Bid now: Gay student for sale
BY Ryan James Kim
November 09 2005 12:00 AM ET
Simpson’s eBay listing—item number
5632476886—is not your typical Beanie Baby or
autographed photo of Kurt Cobain. Its bold headline reads
“College Tuition and Expenses at Howard
University”—next to a hefty price tag of
$80,000. Posted along with an explanation of how the figure
was calculated ($10,000 tuition for four years and
$10,000 a year in living expenses) is the 21-year-old
Washington, D.C., resident’s detailed
résumé, which describes his extensive volunteer
experience with various HIV organizations, work he
began in high school at the age of 16.
originally suggested that Simpson’s financial woes
related in part to a break with his parents because
he’s gay, an assertion that he quickly removed
from the posting and now says he regrets. That
characterization of his situation isn’t accurate, he
tells Advocate.com; in fact, his relationship with his
parents remains “amicable.” The listing
now simply reads “I’ve applied for many
scholarships, [but] my parents are not in a position
to cosign any student loans and all traditional
options have been exhausted. Simpson spoke with Advocate.com by telephone to
explain his listing.
How did you come up with the idea to ask for your college
tuition on eBay? I heard about people selling all sorts of
craziness on there. At this point I have exhausted all
traditional methods of funding college [so I thought
I’d give it a shot].
Why $80,000?Tuition at Howard University [a highly respected private
school in Washington, D.C.] is $10,00 a year, $40,000
total. I figured, though, if I’m going to ask
for it, and someone’s going to pay for it, I might as
well ask for all of it. “Ask for what you want, not
what you need.” I thought a $10,000 stipend a
year [for living expenses] would be reasonable.
Your listing says your parents can’t cosign for
loans. What do you mean by that? My parents aren’t in a position to cosign
my loans because of their credit history and I myself
don’t have an established credit history.
What are some traditional methods you have tried to
obtain funding for your education? I applied to the national Target [Corporation]
Scholarship and Howard University has a whole list of
scholarships you apply for at once. There are some
small ones I’ve applied to. I actually got one from
AmeriCorps. I also applied for grants from the D.C.
government. The AmeriCorps one I got because I
volunteered for a year. [For] the D.C. government [funds],
the criteria is supposed to be just if you live there but I
What factors have limited your success in being selected
for these grants? A lot of these scholarship winners are in a
certain age group. I fall through enough loopholes
that I just don’t qualify, like my age.
What about the financial aid office at Howard? How have
they been? I was awarded with [a loan of up to] $3,000 a
year. My parents were awarded a loan of [up to]
$20,000, which they’re not in the position to
take out. So that’s the financial aid I got. I did go
to the school about being an independent [student],
but the independent status is very hard to establish
because I’m on good terms with my parents, even
though I’ve lived alone for 31⁄2 years.
Your listing ends with “I’ll pretty much do
whatever you want. Let’s talk.” What
does that mean? That means I understand you’re investing
in me, and I wanted to keep the terms open. The phrase
was supposed to serve as an open door. If someone
says, “You can get the scholarship, as long as you
maintain a something-something GPA,”
that’d be fine, or “Do these five
things.” I didn’t want to limit myself.
Were you concerned that this might be misinterpreted? I should have put a caveat there, but I
didn’t think of it. I wouldn’t do
anything that I wouldn’t want to do or I felt would
compromise my moral values.
You’ve also had work experience as a Starbucks
barista, a waiter, and a prep cook. Has education
always been a priority for you? I always intended to be a student since early in
How did you become interested in HIV-related volunteer work? I found myself [coming out] as a 16-year-old and
gay and not finding a way to connect with my community
that was good for me, so I started volunteering with a
clinic. It allowed me a connection—a camaraderie that
I couldn’t find otherwise. And I got to help people.
Why do you continue to work and volunteer for nonprofits
and HIV organizations?[My feelings have] evolved since then. I’ve
learned more about HIV; how it is the intersection of
racism, sexism, and other things. Look around the
world: Where is this disease going from? Who’s
infecting whom? And more important, how do you play a
role in preventing more infections?
