It’s that time of year again! The Point Foundation, the largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBT students, has announced its 2016 Scholars. These 22 students of all ages hail from across the U.S. and run the gamut of backgrounds, both domestic and international. Half belong to underrepresented ethnic groups, 36% are first-generation college students, and 41% identify as gender non-conforming. So what do they have in common? They all identify as LGBT or allies, for one — but they all also show strong academic achievement and a record of leadership, and be working for the betterment of the LGBT community.
In addition to the annual Scholarships, for the first time this year the Point Foundation is rolling out its Community College Scholarship Program. Seeing as half of all undergraduates in America attend community college, this is a huge step forward in making higher education accessible to all.
For many Americans, higher education is not always a given, as this new class of scholars show: almost 82% of them receive tuition aid. For working-class high-school graduates, college attendance has been seriously flagging in recent years, falling from 55.9 percent in 2003 to 45.5 percent in 2013. And, no matter their socioeconomic status, queer students face a range of challenges that nonqueer students don’t. “Nearly one-third of LGBTQ students drop out of high school to escape the violence, harassment, and isolation they face there,” according to the foundation. And for many, this struggle affects them at home as well — so much so that for many LGBT students, lack of parental support makes the pursuit of higher education impossible.
The Point Foundation will add 22 new scholars to the 51 it is currently supporting, while the 11 Community College Scholarship Recipients mark the inaugural class. In its history, the Point Foundation has supported over 300 LGBT students, totaling an investment of $18 million in LGBT education and the future of advocacy.
The goal of the foundation is to create “a more accepting and fair society.” And with this selection of Recipients, it’s hard to imagine it could wind up otherwise. From neurobiologists to policy makers, dentists to engineers, this class of activists will be on the cutting edge of the future of queer rights and will strive to make the world a better place. So join us in welcoming the 2016 Point Scholarship Recipients!
HSBC Point Scholar
Dylan Rice was born and raised in Cumberland, Md., a predominantly conservative community. He struggled with his sexuality and eventually came out the summer before his junior year of high school. His extremely religious, conservative family ostracized him, and Dylan found support through his peers.
After becoming confident in himself, Dylan decided to devote his time to making others confident in themselves. He became the president of his high school's gay-straight alliance and founded a social media network devoted to LGBTQ+ youth in his area. Dylan was chosen to represent his school in his county's Student Advisory Board, a group of students who meet monthly with the superintendent of schools and members of the board of education to discuss issues that have arisen in the school system. He took these opportunities to further LGBTQ+ causes in his school system. Dylan is an undergraduate student at Harvard University concentrating in neurobiology and also pursuing gender and sexuality studies. He plans on using his time as an undergraduate to volunteer for LGBTQ+ youth in the Boston area.
University of Denver
Sports and Performance Psychology
Whit Ryan was born in Denver and grew up in Cleveland, where he attended an all-girls school. As a semi-out queer student in a conservative environment, Whit struggled but found a path by embracing academics and sports as ports in the storm. In the years since graduating from high school, he has received a bachelor’s degree in technical theater from the University of Colorado at Boulder, cofounded and was executive director for a not-for-profit performing arts company, and become a professional chef. He has also coached hundreds of athletes through the United States Field Hockey Association, achieved a national rating as a field hockey umpire, and was selected to play on the U.S. Men’s Master’s Field Hockey Team.
In a perfect circle, he now consults with his alma mater and other schools to help them embrace their gender-nonconforming students, and in particular has developed a passion for creating safe space for LGBTQ athletes in the sports of their choice. As a student, leader, athlete, coach, and umpire, Whit has embraced opportunities both professional and informal to encourage support of queer students and athletes in many venues. Pursuing a master of arts degree in sport and performance psychology allows him to expand his ability to learn and lend strength and wisdom in increasingly powerful and compelling ways.
Margaret Grace Wickerson
HSBC Point Scholar
Materials Science and Nanoengineering
Growing up in a conservative Christian household, Grace struggled to come to terms with her sexuality and gender identity. She did not formally come out until summer of 2015. As a result of this disconnect between her own beliefs and values and those of her surrounding community, Grace became passionately involved in advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights as well as women's rights, animal rights, racial equality, and ending domestic and sexual violence. In August 2013, she started Kickin' Violence, now a nationally recognized nonprofit that seeks to inspire youth to engage in nonviolence advocacy through education, service, and martial arts. This program uniquely integrates the philosophy behind martial arts — which is that of peace, justice, and respect — with awareness about domestic, dating, and sexual violence as well as bullying. For her work with Kickin' Violence, Grace has been recognized with the Girl Scout Gold Award, the National Child Awareness Month Youth Ambassadorship, and the National Jefferson Award for Peace and Justice.
