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Financial support for the proud

By Annie Goodman
On December 5, 2017

PFLAG New Orleans has offered scholarships to LGBTQ+ students every year since 1992. The scholarships range from $1,000 to $10,000 and offer general as well as specialized scholarships. The deadline to apply is Feb. 1. File Photo/The Lion's Roar

A scholarship opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/ questioning and other students is available for students who self-identify within LGBTQ+ spectrum, are Louisiana residents, are at least 17-years-old by April 15 and have to be applying to attend, or are currently attending, a post-secondary institution, which does not have to be in Louisiana.

“The scholarship is for LGBTQ students who are graduating high school or attending a post-secondary school, college or university,” said Co-President and PFLAG New Orleans Scholarship Chair Joe Melcher. “There is no age barrier except you have to be at least 17 by April of next year, so people could be working on their master’s, could be working on their Ph.D. They could be in medical school. They could be in law school. They could be 30 years old, 40 years old. We’re just trying to help those students who need help in order to go and get their education.”

This scholarship is granted by the New Orleans chapter of an organization known as PFLAG and has been around since the early ‘90s.

“PFLAG originally stood for Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays,” said Melcher. “It was started in the late ‘70s by a mother who walked in a pride parade in New York and carried a sign that said, ‘I love my gay son.’ She had such nice responses that she started an organization of parents primarily who had LGBTQ kids so that they could support each other and support their kids.”

Since its inception, PFLAG has spread its influence and support across the world.

“It became a national organization,” said Melcher. “And after that, it has spread across the country and there are even some international chapters. There are over 400 chapters at this point. Its mission is to educate an ill-informed public and to advocate for equal rights and to support individuals who are associated with the LGBTQ community.”

Since joining the scholarship committee, Melcher stayed on board until he eventually took over as the new head of the committee when the previous chairperson retired 15 years ago.

“I became involved in about 1993-94,” said Melcher. “I don’t remember exactly. I had attended a couple of the PFLAG Scholarship Receptions. It had just started in ’92. I am a retired professor from Xavier University, and no students from Xavier were getting scholarships. I asked how I might get involved so I could publicize the scholarship on my campus. It just so happened I knew the woman that was chairing the committee, and she invited me to join the committee, and I did. That year I got the word out on Xavier campus, and about three students from Xavier received scholarships.”

Through Melcher, the scholarship made its way to the university’s campus as well via Sims Memorial Library Director Eric Johnson.

“I have been on the scholarship committee since 1999, and we average about 30 to 40 a year,” said Johnson. “So we’re talking a lot of scholarships in the last 18 years. The scholarships range between $1,000 and $10,000. Most of them are $1,000.”

Johnson, who is from Connecticut, met Melcher shortly after coming to Louisiana and wanted to get more of the university’s students involved in receiving the scholarship.

“We look at grades of course because it is a scholarship,” said Johnson. “More than that, we look at any activity that the student may have had in the LGBTQ area.”

Johnson finds that not enough students from the university apply for these scholarships and said that about three to five students have received scholarships since he has joined the committee.

“I am continually amazed at the quality of the applications that we get, nicely amazed,” said Johnson. “It’s incredible what students are doing out there, in the high schools even: starting gay-straight alliances, working with diversity, volunteering with LGBTQ youth at risk. I’m reading these applications, and I’m filled with awe at what some of the students are doing. I wish we had more money to give. Some of them are just amazing.”

Melcher feels these scholarships are especially important for LGBTQ students because they often do not receive financial support from their families.

“So many students, whether they’re LGBTQ or not, need financial assistance,” said Melcher. “But we find that often LGBTQ students are kicked out of the home by their parents, or they are not financially supported by their parents. Any thing we can do to assist these students, we want to do that. That doesn’t mean every recipient has been kicked out by their parents by any means, but we want to help many of the LGBTQ students with these small scholarships.”

For more information or to apply, go to pflagno.org. The deadline to apply is Feb. 1, 2018.

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