Why do you think your HIV work is relevant to your asking
for financial support as a student? I think I’ve done a lot for my age. I
think I’ve been in a position to help people,
and I have. Some people are on the GPA track. I
didn’t do that. Some people were the student
body presidents of their high schools. I didn’t
do that. I volunteered. I wanted to show where my strengths
Last year, your résumé states, you went to
Portland State University. Why is Howard the place
to be now? I found that Portland wasn’t the place
for me. The city didn’t feel right. So I came
back [to D.C.]. Howard is the best value. It’s a
Where did you grow up? Cleveland, Ohio.
Where did you attend high school and what was it like? Charles F. Brush High School, which is in a
suburb of Cleveland. It was great. I found some really
good niches for me there in the drama department, film
department, also doing community service that really
worked well for me. I headed up an internship program there.
My senior year, I wanted to spread my wings a bit
more. I wanted to work at a free clinic, and I wanted
to get credit for it, and they let me. I was the first
one to do that.
What was it like to be out in high school? Exciting. I realized I was gay at 16 and came
out shortly thereafter. At first I wasn’t sure
what the reaction would be. My high school was very
diverse economically, religiously, and racially. I found a
lot of negativity toward me, even [from] some
teachers, but I also found as much positive energy.
For every time I got called a faggot, I had someone come
up to me and ask me questions. I also had a progressive
administration, and I think they did a very good job.
But my school didn’t have a GSA [gay-straight
alliance] at the time. So it really felt like me and the
person I was dating at the time were the two gay kids.
Do you have any siblings? I have an older sister in Cleveland who’s
25. We’re still on good grounds. We definitely
keep in touch.
Did religion play a role in your upbringing? It did. It played a strong role. I was raised
Jewish: My mother’s Jewish; my father’s
Catholic. They decided beforehand to raise us Jewish. But at
the same time we still had one side of the family doing all
the Catholic stuff. Also my parents are divorced, and
when [each of them] remarried, my mother married a
Muslim and my father a Prostestant. I got to see it
all. When you have so many elements in your youth, none of
them can take root too deeply. It provided me variety.
I had four different options at least. I had four
sort-of models for what I could be.
Are you religious? No, but I would call myself spiritual.
Whom did you come out to first in your family? What was
that like? I came out first to my mother when I was 16. It
was rocky at first. My mom needed time to adjust. I
was dating somebody. I thought I was in love after the
second date. I was hanging out with him a lot. My mother saw
me coming home with hickeys on my neck. And one day in
the car, she said, “We should go to
dinner.” On the way there, she was letting out some
emotions she was having. Then I told her whom I was dating,
and she sort of looked at me, and she said, “I
should think not!” [Later] when she wound up
realizing it and believing it, I was again in love [with
another guy]. I had just broken up with the guy, and I
was feeling really emotional. I wound up breaking down
crying to my mother, and she learned then that it was
What is your relationship with your parents like now?They love me and support me in any way they are capable
of. If they could pay for college, they would.
When did you first move to D.C. and why?I always knew I wanted to take a year off after high
school. I joined AmeriCorps. They have an HIV program,
and I was placed through them with SMYAL [the Sexual
Minority Youth Assistance League, based in Washington,
How much did you live on? AmeriCorps gave me a living stipend of $12,000 a
year. Luckily, I qualified for food stamps so I got a
bit of government assistance. I also had very creative
living situations. The last apartment I lived in had
four roommates in one bedroom but two bathrooms.
What happens if you don’t get this money? Right now I’m working five days a week,
about 30 hours a week. And I’m doing classes
five days a week. I’m burned out, though. [If I
don’t get funding] I’m going to work
full-time and go to school part-time. I figure
it’ll take about two years [to earn enough money to
start school full-time again], which will also put me
closer to that magic age when I can be considered
independent: 24. It’s a far cry from the worst
situation. I’m not dreading it.