Outside of Kickin' Violence, Grace serves on the executive team of National Youth Advisory Board for loveisrespect, where she is developing materials and webinars for preventing dating violence in LGBTQIA+ relationships, as well as on the board of directors at ALSO Youth, Sarasota County, Fla.'s LGBTQIA+ organization, as the sole youth representative. Grace hopes to study the intersection of engineering, social entrepreneurship, and international policy in college. She also wants to pursue a Ph.D. She seeks to create a nonprofit think tank that funds, develops, and implements innovative engineering technologies that solve the critical world issues outlined by the United Nations in the Sustainable Development Goals.
Massachusetts General Hospital
Johannes is a first-generation college student and the proud son of a Filipina immigrant. Growing up as a low-income queer person of color shaped his activist and professional values and he continually seeks to uplift these communities. At Williams College, Johannes was a leader in cultural and political organizations for students of color and LGBTQ students, including the Queer Student Union, Minority Coalition, and the Sankofa step team. After graduating with a double major in psychology and women's and gender studies, he pursued a career in mental health as a research assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital, working on studies examining the psychosocial aspects of HIV prevention and treatment in LGBTQ communities. Johannes then became a study coordinator at the Fenway Institute, where over the course of three years he led a community-based participatory research initiative on health disparities in LGBTQ youth of color.
Since 2012, Johannes has been a lead organizer with Black and Pink, where he engages in community education and activism in solidarity with LGBTQ people impacted by the prison-industrial complex. He has also provided countless hours of counseling and support to LGBTQ survivors of partner abuse with the Network/La Red and plans to integrate these diverse experiences as a health care provider. In the summer of 2016, Johannes returned to Mass General to begin an accelerated bachelor of nursing program. As a registered nurse and eventually a psychiatric nurse practitioner, Johannes hopes to provide affirming care to LGBTQ people of color and other marginalized communities.
New York University
Chai Jindasurat is a mixed-race gay man from Oklahoma with a passion for public service. He attended the University of Missouri, Kansas City, where he became involved in LGBTQ activism through the LGBTQ Center and served as the LGBT housing liaison in residential Life. After graduation, Chai worked at the Kansas City Anti-Violence Projec\ a nonprofit serving LGBTQ survivors of hate violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence in the Kansas City region. There he learned the effect that discrimination, racism, poverty, and homelessness have on violence against LGBTQ people, leading him to become immersed in antiviolence work and the LGBTQ movement.
Chai then moved to Boston to serve as the director of organizing and education at the Network/La Red, an organization dedicated to ending intimate partner violence in LGBTQ communities. There he became involved in national advocacy, serving on the governance committee of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. He then became staff at the New York City Anti-Violence Project in the role of NCAVP Coordinator. After two years he was promoted to the codirector of community organizing and public advocacy, overseeing national policy, research, and training efforts. Upon receiving his master of public administration degree, Chai would like to return to local-based work, where he believes public leaders can implement innovative policy solutions with a strong impact in their own community. Upon graduation, Chai intends to work in municipal government in New York City (laying the groundwork for such with a summer 2016 internship with the mayor’s office). Chai is proud to have served on the steering committee of Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York.
Georgia Institute of Technology
Coming out in ninth grade as the first ever openly LGBTQ student at his conservative high school in south Georgia, Hadden Kelley has faced much opposition in his life. Despite this, Hadden has not let it hold him back. Striving to promote equal opportunities for those in his community, Hadden spent his high school career working to help LGBTQ youth in his community. He made sure that they had access not only to emotional support (by starting Albany, Ga.’s very first LGBTQ support group) but also financial support, by working with his local park and zoo to provide safe and healthy workplaces for LGBTQ youth in the community. Through this organization, Hadden leads fellow workers and volunteers in conservation efforts, outreaching to communities across the Southeast to entertain and educate people about the environmental impact they have on our planet. Because of these efforts, LGBTQ youth in Albany are for once given the opportunity to give back and become active in their community. Hadden graduated from his high school in 2016 with the title of class president. His life goal is to provide clean and safe water to every last corner of the earth as well as to explore more reliable and sustainable energy sources.
University of California, Los Angeles
Raised in a small town in Missouri, Eli had no exposure to the LGBTQ community until his late teens. It wasn’t until he discovered gender theory at the age of 23 that he realized that his feelings of discomfort were definable. Since then, Eli moved to Los Angeles and returned to school with the ambition of making the world a better place for trans people through research, policy, and advocacy. In community college, he led gender and sexuality dialogues for the school’s gay-straight alliance and conducted research on African-American transgender populations. And attending UCLA gave him a chance to broaden his horizons even further. In his first year, Eli wrote two research papers regarding the injustices faced by the trans population. He presented one at a research conference, while the second one was accepted for publication by the Aleph Undergraduate Research Journal for Humanities and Social Sciences.
