Across the nation, there have been controversies surrounding Pride celebrations and other LGBTQ+ events. A vital, albeit sometimes acrimonious, conversation is taking place about whether the LGBTQ+ movement is fully representative of the community’s diversity, whether about gender, race, class or other intersectional identities. To those who wonder whether our community can transcend these divisions and truly embrace our great diversity, I say: look to our young people.
Meet Kevin Contreras. Raised in Los Angeles in a traditional Mexican family, Kevin became well-acquainted with discrimination at a young age. Throughout his adolescence, he was often bullied for being the only openly queer student among his peers. Despite this unsupportive community, Kevin has worked to combat the effects of discrimination, serving as president of both his school and its Gay Student Alliance. Kevin suffers from an eye disorder that will eventually cause blindness. This has motivated him to go to college to become a researcher, and eventually a doctor so he can help thousands of people in need. Kevin is currently pursuing a pre-med degree at Pitzer College, and he is committed to a career working on behalf of LGBTQ+ causes.
Meet Oliver Stabbe, who is deaf and transgender. When he realized he was transgender at age 15, Oliver struggled not only with overcoming stigma about his gender identity but also to receive equitable resources from the hearing-dominant world. Since then, Oliver has committed himself to helping other LGBTQ+ people access the resources they need, regardless of their physical abilities or mental health, including promoting accessible options for an LGBTQ+ suicide hotline where he answers calls. Oliver is currently studying American Sign Language and psychology at the University of Rochester.
Kevin and Oliver are just two of the 2017 class of scholars selected by the Point Foundation, where I have the privilege to serve as executive director and CEO. Since we first started awarding scholarships in 2002, Point has assisted 400 LGBTQ+ students, helping them on their way to becoming the future leaders of the LGBTQ+ community and society.
Like Kevin and Oliver, each of our scholars has encountered unique struggles with adversity and persevered to achieve their own triumphs. They all have personal experience with how an LGBTQ+ identity intersects with and impacts their other identities. Together, Point Scholars embody the incredible diversity of the LGBTQ+ community.
Look to Donna Scaffidi, who overcame homelessness and poverty to pursue a law degree and advocate for the black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ communities; or Adil Mansoor, who was born in Pakistan and today is a successful theater artist in Pittsburgh, often producing plays that feature LGBTQ+ issues. Soon, Donna and Adil will join more than 300 Point alumni who have gone on to become doctors, scientists, elected officials, award-winning directors, entrepreneurs, and rising stars in their chosen professions.
With so many of our scholars coming from historically underprivileged and under-resourced backgrounds, it is imperative that we provide them with more than financial support. Point pairs each scholar with a mentor who provides them with career and professional development advice. Our scholars attend leadership training programs and are required to develop and complete an annual community service project. Thanks to generous funders, we are able to provide stipends to scholars who pursue internships with organizations serving the LGBTQ+ and marginalized communities.
At Point Foundation, we are dedicated to those in our community that historically have not had access to higher education, whether due to race, immigration status, health issues, or any number of other intersectional reasons. For these students, community colleges are a bridge from their entry into higher education to a four-year degree. This year, Point welcomes 25 LGBTQ+ students to our Community College Scholarship Program, funded by Wells Fargo. Many of these students are the first in their families to go to college. Nearly half identify as transgender, gender-nonconforming or intersex, and most identify themselves as an ethnic or racial group that has traditionally been underrepresented in higher education.
Because the problem of inequality that afflicts American society also exists within our community, Point is helping to level the playing field for LGBTQ+ students. We are proud to play a vital role in making higher education more accessible, and in helping our scholarship recipients develop the skills and the social capital needed to achieve their personal, professional, and community leadership goals.
As is abundantly clear to anyone who has attended a recent Pride event, the LGBTQ+ community is far from a monolith. Our differences and divisions may be great, but everyone at Point embraces that rich diversity as one of our community’s greatest strengths. Point Foundation is committed to finding the next generation of society’s leaders and making sure that those future leaders truly represent the entire LGBTQ+ community. Look with us at our young people, and share our pride.
— Jorge Valencia is Executive Director & CEO, Point Foundation