Juan Vazquez graduated from Garinger High Friday, still unsure whether he'll be able to afford his dream of becoming a high school English teacher.
But he is $2,500 closer this week, thanks to an unusual new Charlotte-based scholarship dedicated to students who have come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Called The Griffin Scholarship, it is believed to be the first college fund in the Carolinas awarded on the basis of sexual orientation.
Vazquez, 19, came out to his mother in his freshman year.
“My parents' income fluctuates,” says Vazquez, who will attend N.C. Central University in Durham. “My dad is unemployed right now, and my mother works as a housekeeper. This scholarship helps me afford books and a computer.”
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He is one of two recipients named by Time Out Youth, a support group for youth ages 13 to 23 who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. The second student, Azze Waldron, 19, is a 2007 East Meck High grad enrolled at Central Piedmont Community College.
She, too, received $2,500 from the program, which is modeled after similar scholarships offered nationally by groups like PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays). However, the Griffin Scholarship has fewer restrictions, including less emphasis on stellar grades.
That helped Waldron, who had low grades during her junior and senior years at East Meck. During that time, she came out to her mom and her parents were going through a divorce.
“So there was a lot of stress,” says Waldron, who wants a career in sports medicine. “I went from a B average to Ds. I told (the scholarship panel) everything and I think they were shocked at my honesty. But I learned from it, and will never get to that point again.”
Only five students applied for the scholarship. Officials say the number was small because this was its first year. They also don't know how schools publicized it. Ron Joyner, the CMS high school coordinator for counselors, said information on the program was sent to all CMS high schools, but he doesn't know how it was handled from there.
“I'm not sure any announcements were made that it was for gays and lesbians,” says Joyner. “Each school handled it differently. I'm sure if a student came forward and asked about it, the information was made available. However, sometimes kids won't come forward, because it means outing themselves. It's a two-edged sword.”
Time Out Youth agreed to administer the program on behalf of community activists Tim Griffin and Neil Griffin. The Griffins have committed to provide two $2,500 scholarships annually by collecting donations at community events they sponsor. Scholarship recipients must be from the Charlotte area and attend a college or technical school in the Carolinas.
Tim Griffin says he got the idea after learning of a gay high school grad who missed a year of college because he couldn't get financial support.
“There are kids out there who can't get access to military scholarships, or church scholarships, or even the financial support of their family, because they have come out as gay,” says Tim Griffin. “I want these kids to understand that there are people who want to help, even when other organizations turn them away.”