In his second year, Eli became president of QScholars, an organization dedicated to supporting undergraduate students performing LGBTQ-related research. As president, he also organized the annual LGBT Studies Undergraduate Research Symposium. Eli crafted an honors thesis regarding the health care experiences of transgender Angelenos with health care providers under the guidance of faculty from UCLA Law School and the Williams Institute. Eli plans to pursue a graduate degree in public policy and sociology so that he may continue making the world a better place for trans people across the identity spectrum.
Rand Skolnick Point Scholar
University of Michigan
Jazz McGinnis identifies as a queer trans man, social justice advocate, activist for LGBTQ rights, a writer, and a cat lover. From a young age, he has struggled with depression. But he never allowed his mental illness to stop him from advocating for others. After enduring homophobic bullying during his freshman year of high school, he dropped out and went on to earn his associate degree at 17. Jazz earned his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Oregon with Phi Beta Kappa Honors and was awarded the Wilson Cup for his outspoken advocacy as an out transgender student. He then presided over the LGBTQ committee at Planned Parenthood of the Columbia Willamette, where he created and led cultural competency training for staff serving LGBTQ people seeking reproductive health care.
Jazz went on to coordinate a hormone replacement therapy clinic for low-income, uninsured, and homeless transgender people before spearheading the integration of transgender medicine into primary care services at Outside In, a community health clinic in his hometown of Portland, Ore. For these efforts, he was awarded the Community Health Superstar Award in 2015. Jazz has been at the forefront expanding transgender health benefits under Oregon’s Medicaid program and has spoken at conferences and on panels, and has led training about how medical professionals can provide better transgender health services. His passion for competent and affirming transgender health care has led him to the field of social work, where he plans to further his advocacy for LGBTQ health equity.
Political Science/Gender Studies
Maddie grew up in Rochester, Minn., home of the Mayo Clinic. As a preteen who had never heard the term "bisexuality," she struggled to understand her sexual identity, one that was neither gay nor straight. In eighth grade, she joined an open and affirming church with her family where later she became involved in Minnesota’s 2012 Vote No campaign, which aimed to defeat a proposed state constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union only between one man and one woman. In the summer of 2014, Maddie joined Teen Council, a peer education and advocacy program run by Planned Parenthood, where she discovered her passion for advocacy, human sexuality studies, and sex education. That same year, as a junior in high school, she founded her school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance, where she served as president until graduating in 2016. In October of last year, she created a sexuality education workshop that has since been presented at three statewide conferences in Minnesota and the National Peer Education Conference, hosted by Planned Parenthood in Washington D.C. Maddie is excited to continue her education at American University, with a double major in political science and women's, gender, and sexuality studies. She hopes to continue her work with sexuality education, victim advocacy, and the LGBTQ+ community.
Calamus Point Scholar
University of Arizona
American Indian Studies
Seeking more than just a change in landscape, Ian Ellasante left Tennessee in 2007 and journeyed southwest toward the mountains and saguaros of Tucson. He settled in quickly and has contributed considerably to the city’s LGBTQ community. In roles ranging from volunteer to commissioner, from board member to project manager, Ian has worked to increase access to the kinds of relevant and affirming opportunities for queer and trans people of color and LGBTQ youth that he could not often find in his hometown of Memphis. He began in this capacity in 2008 at Arizona’s first drop-in center for LGBTQ youth before accepting a position with the University of Arizona’s Southwest Institute for Research on Women, where he has continued these efforts by coordinating a series of federally funded programs designed to benefit LGBTQ youth in unstable housing situations.
Ian is completing a Ph.D. in American Indian studies with a minor in gender and women’s studies at the University of Arizona. In his scholarship, he examines community-based participatory research and the potential of stories and storytelling to unify and heal marginalized communities. In addition to this fulfilling work, Ian also enjoys hiking the mountains surrounding Tucson, making art, and composing poetry. In his poems, which have been shared with audiences around the country and have appeared in several publications, Ian often explores the polyphonic intersection of his identities as a queer and trans person of African-American and indigenous descent as well as his relationship with his heritage and homelands.
Georgia State University
It wasn’t until his freshman year in high school, when he came out to his friends and family, that Tarek Ellis felt confident. All his life he had been teased for his weight and mannerisms that did not fit the standards of hypermasculinity. Ellis’ newfound confidence gave him the ambition to run for and be elected as the president of his high school’s Student Government Association, excel in academics, receive honor roll every semester, and participate in internships at the National Institutes of Health and the Howard University Dental Clinic.
