Why is Charlotte’s new LGBT scholarship open to straight teens?

Time Out Youth members of Charlotte wave to the crowd from float during one of the city’s Charlotte Pride Parades
Time Out Youth members of Charlotte wave to the crowd from float during one of the city’s Charlotte Pride Parades rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte’s LGBTQ community has unveiled a new scholarship program for lesbian, gay and transgender youths, but with an unexpected twist.

It is also open to straight teens.

Money for the scholarships is generated by the annual Charlotte Pride Festival, which celebrates the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. Therefore, backers of the scholarship know that including straight youths could raise eyebrows.

But Charlotte Pride spokesman Matt Comer says there’s a sound reason.

“Part of the idea to include straight allies is that there are young people who are the children of LGBTQ partners,” Comer said. “LGBTQ parents who have children are struggling with employment discrimination, housing discrimination and economic hardships.”

Charlotte Pride’s inclusive approach has already won support from one of the state’s best known transgender activists, Janice Covington Allison of Charlotte.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Allison, who is a member of the executive committee of the North Carolina Democratic Party. “We don’t feel we are any different than anyone else. People are people, and if we (LGBTQ people) want to be accepted, then we’ve got to accept other people, too.”

Charlotte Pride is best known for its annual LGBTQ Pride festival and parade staged in uptown each year. Last year, it attracted more than 130,000 visitors over the course of the weekend. Corporate sponsorships pay for the festival, and profits are used for nonprofit causes, such as the scholarship.

The Charlotte Pride Scholarship will award up to $10,000 in the first year. Organizers say the scholarship represents an effort to have more impact with money raised by the annual festival. A new Community Collaboration Program has been created to distribute the money, with an application process to be announced later this year.

“As our first project, we wanted to launch something that would have an immediate impact in the lives of LGBTQ people, and the scholarship does that,” said a statement from Charlotte Pride.

Charlotte has another LGBTQ scholarship, offered to two students annually by the advocacy group Time Out Youth. It is open to LGBTQ youths only, however. Time Out Youth officials said they believe the two programs will compliment each other.

“Our city struggles with economic mobility, ranking 50th out of 50 cities,” said a statement from Kacey Grantham, a Charlotte Pride board member spearheading the scholarship effort.

“At the same time, LGBTQ youth often face steeper economic and educational challenges. … We are proud this effort will be among our first steps in joining the current groundswell of activity working toward increasing the well-being and economic opportunity of this city.”

How to apply

The Charlotte Pride Scholarship will award up to $2,000 over four years to LGBTQ students and straight allies from the Charlotte metro area. Funds may be applied toward tuition, fees, on-campus housing or books at an accredited two- or four-year college. In order to be eligible, applicants should have a significant, unmet financial need and should have a high school GPA of at least 2.8 on a 4.0 scale. Multiple applicants will be selected and the scholarship will be renewable for up to four years.

Applications are now being accepted for students who will start college or continue college in the Fall of 2017. Interested students should review eligibility guidelines at apply at charlottepride.org/scholarship/ by Monday, May 15, 2017