maxwell was elected.


New leaders reinforce Carbondale’s rep for diversity, welcomeness

On April 4, Carbondale elected its first-ever Black mayor, veteran civic leader and nonprofit volunteer Carolin M. Harvey.

That same night, Carbondale also elected Illinois’ first-ever openly transgender City Council member, Clare Killman.   The election of Harvey and Killman further reinforces Carbondale’s reputation for diversity and openness, says Rainbow Cafe leader Carrie Vine.

Killman is actually one of those people who migrated to Carbondale to escape her unwelcoming hometown in rural southern Missouri.

Since then, Killman has been steadily involved in issues beyond LGBTQ+ topics: sustainability, ending food deserts, support for cooperative small-business ventures, equal infrastructure improvements across the city, solar energy and more.

Harvey’s 40 years of Carbondale involvement are also filled with diverse impact, including and beyond BIPOC issues. She’s been deeply involved with the Warming Center and other support for people without homes, the Special Olympics, ArtSpace 304, the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce and hospice services.

She says the city’s ground-breaking election in April “shows that Carbondale is what I already know it to be: very progressive and forward-thinking.”

In addition to Harvey and Killman, Carbondale also elected Nancy Maxwell, also a Black community leader and someone who has spoken openly in support of the LGBTQ+ community, recently suggesting the city choose a day to honor drag.

The three together have given Carbondale another overall first: a majority female-identifying, minority City Council. In a city that is also attracting nationwide attention for abortion clinics opening branches to help serve people from nearby anti-abortion states, that’s an important step.


Killman sees the whole experience as having statewide impact. “Illinois is a lightning rod for people safeguarding their human rights and dignity.  Carbondale electing a woman- majority,  Black woman-led Council with the first transgender city council person ever in the state … Carbondale has firmly planted its flag within Illinois’ cultural legacy. It’s the honor of a lifetime to be the continuation of that. I’m very excited to see people reassess what being an illinoisan means.”

C.A.R.E. fundraisers include Pride flag sales, events on June 17 and July 1

To support C.A.R.E.’s mission, you can choose from three efforts coming up or happening right now:

  • Vine and the Rainbow Cafe are selling Progress Pride flags to help fund C.A.R.E.’s work. Each flag is $20, and all proceeds will support C.A.R.E.’s funds to help marginalized identities relocate to Carbondale. Vine also emphasized that you can also sponsor Pride flags for others by ordering several. Order your flags at this link, noting CARE in your memo, or email Vine at
  • Coming June 17, the Oogle House in Carbondale holds an all-day fundraiser fair for C.A.R.E. The day features music by seven local bands and performers, and kids’ fun all day. Admission is $10; watch the C.A.R.E. Facebook page for more information.
  • An Art Auction and Music Fundraiser happens July 1 to raise money for C.A.R.E., too. Happening at the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship, 105 N. Parrish Lane, the event will include catered food and live music by Sturg and Friends, Ben West, and Curt Wilson. The fun hapens 6 to 10 p.m.;  tickets are $20, and you can order them here. This event is also co-presented by CHOICES Reproductive Health Center in Carbondale.

You can also reach C.A.R.E. through its Facebook page, or contact Coffey directly to donate, volunteer or offer another kind of help; email See Facebook for more about the group and its July 1 event.

(This article first appeared in the June 2023 print edition of The Real Mainstream.)