After realizing how beneficial acknowledging his sexual orientation and coming out was for him as a person and student, Tarek was immediately inclined to help other LGBT students in his community receive the same opportunity. He founded a club in his school titled Caring Colors, which gave LGBTQA students a safe place to meet and work on building the confidence of oneself. After realizing the positive effects it had on his school, he applied for the LGBT liaison position on the executive board of Prince George’s Regional Association of Student Councils to spread the club to other schools in his county. After being appointed, Tarek began traveling to other schools giving presentations and advocating for queer students’ rights. What was once a club, now named Caring Colors Empowerment Organization, is established in more than 10 middle and high schools in Maryland.
Tarek also has always loved acting and entertaining. He plans to minor in theater while in college and looks forward to finding opportunities to act and perform throughout his life.
University of Arizona
Originally (and proudly) from New Jersey, Mel Ferrara is currently pursuing their Ph.D. in Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. As a nonbinary trans person who grew up in a conservative small town and who attended a traditional all-girls Catholic high school, Mel enthusiastically delved into queer studies and advocacy work when they began attending Muhlenberg College in 2011. They became deeply involved in the campus’s multicultural center, serving in several leadership positions. Mel is proud to be cofounder and former co-president of the Muhlenberg Trans Advocacy Coalition, a student organization that has produced numerous institutional changes benefiting trans and gender-nonconforming community members.
As an undergraduate, Mel studied in the Netherlands and Morocco, pursuing independent research on international approaches to intersex health care, with a focus on patient narratives. They received their BA in 2015 with a double major in gender and sexuality studies (which they designed) and philosophy/political thought. Invested in interdisciplinary and intersectional methodologies, Mel began attending the University of Arizona in 2015 as a member of the University Fellows program, pursuing their Ph.D. in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies with a minor in anthropology. Mel’s research interests are trans and intersex studies, biopolitics, and medicalization of the body. They aim to utilize their research on intersex — particularly the experiences of men with Klinefelter Syndrome — to propose more ethical health care models that are rooted in patient agency. Ultimately, Mel’s professional aspirations are to be both a professor and an activist, working at the juncture of scholarship and advocacy.
ViiV Point Scholar
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Kevin Henderson, a native of Cleveland, is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Kevin was an outspoken leader for queer students and faculty during his undergraduate career at John Carroll University. Kevin rebuilt his campus’s gay-straight alliance at a time when membership was waning and when administrators were canceling events and threatening to cut its funding. He annually directed and performed in The Queer Monologues, a student-written production that showcased queer voices on campus without censorship or shame. In 2010, Kevin helped organize a student sit-in at a university basketball game to demand that nondiscrimination statements be instituted for all JCU employees and hold the university up to its inclusive social justice mission. After the sit-in gained media attention, he successfully met with members of the board of trustees to change university policies. Kevin was also a leader in Take Back the Night, an anti–sexual violence group, and taught a civics curriculum to underserved fifth-graders in Cleveland through the program We the People.
After graduating with top honors, Kevin committed to providing legal assistance to low-income immigrants and refugees at the Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia through a year of full-time, postgraduate volunteer service with Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Right before he left, his life radically changed when he was diagnosed with HIV. However, Kevin remained committed and completed his year of service. He became heavily involved in HIV and AIDS activism in Philadelphia. In 2016, Kevin's commitment to teaching was recognized with the Pi Sigma Alpha Best Teaching Assistant Award, voted upon by all political science and legal studies majors at UMass-Amherst. His research focuses on histories of queer, feminist, and antiracist activism.
Melanie Camejo Coffigny
Toyota Financial Services Point Scholar
Neuroscience and Psychology
Melanie Camejo Coffigny was born in Matanzas, Cuba, where she lived until moving to West Palm Beach, Fla,, at age 10.
As a recent immigrant, Melanie grew insecure about her accent and her background. However, she powered through these insecurities and learned to be proud of every part of her identity. Melanie drew inspiration from her family's sacrifices and used this to succeed in all her endeavors.
Melanie attended Lake Worth Community High School and joined its Medical Magnet as a stellar student. Her passion and dedication earned Melanie the position of president of four student clubs at her high school: Medical Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, SHAPE (Students Changing the World) Club, and the school's first successful gay-straight alliance, which she founded. She is also a nationally acclaimed poet, honored by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and a regionally recognized artist.
Melanie aspires to advocate for marginalized individuals, especially those who are part of the LGBTQ community, and continue to be an activist for LGBTQ causes.
