‘For LGBTQ students, obstacles to equality remain’
Viewpoints: Tackling systemic racism and other inequities in areas such as education can help break down barriers many LGBTQ students face, writes Jorge Valencia, executive director and CEO of Point Foundation.
As we celebrate Pride Month during the month of June, Point Foundation also celebrates its 20th anniversary of empowering LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential — despite the obstacles often put before them — to make a significant impact on society.
As the nation’s largest LGBTQ scholarship granting organization, Point has invested $43 million in supporting students achieving college educations. Each Point scholar also receives access to multiple leadership development programs, mentorship or coaching, and the support of a community of scholars and alumni to help them succeed.
Reflecting on my 14 years as Point’s executive director and CEO, I am proud of the progress we have made and continue to be endlessly inspired by our scholars. However, I also recognize that there is much more work to do. We must ensure that higher education is not only accessible for all students, but that LGBTQ young people can be their authentic selves, flourish, and achieve their dreams.
At Point, we know that for LGBTQ students, obstacles to equality remain. This was made all the more evident during the pandemic. For example, in a study conducted this year by the UCLA Williams Institute in collaboration with Point, it was reported that LGBTQ students were more than twice as likely to have lost student housing than non-LGBTQ students (15% vs. 6%, respectively). Nearly half of LGBTQ students who moved home during the pandemic were not out to their families about their sexual orientation or gender identity. And, overall, 31% of LGBTQ students experienced a housing disruption due to the pandemic compared to 17% of their non-LGBTQ counterparts.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw inequities in health care, housing, and education in starker relief across the country, but also through the eyes of our scholars who reported losing jobs, internships, housing, food, and internet access as campuses were forced to shut down. Our students also lost one of their most vital support systems: community.
With support from generous funders like Wells Fargo, Point Foundation created an emergency fund to further assist our scholars with safe housing, groceries, and internet access so they could continue to attend classes virtually. We also pivoted our leadership program to an online platform so we could continue to provide our scholars with the support and resources they needed as well as some sense of the community they were missing. Through it all, our exceptional students have continued to impress us with their determination and resilience.
Even with the challenges presented by this pandemic, we continued to look forward and fulfill our mission to help LGBTQ students with the support of Wells Fargo. This past academic year, we supported 158 students — our largest and most diverse class in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity, with 75% of our students identifying as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and 29% as transgender or nonbinary.
“I am proud of how far we have come, proud of what we are achieving today, and focused on what we can do to continue to make progress for LGBTQ students across the country.” — Jorge Valencia, executive director and CEO of Point Foundation.
Last year, as the nation began to reckon with the country’s history of racism and inequality, Point knew we could do more to broaden and deepen our support for students disproportionately impacted by systemic racism in education. We set about creating a scholarship specifically designed to meet the needs of LGBTQ BIPOC students. Our new BIPOC Scholarship launched in December 2020, and we awarded 24 scholarships to our first class in February 2021.
I am proud of how far we have come, proud of what we are achieving today, and focused on what we can do to continue to make progress for LGBTQ students across the country.
There is no denying that our country has been through a tough time these past few years, but we will persevere. What gets me through difficult times is thinking of our scholars who continue to inspire us every day. They are leaders on campus and in their communities today, and they will be leaders on even larger stages tomorrow. Our future is in their hands, and I could not be more optimistic.