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Million-dollar scholars: the Point Foundation has given away over $1 million to GLBT college students cut off from other resources. But it's not just about money, its founders say, it's about boosting tomorrow's leaders.

It's important to go back to those places that are hostile," says Lawrence Robinson, 23, a first-year law student at New York University who's already planning to use his degree to fight homophobia back home in Arizona. "We have our safe places, but it's time we create one universal safe place. That's going to be the rockiest phase of the movement."

Robinson, who came out in the eighth grade, attended a Phoenix high school populated by Mormons and the sons and daughters of migrant farmworkers. As an out teenager of African-American heritage, Robinson knew he stood in the center of an intersecting cultural identity. "Because I was caught in the middle," he says, "I became an advocate for change." He also became a three-time class president, student body president, a media relations associate at the ACLU, an intern at the Human Rights Campaign, and an honor strident at Claremont-McKenna College in California.

Those accomplishments earned him yet another honor: a scholarship from the Point Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing crucial financial support to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students who demonstrate leadership and scholarship in their communities, particularly those rejected by society, family, or peers. Founded just three years ago by a San Francisco gay couple, the Point Foundation has already given away over $1 million to a total of 27 scholars, ranging from state school and Ivy League freshmen to medical school and even film school grad students, ages 16 to 35.

Despite their diverse backgrounds and areas of study, many of this year's class of 25 Point scholars have one thing in common: They would have been unable to attend school without the foundation's financial boost.

Take Julie Schell, for example. A high school honor student in Las Vegas, she earned three letters in varsity sports and headed to the University of Nevada, Reno, after graduation. But when she came out to her family during her sophomore year, her parents rejected her. Her mother insisted Julie was not her child and wished her dead; her father, a devout Catholic, preached scripture that he said condemned her sexual orientation. She lost 95% of her financial support and had to work three jobs to continue her education.

Now a Point scholar in graduate school at Columbia University, Schell, 31, is researching a doctoral dissertation about the effects of trauma on the intellectual lives of LGBT students. "Without TPF's investment in me," she says, "the world would be short one agent in the fight for social justice for all."

Other scholars have similarly compelling stories, whether it's University of California, Los Angeles, freshman Zach Zyskowski, the youngest Point scholar at 16, who toured Europe as a solo violinist and organized his high school's first Day of Silence and gay-straight alliance; or Marcie Fisher-Borne, a Mississippi native, whose doctored work looks at why LGBT residents continue to move oat of the South; or California transgender activist, fraternity member, and law student Alyn Libman.

"I feel emotionally supported by this group of people, who not only care about the work I have done, the work I am doing, but what I hope to continue doing," says Fisher-Borne, 29, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "I cannot believe, on an emotional level, what's available."

The Point Foundation wants its beneficiaries to continue their hard work: In exchange for the foundation's support, file scholars are expected to maintain a high level of academic performance, complete service projects, and support the foundation's growth.

This more-than-just-money scholarship program is the heartfelt brainchild of Bruce Lindstrom and Carl Strickland, partners of six years, who in 2001 decided to create a scholarship program because no nationwide foundation existed to serve LGBT scholars of all disciplines and levels of college education.

In its first year of operation, 2002-2003, the foundation awarded $114,198 to eight scholars, SEX of whom are still supported by scholarships today. "We didn't focus on the number of scholars," Lindstrom says. "We originally thought that it. would be small in size so that we could mentor more of the scholars."

Since then, Lindstrom and Strickland have recruited 10 additional well-connected gay and lesbian trustees for the foundation, including Hollywood producer Jane Berliner, Navy veteran and gallery owner John Pence of San Francisco, and New York financial guru Jennifer Hatch, managing partner of Christopher Street Financial, as well as out philanthropists Rand Harris and Harvey Shipley Miller.

"A lot of [gay and lesbian] people who are in their 50s or 60s had traumatic experiences personally," notes Nancy Cunningham, executive director of Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues in New York City, commenting on the remarkable largess that Lindstrom and Strickland tapped into with the Point Foundation. "As they were growing up, the world was a different place, with very few role models or support systems. There is a very direct connection for [these] people to give back to young people today, so they can have more resources and support."

"What Bruce and I envisioned," says Strickland, 30, "was a community and a family. For some scholars, this is their only connection to role models of happy, healthy gay people."

"Being alone in your 20s can be difficult," adds Lindstrom, 58, who was abandoned by his family for 15 years because he is gay. "There are so many forks ha the road. Part of our philosophy was to play a meaningful role in [the scholars'] lives. I always wanted to be involved in helping LGBT youth have an easier transition from youth to adulthood."

To that end, each scholar is paired with an older LGBT mentor--the Point Foundation equivalent of a Big Brother or Big Sister. "I don't want anyone else to struggle with finding a place in the world like I did," says trustee Hatch. "As a mentor, I can at least try to smooth their path. Mentoring is really putting your money where your mouth is."

To ensure the foundation's long-term survival--and to allow the trustees to yield administrative tasks to a professional--Vance Lancaster, 41, joined the organization in July as executive director. A former director of strategic giving at rite highly respected Denver-based Gill Foundation (founded by openly gay billionaire Tim Gill), Lancaster has set aggressive growth goals for the Point Foundation, hoping to build a $1 million endowment within a year. "The need is great, lunch greater titan the 1,000 who apply," he says. "It's really critical for us to raise more funds to help more kids." Fortunately, he adds, "it's easy to get other people excited about what we are doing."

Within a year, Lancaster plans to have the foundation supporting a total of 50 scholars--almost double the current number. And between its own Web presence and a bevy of Net-savvy students singing its praises, word of the Point Foundation is spreading quickly through the ranks of gay and lesbian high school and college students. In 2004 the foundation considered 333 applications, but Lancaster expects 500-700 young people to reach final consideration during the January 1 to March 1 application period for the 2005-2006 school year. The process is rigorous, involving an extensive written application, resumes, letters of reference, and, for finalists, face-to-face interviews with the trustees.

Whatever public profile the Point Foundation may build in future years, Lindstrom says the current scholars have already proved themselves: "They're the Rhodes scholars of the gay world."

Farmer Advocate intern MacDonald is a journalist based in Southern California.
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Title Annotation:Coming Out 2004
Author:MacDonald, Ryan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 12, 2004
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