Earlier this year, Chaira Harder, an 18-year-old, discovered her parents refused to pay for her college expenses because she is gay. In response, she organized a GoFundMe to cover the cost of room and board at the prestigious Smith College in Northampton, Mass., which she will be attending next fall with financial aid that covers her tuition.
“I’ve sort of always known [I’m gay], but I didn’t actually know the term ‘gay’ until middle school,” Harder said. “I think that’s because of the lack of [LGBTQ+] representation in the media but also because my family is super conservative.”
Harder spent her childhood in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. When she was in ninth grade, her parents became aware of her sexuality after they read her journal without her permission. At the time, Harder had a girlfriend, and her parents immediately cut off their communication.
Later, Harder was forced to go to multiple antigay meetings at a church in Vietnam, where ministers tried to exorcise her gay identity. She also met weekly with a Christian woman for about a year, where she was asked to pray to “break the chains of homosexuality.”
About a year ago, Harder moved to Canada to live with her aunt and grandparents, though her reasons for doing so had more to do with family conflict stemming from an unrelated issue. More recently, Harder’s parents learned that she had joined an LGBTQ+ group in Canada. When they confronted her, Harder told her parents that she did not want to continue attempting to change her sexuality. It was then that her parents cut her off financially.
“I was trying to be more comfortable with myself and embrace [my sexuality] rather than try to continue to change that,” said Harder. “I thought we could talk about it, but no.”
As of Monday, Harder had received a total of $13,874 in Canadian currency from several hundred donors, many of whom are Smith College alums. Harder also received a social justice award and scholarship from the Kelowna Pride Society at her graduation for C$1,000. Her total expenses for the year will be more than C$23,000 or approximately US$19,500.
Speaking to why she chose to attend Smith, Harder said she was excited to attend a liberal arts college and hopes to study computer science with the goal of helping human trafficking victims after graduation.
But perhaps more importantly, she shared that Smith, one of the Seven Sisters and a bastion of evolving LGBTQ+ identities, is somewhere “I could be comfortable being myself.”