By Patricia Nell Warren
On April 27, Carol Newman, former president of L.A. Log Cabin Republicans, stood at the mike during the organization's monthly dinner meeting, and made a passionate pitch. A new community-based task force, which she had helped organize, had committed itself to expand funding for a scholarship program in Los Angeles Unified School District. Goal: $50,000 by June 1st. Her goal for the evening: $3000.
Youth activist Joel Feldman and I repeated her plea at the mike. When the hat was passed, $4900 was donated by the members. It was a good start.
The task force had its beginnings at a Log Cabin meeting several months ago, when I was the featured speaker. Carol Newman and I sat at the same table, and got to talking about youth needs. Subsequently Carol called me with her idea for assembling a city-wide task force, including many women movers and shakers, to address a targeted need. She asked me for suggestions. Based on my experience as a member of LAUSD's Gay and Lesbian Education Commission, I felt that the greatest need was for community-based economic support of LGBT students who are trying to get to college.
Today's coming-out of so many high-school students often provokes a punitive denial of college money by hostile families. Even in instances where the family is supportive, a lower-income family often can't afford -- say -- the $17,000 annual tuition for a California university. Often the hardship student ends up struggling through community college, struggling to repay a college loan -- or foregoing college altogether. LGBT kids can't live on pride alone -- those who miss college have little hope of an economically solid future. Hence the urgent need for scholarships.
The task force, calling itself Project Youth Empowerment, began organizing on April 21, at a meeting at the offices of Wildcat Press. The funds will be distributed from a scholarship program operating under the 501c3 of Friends of Project 10. This is the nonprofit arm of Virginia Uribe's pioneering counseling program, Project 10, started in 1989.
PYE came into being in the turbulent wake of the L.A. Board of Education's controversial April 13 decision to discontinue its eight education commissions. This decision included the Gay and Lesbian Education Commission, founded in 1991. LAUSD is the nation's 2nd largest school district. Of its 700,000 students, as many as 70,000 might be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. A minority of these are out -- most are still deeply closeted. In 1991 the Board created GLEC in its pioneering effort to help ensure that homosexual students are safe at school and have equal access to education. But even this tiny out minority adds up to hundreds of bright, even gifted, students who face the future in economic desperation.
Now, as its reason for terminating the commissions, the Board cites Prop. 209's possible application to the five race-based commissions -- and then axed the remaining three commissions as well, though they don't fall under Prop. 209. The eight commissions will cease to exist on June 30, at the end of the school year. This loss of GLEC's various programs (ranging from the Gay Prom to the Models of Pride youth conference) points up the need for greater private concern about the fate of the district's LGBT youth. The local community has already felt the jolt deeply, as the Board's move is pondered by GLEC, students, teachers, district employees, GLSEN and PFLAG groups, activists, concerned parents.
Fortunately for some college-bound students, the Board did not pull the plug on LGBT programs that it had approved separately from GLEC. This includes the three programs for LGBT dropouts. It also includes Project 10, now found in most L.A. high schools. I had already been doing fundraising for the Project 10 scholarships.
Now the PYE core group plans a massive infusion of community money into the Project 10 program. We will stump the L.A. area in the next month, speaking to organizations and corporations, hoping to garner more donations. Eventually we hope to expand into broader education-related activities.
For the moment, it's enough to get that $50,000 together -- ensuring that a few young people will go to college this fall. I have already seen the excitement and ongoing achievements of several hard-pressed students who got scholarships, and know that the effort is supremely worth it.
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Tax-deductible donations for this fund may be sent to: Scholarships, c/o Wildcat Press, 8306 Wilshire Blvd. Box 8306, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Make checks payable to "Friends of Project 10." The Friends of Project 10 Fed. ID # is 95-4080446. For more information, write us, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best-selling author Patricia Nell Warren is also a youth advocate. She did six months of volunteer teaching at L.A.'s first LGBT continuation program, EAGLES Center.