Bryce Celotto identifies as a queer, transmasculine person of color and is a proud North Carolinian, originally hailing from Charlotte. Bryce has embraced his nontraditional path in life, which included spending four years in the Army National Guard as an openly queer/trans-identified person and leaving high school after his junior year to help support his family financially. Since then, Bryce has established roots in Washington, D.C., and in New England, where he has spent the past six years working at a variety of state and national nonprofit organizations. Both professionally and academically, Bryce is committed to working on issues of racial justice, K-12 public education, and youth leadership development — examining where those various issues intersect with the needs and experiences of LGBTQ people.
Bryce has played a role in organizing several national youth summits for marginalized youth populations, has met with former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to discuss specific protections for transgender students in K-12 schools, and has trained hundreds of teachers on culturally competent practices when working with LGBTQ students. At Brown, Bryce is pursuing a masters of arts in teaching degree with a focus in secondary social studies and history education. Upon completion of his graduate studies, Bryce plans to continue impacting the lives of marginalized young people by becoming a full-time public school educator in Southern California.
HSBC Point Scholar
Guru Charan was born and grew up in Tamil Nadu, India. With the LGBT community legally criminalized and socially ostracized in India, Guru spent most of his teenage and early adult life closeted, conflicted about his sexual identity. He channeled his passion and energy into understanding the world through the lens of physical sciences by studying engineering, in which he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2006. That same year, he won an academic excellence fellowship from Ohio State University to earn his master's in engineering, which he completed in 2008.
Over the last seven years, Guru has transitioned in his career from creating products to bringing people together to solve issues that he cares about. In 2015, he led a cross-sector team to create the LGBT SAFE Initiative, enabling organizations in southern Indiana to self-identify as LGBT friendly. The momentum from SAFE, along with the grassroots lobbying efforts that Guru co-led as an elected board member of Pride Alliance, played a pivotal role in influencing the City Council and mayor of Columbus, Ind., who voted to amend city law to ban anti-LGBT discrimination.
These transformative experiences made him realize the power and potential of public-private sector collaboration in creating lasting change. At Yale, Guru is building upon his social sector knowledge and client engagement experience to transition to social impact consulting, and he looks forward to guiding mission-driven organizations to create lasting change.
Janssen Therapeutics Point Scholar
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Born and raised in San Francisco, May Chen has shown a lifelong commitment to serve and support marginalized communities touched by violence. A first-generation college student, she received her BA from Wellesley College, where she was involved in a number of organizations and initiatives to bring about positive social change for LGBTQ people and survivors of abuse. She earned her master of science in public health from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, where her thesis explored individual- and family-level factors impacting teen dating violence.
May’s doctoral research examines the causes and consequences of interpersonal violence, with a focus on developing prevention programs for vulnerable youth. At UNC, May has worked in various capacities to elevate minority representation in public health. In 2015, May chaired the UNC Minority Health Conference, the nation’s largest and longest-running student-led health conference, devoted to raising awareness of health disparities. Recognizing notable training gaps in UNC’s health curricula, May helped to develop and teach a graduate-level course on LGBTQ health for professionals in medicine, public health, social work, and other allied health fields. After earning her Ph.D., May hopes to teach and conduct research that contributes to better policy and prevention efforts, thereby building healthier communities where individuals can live to their full potential free from violence.
University of Chicago School of Social Administration
Bridgette Davis grew up in rural Iowa, where she anchored her family and was a leading scholar-athlete. The first in her family to attend college, she worked multiple jobs and excelled academically. Bridgette chose to forgo athletics after being marginalized by her college teammates’ homophobia, then dedicated her energy to covering LGBTQ discrimination and gender issues as editor of her campus newspaper. After graduating, joining Teach for America, and leaving Iowa, Bridgette came out and became Ms. Davis — an out, proud teacher whose work in underserved communities is grounded in honesty, hard work, and high expectations.
In 10 years as an educator, Bridgette reached ambitious academic goals with her students in Atlanta and Chicago. She held leadership roles with Teach for America and the Noble Network of Charter Schools. As a dean, she affirmed the academic, financial, social, citizenship, sexual, and gender identities of her students — 86 percent of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Bridgette built her school's college counseling program, in which 100 percent of students were accepted to college and persist in college at four times the rate of Chicago Public Schools students. Bridgette earned a master of arts from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago as a 2014 Point Scholar, and she is continuing doctoral studies there. She plans to examine the systemic barriers and promising solutions to college completion for low-income, first-generation college students. Bridgette shares her life and work with her wife, Ellen, a principal in the network of charter schools run by Knowledge Is Power Program.
