Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Extra Credit

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Extra Credit

Article excerpt

A new scholarship fund looks to offer help to gay and lesbian students

Seth Persily's E-mail box overflows with desperate stories from young gays and lesbians. Some are homeless yet desperately want to earn their GED; others, in college, lost all funding from their parents the instant they came out.

The good news is, they've come to the right place. Persily is founder and executive director, of the National Gay and Lesbian College Fund, which he describes as the first comprehensive national scholarship program in the country for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youths.

The bad news is, there is nowhere near enough money to go around.

The fund's goal is to raise $1 million for endowment by the end of 2002. So far it has raised only a tiny fraction of that amount. However, fund officials plan to award the first scholarships this winter. The money is being managed by American Express Financial Advisors.

The National Gay and Lesbian College Fund is the brainchild of Persily, 26, who works full-time as an attorney. He started the fund during his third year at Harvard Law School.

"Our community has done a good job providing triage assistance to at-risk gay youth in major cities in the form of food, clothing, shelter, and support," he says. "But after that, they're left to fend for themselves. The next step, once they're on their feet, is helping them make something of their lives."

For many, that next step means obtaining financial aid for school. Gay youths often face obstacles unknown to their straight peers. Parents' refusal to pay for college is the most obvious, but fund board member S. Erik Richard lists others. "A kid who gets harassed may drop out before earning a diploma," he says. "Or maybe that kid graduates, but because it took all his energy just to survive, he didn't get the grades he'd need for a college scholarship. …

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