I was starting to drift to sleep at my friend's house when the call came. My phone vibrated, and I assumed it was my mom wishing me goodnight. Instead, a number with a Los Angeles area code shined on the screen. I answered. Three minutes later, I hung up the phone and was in tears. I had just received news that I was the recipient of a Point Foundation scholarship -- a scholarship created specifically for LGBTQ students.
I had applied for the scholarship in my senior year in high school after learning about Point Foundation in an ethics class where my peers debated whether an LGBTQ scholarship was necessary. As a young gay man in conservative southern Indiana, I had lots of reasons to argue that it was indeed very necessary.
Growing up, I constantly heard negative attitudes about LGBTQ people and I never had the opportunity to meet any LGBTQ role models. Between the time I realized I was gay and the time I finally came out, I struggled with my identity. I dated girls, I participated in homophobic bullying, and I debated how I could change myself to be "normal."
With the encouragement of my friends and my mom, I came out my junior year of high school. It was a bittersweet decision. Men my mother dated would ridicule me and harass my boyfriends. Colleagues in a student business organization disrespected me and talked behind my back even though when I was "straight" we were best friends. Family members pretended to accept me, but then failed to acknowledge and support me in front of others.
I dreamed of going to college in New York City where I would not be hindered intellectually or personally, but rather could express myself freely. I not only wanted to live my life openly, but to develop my skills as an activist filmmaker so I could give voice to other LGBTQ people. However, with my mom's very low income the idea of affording college in New York seemed an impossible dream.
Still, I decided to apply for the Point Scholarship. I made it past the first round, then the next, and advanced to become a finalist. Point flew me to San Francisco for the last hurdle; an in-person interview. Standing in front of Point board members and staff, I told my story. I explained that while I had been accepted to NYU, I couldn't afford it. I discussed how I helped my struggling mother by working six days a week after school to pay for our basic needs. I told them I would have to attend Indiana University instead for business since they didn't have a film program, but that I really didn't want to go to college and struggle with the same narrow-minded environment I experienced growing up. I poured my heart out and left the room in tears.
In San Francisco, I met the other finalists for the Point Scholarship and thought about the debate in my ethics class. Like applicants for most scholarships, we all were good students with financial needs. We weren't looking for any special treatment because we were LGBTQ; we simply wanted a fair chance to go to school and not have our potential curtailed because of bigotry and narrow-mindedness.
One thing about a Point Scholarship that I had not really considered during that ethics class debate is how a scholarship check alone is not what would make a real and lasting difference in my life. By becoming Point Scholar I was joining a supportive community of people who would be there for me -- and expect much of me.
I moved to New York City in August of 2011 to attend NYU, and soon came to understand the importance of community. Point helped me get my first internship at PFLAG NYC, and I was able to do something for the first time: learn to become an activist. I spoke to middle and high school students in New York City to increase awareness of LGBTQ bullying. I marched with PFLAG in my first LGBTQ pride parade and began to make strong connections with my community.
Point also provided me with a mentor. He and I have a fantastic relationship and frequently meet to discuss my annual community service project (a requirement of receiving the Point Scholarship), as well as to talk about my goals in the entertainment industry. My mentor helped guide me so that I was able to complete my first LGBTQ related film project: a story about a genderqueer toddler who navigates the gender binary in a toy story.
This coming May I will graduate from NYU, and I can honestly say I would not be where I am without Point Foundation. While Point provided financial assistance that helped me attend NYU, what I am really thankful for is the future Point has opened up for me.
Working with two other Point scholars, I just completed my first feature length documentary; a film about growing up queer in New York City. Now I have my sights set on Los Angeles, and I've already received offers from other Point Scholars for places to stay and people to collaborate with on projects.
When I reflect back to my high school ethics class debate, I still wonder if the people who argued against LGBTQ scholarships did not understand that the LGBTQ community needs assistance in building up strong, educated leaders. Could they not recognize that every community deserves to be healthy, vibrant and able to take pride in who they are?
It's unfortunate that rather than build and take pride in their own supportive communities, there are people who sought to keep me from discovering mine. Thankfully, with Point Foundation's help, I didn't let them tear down my aspirations. Just the existence of an LGBTQ scholarship organization like Point gave me hope, and I don't think there's any debate about hope being something many LGBTQ young people desperately need.
Point Foundation's scholarship application is currently open until January 20th and can be accessed here.