William J. Levy Point Scholar
George Washington University
International affairs and Chinese
Eric was born and raised in Alpharetta, Ga. Growing up in a very conservative community, Eric quickly understood the challenges of openly identifying as LGBTQ in the South. After high school, he spent a year studying in Changzhou, China, on a scholarship from the U.S. Department of State. This experience kindled Eric's interests in international affairs and Chinese, which he continues to study at the George Washington University.
As a student in college, Eric's goal is to bring positive change for members of the LGBTQ community on campus. In 2015 and 2016, he served as a campus ambassador for the Out for Undergrad conferences, which seek to help high-achieving LGBTQ undergraduates reach their full potential in the workplace. As a senator in the GW Student Association, Eric has worked on initiatives such as installing gender-neutral bathrooms, altering the GW Student Association constitution to include gender-neutral pronouns, and requiring diversity and inclusion training for student organization leaders. In his free time, Eric serves as the program director for Project Let'S Go — a nonprofit that provides English educational opportunities for disadvantaged communities overseas.
Eric hopes to work someday in the field of politics or finance, while continuing his commitment to the LGBTQ community and interest in China.
HBO Point Scholar
Born in Mexico City, Daniel grew up in a society permeated with discrimination, intolerance and inequality.This prompted him to become an active agent of change in both his community and his country. As a political science student, he wrote opinion pieces on subjects that were close to his heart: marriage equality, diversity, and the protection of sexual minority rights, among others. His work caught the attention of a local newspaper and then evolved to become a recurrent collaboration for one of Mexico’s most preeminent blogs. Realizing how strategic communications could bring on cultural transformation was a key breakthrough for Daniel. He went on to study for a one-year diploma in film production, and took courses in scriptwriting, photography, and oratory. Each of these elements would come in handy as he continued to work toward the goal of expanding equality, dignity, and tolerance. As an adviser to the secretary of the interior of Mexico, Daniel has contributed to shaping the Federal Government’s discourse, regarding inclusion and non-discrimination. In May 2016, he took part in organizing the first meeting in history of a Mexican President with the LGBTQ community. He has also designed work paths to implement policies and campaigns at a national level for the protection of human rights.
As a filmmaker, Daniel has cowritten and directed short films, documentaries, and — most recently — the pilot of a web series on bullying and nondiscrimination, targeting audiences across Latin America. Daniel believes that while LGBTQ rights have reached extremely important milestones in the past few decades, the deepest changes — regarding education, equality of opportunity, and political participation — are yet to come. After graduating, he wishes to become an active leader in his community and partake in these transformations.
Florida State University
Library and Information Studies
Dawn Betts-Green grew up in the small, conservative town of Sylacauga, Ala. Due to her religious surroundings, she suppressed her identity for years, which caused depression and exacerbated her obsessive-compulsive disorder. She finally accepted her sexuality at 16, after which time she was outed and dealt with daily harassment and ostracization. Despite this difficult period, she performed well academically, thanks to the love of education and reading instilled by her family, particularly her grandmother Mema.
Dawn finished her undergraduate education at Florida State University at age 31, with bachelor’s degrees in women’s studies (with honors), religion, and creative writing. She went on to earn a master’s in library and information studies with a certificate in youth services. This portion of her education—coupled with the belief that her hometown public library, B.B. Comer Memorial Library, was largely responsible for her survival as an LGBTQ teen—led to her current pursuit of a doctorate in library and information studies, focusing on LGBTQ young adults and relevant literature and resources in rural and small public libraries in the U.S. South. Other projects include examining coming out as an information process, the presentation of LGBTQ content in online book reviews, and examining LGBTQ graphic novels (a collaboration with her major professor, Don Latham). As of this spring, Dawn serves as president-elect of the newly founded LGBTQ graduate organization, OUTGrad at FSU. She owes all of her success to the love and support of her partner of nearly 19 years, Anna.
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Claudia Astorino is a scientist pursuing her Ph.D. in physical anthropology, and is an intersex activist raising awareness about intersex human rights issues. Intersex people are those born with a combination of sex traits traditionally considered “male,” “female,” and/or atypical for either. Claudia seeks to end shame and stigma around intersex bodies and advocate for intersex people’s right to bodily autonomy. Claudia is the cofounder of the NYC Annual Intersex Awareness Day events on October 26, first celebrated in 2010. She coauthored guides for intersex allies and new parents of intersex babies as associate director (2010-2015) of the U.S. chapter of Organization Intersex International.
