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Giving the Green Light to a Better Future for LGBT Youth

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The Oscars are over, the awards handed out, the parties wrapped up. However, at Point Foundation we have just started the process of choosing our stars -- our 2012 Point Scholars. All the scholarship applications are in (over 1,976), and thanks to the help of our volunteer readers and selections committee, the semi-finalists are being notified. The finalists will have their in-person interviews in April, and then in June we will announce the 2012 class of Point Scholars.

I usually talk about Point Scholars in superlatives: how they are the most motived, brightest, and absolutely courageous young people I have ever met. Yet these LGBT college students, most of whom have encountered prejudice, bullying, and even rejection by their families, are not looking to be treated as special or different from their peers. They just want an opportunity to get a good education and create a life for themselves like anyone else.

When most LGBT youth think of a future where "It Gets Better," their wishes are for something far more basic than a rainbow fantasyland. What they want is to feel safe and have fair access to the same opportunities everyone else has. The hundreds of LGBT youth I have met are not afraid of tackling the hard work it will take to improve their lives. Most are passionate about wanting to make things better, not just for themselves but for their peers and the entire LGBT community.

That also is the ethos for the Point Inspiration Award, given to a company or organization that champions respect and inclusion of the LGBT community and operates with the vision that investing in today's potential will produce a brighter tomorrow. It is crucial for LGBT youth to have exposure to, and be inspired by, examples of the many directions their lives can take -- full of diverse experiences, intellectual curiosity, creative expression, and confidence.

In April Point will present our Inspiration Award to Focus Features, a film company that has released such notable films with LGBT themes as Brokeback Mountain, Milk, The Kids Are All Right, and, more recently, Beginners and Pariah. Life is not always easy for the characters in these films, but the LGBT people we see on the screen are fully fleshed out and, if not based on a real person such as Harvey Milk, they still remind us of people we could well meet in real life.

All of us want to see representations of ourselves in media and art that are not stereotypical, two-dimensional characters but real people living three-dimensional lives. That is what LGBT youth desperately want: to be empowered so that they can experience life in all its full and rich dimensions.

The reality that they face is often the opposite. Toyota Financial Services Point Scholar Tommy Craven recently spoke to an audience in New York about how narrow and limited life felt to him before he received his scholarship and was able to go to college:

I always felt different and out-of-place amongst my peers and family, who all seemed to value being closed-minded and judgmental instead of opening their eyes to the beauty of those around them. Before too long everyone in my hometown in rural Indiana knew I was gay, and my world seemed to be closing in on me. My peers were ridiculing my identity, and no matter how hard I worked in school and in my job, I feared I would never realize my dream of going to college.

Today Craven is no longer trapped by narrow attitudes and limited opportunities. He is going to school at New York University, and as part of his Point Foundation community service project, he is speaking to New-York-area high school students as an intern with PFLAG and their Safe Schools for All program.

A silent film may have won the Academy Award for best picture this year, but silence is not a tool for improving the lives of LGBT youth. We need to empower more LGBT youth like Tommy Craven to speak up for themselves and their peers about what they need to realize their potential. And we have to help them any way we can.

These young people are not asking for something you "only see in the movies" -- a superhero or wizard ridding the world of all its problems -- but simply the opportunity to try to create healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives for themselves. Through education, advocacy, and mentoring, we can green light a better life for LGBT youth.