Every year, the Point Foundation awards a collection of deserving LGBT students in college and graduate school scholarships to continue their education and enable them to give back to the communities from which they came.
This year's class of Point Scholars includes 23 students who will be able to pursue higher education thanks to Point's support. Combined with those who received multi-year scholarships awarded in previous years, Point is now supporting 80 full-time students, making it the largest LGBT scholarship organization in the country.
"Helping hardworking and bright students afford the increasing cost of a college education is an investment in a better future for everyone," said Jorge Valencia, executive director and CEO of Point Foundation. "Embracing diversity in education — particularly empowering LGBTQ students — is necessary for building a more equitable and innovative society."
As always, this year's Point Scholars represent a diverse cross-section of the LGBT community. More than one-third of the new scholars are from the Southern U.S., while 17 percent are from Mountain States, marking a notable increase in scholars from these regions in previous years. While 48 percent of this year's new scholars are people of color, 22 percent of the scholars identify as transgender, and 13 percent identify as gender-nonconforming. Thirty percent of this year's scholarship class are the first in their family to go to college.
While the particular experiences that qualify each individual to be named a Point Scholar vary, all of them share an unyielding desire to serve, empower, and better the LGBT community. And with their unbridled passion and the newly announced support from Point, these individuals are all but certain to become the next generation of LGBT leaders, inspiring others and serving as living, breathing proof that it really does get better.
All of the Point Scholars have demonstrated academic excellence and leadership within their communities, despite facing harsh discrimination, rejection, and homophobia from those communities, and sometimes even from their own families. Every Point Scholar is paired with a professional mentor and receives training to further cultivate their leadership skills.
In late July, current Point Scholars will gather in Boston, along with many Point Alumni, for the Foundation's Annual Scholar and Alumni Leadership Conference, focusing on honing their advocacy skills and planning their future careers. In addition to special film screenings and a walking tour of the historic town, this year's scholars and alumni will be joined by New York Times-bestselling author Janet Mock, and NBA center Jason Collins, who recently became the first openly gay man to play professional basketball when he signed with the Brooklyn Nets.
Learn more about each of the scholars on the following pages, and get to know them better with brief introductory videos collected here.
Frederick Adenuga, the son of Nigerian immigrants, grew up in a community in the American south that was staunchly against the progress of the LGBTQ community. Upon becoming a student at Florida State University, Frederick was determined to be a vocal and active advocate for other LGBTQ students who felt that they did not have many supportive individuals in their lives. Frederick became the first openly gay member of FSU’s Greek Interfraternity Council's executive board. He spearheaded initiatives that led a majority of FSU’s fraternities to vocally express their openness to accept gay members. Frederick also served as the recruitment chair for FSU’s Pride Student Union, and led an initiative to have gender-neutral bathrooms installed in buildings across campus. Frederick is currently triple-majoring in political science, entrepreneurship, and sales, and is also currently working toward his Master of Public Administration.
Erin Armstrong was born and raised in Utah and transitioned from male-to-female at the age of 20. After encountering rejection by her Mormon family and local community, in 2005 she moved to New York City. There, in an effort to find a transgender community, she began making YouTube videos about her transition. Erin was the first person to do this, and it started catching on. Now, the YouTube transgender community boasts tens of thousands of videos from all over the world. Erin's work has been featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, The L.A. Times, and The Advocate, and she was named to the inaugural Trans 100 list. Her videos have been viewed more than 5,000,000 times, and her video channel has more than 10,000 subscribers. Erin has been able to reach a worldwide audience, help support other transgender people, and educate cisgender people about the issues facing the transgender community.
In 2010, Erin brought her passion for the transgender community to San Francisco, as program coordinator for Trans:Thrive, the largest transgender drop-in center in the country. She started and led the TransformSF Collaborative in 2011, a group of four HIV-prevention nonprofits that joined forces to test, treat, and prevent HIV in the transgender community. Erin has presented her work at the National Transgender Health Summit, the Philadelphia Transgender Health Conference, and the Gender Expansion Conference. She hopes to run her own nonprofit focused on improving the lives of transgender people.
Ishan Asokan grew up in Orlando, Fla., and then moved to Philadelphia to study biology at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating magna cum laude from Penn in 2010, Ishan became interested in exploring the health of the LGBTQ community. Though Philadelphia introduced him to tremendous diversity, he felt motivated to see what the world had to offer. He began his international journey in Hyderabad, India, where he studied the impact of social networks on HIV and AIDS transmission in male sex workers. The jarring inequalities he witnessed inspired his interest to study population health and health policy.
After his time in India, Ishan went on to the University of Oxford and completed an MS in Global Health Science in 2011. While at Oxford, Ishan served as the course representative and researched suicidal distress in LGBTQ youth in Brighton, U.K. He then traveled to Kenya, where he completed his Trinity Term thesis on challenges to healthcare access for Kenyan men who have sex with men, establishing his fervent mission to better capture the inadequacies impacting the world’s LGBTQ spectrum.
Ishan is a physician trainee at Vanderbilt University’s Comprehensive Care Clinic, a facility devoted to HIV and AIDS management, and he is a cofounder of Vanderbilt’s Physicians for Human Rights group. He has also been a researcher at Jordan’s King Hussein Cancer Center, and written for Consultancy Africa Intelligence. Ishan’s clinical commitment to global medicine has provided him with unique insight into minority health, and he plans to devote his life’s work to this important field.
Brittney Balkcom was born and raised in the small, conservative, predominantly low-income town of Humble, Texas. She is continually inspired by the ways in which music can be healing and transformative for individuals and communities in the face of adversity, and it is this belief that fuels her passion for making music.
Brittney earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of North Texas, and a Master of Music degree from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. Her Master’s thesis, “The Creative Response to Homophobic America: Gay American Composers of the 20th Century,” examines how music changed an oppressed community, and how that community changed music.
In 2013, Brittney debuted at Carnegie Hall-Weill Recital Hall, as a first prize winner of the Alexander & Buono International Flute Competition. She also won first prize in the 2013 Myrna W. Brown Artist Competition, and in that same year, she was named a Miyazawa Emerging Artist. Brittney has appeared as a soloist and guest artist at various colleges and festivals, and she has performed and recorded with many Boston-based ensembles. Her 2014 engagements include a three-concert series at Makeshift Boston entitled Inherently Queer; performances at the Peabody Essex Museum with rising Metropolitan Opera star Anthony Roth Constanzo as a member of the Encounters Ensemble, and the Square Enix release of the soundtrack to Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns, on which she can be heard as the solo flutist.
As a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, she plans to continue pursuing opportunities which combine her passions for performance, research, and LGBTQ activism. For more information about Brittney, please visit her website at www.brittneybalkcom.com.