Claudia has spoken at various universities and institutions, interviewed with HuffPost QueerVoices and PBS Digital Studio’s “First Person,” and written extensively on intersex issues for her blog (Full Frontal Activism), LGBTQIA sites (Autostraddle, Everyone Is Gay), and mainstream media (The Guardian, RH Reality Check). Claudia’s scholarly work focuses on biological variation in the human skeleton and its relevance in interpreting human evolution. She plans to research and teach as a university professor, continue her intersex activist work, and advocate for diversity in STEM by serving a committee member of gAyAPA – the organization for LGBTQQIAA physical anthropologists in the U.S.
Community College Scholarship Recipients
The following 11 students represent the first class of the Point Foundation Community College Scholarship Program. According to the Point Foundation website, they “will receive up to a $3,700 tuition scholarship, professional coaching to apply to four-year institutions, opportunities to network with Point Alumni, and invitations to attend local leadership conferences.” For its inaugural year, this scholarship is only available for those living in the New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta regions.
Vanessa Renée Watson
Fashion Institute of Technology, New York City
Production Management in Fashion and Related Industries
Vanessa Renée Watson is an entrepreneur, a creative individual, and most importantly a student of life. Vanessa and her younger sister were raised in rural New Jersey by their mother in a single-parent home with tremendous support from their maternal extended family. Though resources were often scarce, access to and the pursuit of academics were constants. Acknowledging her queer identity revitalized her desire and ability to thrive after an arduous battle with depression and attempted suicide.
Innovation and diversity are themes that inspire her as she works tirelessly to create systems that facilitate access and equality. Since childhood when she was a Girl Scout, Vanessa has been an active volunteer; most recently with GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and the incomparable duo of Aisha and Danielle Moodie-Mills. An undying passion for fashion led her to enroll at FIT. As a production management student, Vanessa is working to revolutionize the apparel industry. Last year she founded UnBoxxed, a platform that integrates fashion and technology; “providing access to apparel that reflects who you see yourself to be — without rules, boxes, or constraints.”
LaGuardia Community College, Queens, N.Y.
Aaron Ramirez was born and raised in the culturally diverse borough of Queens, N.Y. From an early age, Aaron began to understand the importance of empowering LGBTQA youth. This understanding first began to take hold in Aaron when he was in high school as he came out and faced criticism from a religious household. Realizing that he was not the only one faced with such issues, Aaron, along with a few fellow students, worked with his high school to create its first gay-straight alliance club and support group for LGBTQA students. This allowed him to explore and understand his own sexuality in a safe space with other individuals who were going through similar issues. After seeing how necessary it was to have an LGBTQA group in schools, Aaron also helped bring about the return of the Straight and Gay Alliance Club at LaGuardia Community College which had been defunct for two years prior. Seeing firsthand the needs of LGBTQA youth and the community at large, Aaron intends to become a mental health counselor to serve the LGBTQA community and create programs to empower LGBTQA individuals to lead more fulfilling lives.
LaGuardia Community College, Queens, N.Y.
Steven Roa is a 21-year-old Dominican gay male who wears androgynous clothing. He is a calm and collected, yet bubbly and energetic person, whose personality is a mix of elegance and brawn (i.e., feminine and masculine). He enjoys singing, dancing, manipulating photos, drawing, aircraft, and scenery. Steven’s goal professionally is to become a corporate or private pilot. He also has a passion for helping others feel great about who they are and finding their true selves, finding joy in seeing others rise to greatness.
Ebony L. Robertson
El Camino College, Torrance, Calif.
Ebony L. Robertson was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her parents divorced when she was 3 years old, and she grew up in a single-parent household that moved around a great deal. Ebony was pregnant in high school with her first child and struggled to graduate on time. She thought she was headed in the right direction when she was hired by Countrywide Bank, but after five years was laid off. Devastated by this life-changing event, Ebony decided it was time to go back to school. In 2014 she joined El Camino College Care Club and was then elected its president the next year. Ebony would like to open up a doctor's office and promote safe sex and AIDS awareness.
West Los Angeles College
Hope was born in Los Angeles to a loving family. Her grandmother Dorothy took full custody of her moments after she was born. She taught Hope the importance of having faith and a relationship with God, and Hope valued these moral lessons. Starting school before the age of 2, Hope was closely monitored by the school district. In high school, Hope was elected secretary of the Black Student Union and had much athletic success. While in college, she felt comfortable enough to express her sexuality to her family. After being threatened, verbally abused, abandoned, and attacked, Hope fell into a deep depression. Today, however, despite many obstacles, she is in full pursuit of becoming a psychologist with dreams of one day working with children and writing books.
Los Angeles Pierce College Theater Arts
Cameron Brenner is 22 years old, gay, and gender-fluid. A theater arts major in costume design, Cameron is the current president of Pierce College GSA. Driven to advocate for and represent the rights of others, Cameron is a safe-zone trainer and does workshops at his college to help other become aware of the needs of the LGBTQ community. He successfully advocated for gender-neutral bathrooms to be implemented on his campus as well as represented the needs of students as a student senator. Aiming to transfer and get an MFA in costume design and to teach on a college campus. Cameron works as a student leader to lend a voice to those that are unable or too afraid to speak. Surviving through domestic violence and bullying, Cameron strives so that others will not have had to go through the journey he has, being unsafe and unable to come out.
Los Angeles City College
Cinema and Television Production
As an out transgender woman, Kerri Cecil has had her share of obstacles to overcome. Raised by a conservative, Christian, single mother, she was told at a very young age that what she was feeling, what was inside of her, was evil. Running away, Kerri eventually made it to Los Angeles from rural Minnesota. From that point on, while she lived as her authentic self, Kerri’s life became even more turbulent. Homeless, she began doing sex work to survive, which eventually led to years of drug addiction. After more than 20 years Kerri was finally able to pull herself out of that darkness. She began going to college to follow her dreams of being a filmmaker. Today Kerri is happy, confident, and unstoppable.
LaGuardia Community College, Queens, N.Y.
Nelson Jarrin was born and raised in Guayaquil, Ecuador. At age 23, he came to America, where he discovered he could live a free life as a young gay man. It turned out to be quite a challenge — he lived and worked on the margins of society. The legalization of same-sex marriage gave him the opportunity to legalize his status. Nelson married his partner, Dave, July 26, 2013. Today, he is taking full advantage of what America has to offer. Nelson is an honor student at LaGuardia Community College while working part-time in New York City. He is active in the LGBTQ community at LaGuardia and hopes to be a social worker with the LGBTQ community when he finishes school.
Julius Caezar Lazo Jr.
Mount San Antonio College, Walnut, Calif.
Julius Caezar Lazo Jr. was born and raised in the Philippines. He moved to California three months after the devastating loss of his mother to cancer. The cultural differences and the difficulties he experienced in the United States made him resilient. Fulfilling his mother’s dying wish that he finish school, Julius is currently at Mount San Antonio College taking the prerequisites for a nursing program. A member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and UCLA MEDPEP program alumnus, Julius has volunteered with programs that promote equality for disabled people in San Gabriel Valley as well as assist undocumented residents of Los Angeles. He is eagerly planning to be active in supporting the LGBT community on his campus. Coming out last year ended Julius’ identity crisis, and he wants to embrace his LGBT community by sharing his learning and being inspired by people.
Los Angeles City College
Cinema and Television Production
Born and raised in Mumbai, India, Lavrenti Lopes has always felt that his identity was constrained by the societal expectations of a country where homosexuality is still a crime. In an effort to live freely while in pursuit of his goal of being a storyteller, he moved to America. Here, however, he felt the battles he faced in India were only magnified. Not only was being gay limiting in securing work in the entertainment industry, the fact that he was an immigrant and a member of a minority group added further challenges. Despite that, Lavrenti has managed to secure steady work in film, TV, and commercials. He has played leading roles in various independent films including one that premiered at the Bentonville Film Festival and another at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Lavrenti’s goal is to level the playing field for others by writing, directing, and producing projects that employ the currently disadvantaged. With that intention, he is currently studying film at a community college and intends to transfer to a four-year institution. Besides his goal of becoming a writer-director-producer, Lavrenti also volunteers six hours a week as a tutor helping people with disabilities realize their potential and goals.
Angel L. Medina
Antelope Valley Community College, Lancaster, Calif.
Deaf Studies & American Sign Language Interpreting Program
Angel L. Medina was born in Circleville, Ohio, but grew up in a low-income household that moved often. She was raised by two deaf parents, who were dedicated to hard work regardless of disabilities, worked diligently as a team to raise her and her two brothers and show them that there are no excuses in life. Angel’s father grew up deaf in Mexico, only having a limited education up, to fourth grade. Her mother grew up in an oralist school setting of audism at the Ohio State School for the Deaf. They both will forever be Angel's motivation to achieve more than they ever had in life. Angel will be the first in her family to graduate from college and plans to pursue an advanced degree.
Angel has been out since she was 9 years old and has volunteered at numerous LGBTQ organizations, including the Center OC in Orange County, Calif., Long Beach Gay & Lesbian Center of Long Beach, Calif., the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Inc., and the Dyke March Movement West Hollywood. She married her fiancée of four years, Asha, in 2016. Angel will use her education to help address mental illness as it impacts the Latino, deaf, and LGBTQ communities.