Local Heroes: Pride Foundation’s Scholarship Reception

Local Heroes: Pride Foundation’s Scholarship Reception

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Kris Hermanns/Freedom G Photography
Kris Hermanns/Freedom G Photography

For 21 years, Pride Foundation’s scholarship program has been supporting the educational dreams and aspirations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer  (LGBTQ), and straight ally students. This year’s scholarship cycle awarded $395,200 to 105 students in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.

On Wednesday, May 28, 2014, U.S. Senator Patty Murray gave the opening remarks at the Pride Foundation’s annual Scholarship Reception at Cornish Playhouse in Seattle. Introduced by Board President Seth Kirby, Sen. Murray discussed her ongoing efforts to address issues facing LGBTQ youth in the education system, including the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2014, aimed at curbing harassment and bullying at colleges and universities.

“Since 1985, Pride Foundation has been doing exemplary work to ensure students who have been stigmatized or isolated because of their sexual orientation or gender identity feel welcome,” Sen. Murray said. ““Quite shockingly – despite statistics telling us LGBTQ students are nearly twice as likely to experience harassment when compared to their heterosexual peers – there is no federal requirement that colleges and universities have policies to protect their students from harassment.”

“One of the things I am struck by as I travel across our five states is that people, more than anything, want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. We want to know that we matter. Our scholarship program does just that,” said Pride Foundation Executive Director Kris Hermanns. “It’s not about whether our scholarship recipients grow up to become president—and believe me, some of them could. It’s about recognizing them for who they are. It’s about signaling to them that in a world that tells them—every day and in too many ways, that they do not matter and do not exist—that in fact their lives do matter. They matter very much.”

Also at the event, Seattle’s first openly-gay mayor, Ed Murray.

Three of the scholars honored at the function –Lane KaiserApril Nishimuraand Haddy Sowe– took to the podium as well. Here is a little background on the 2014 scholars, according to their bios:

Lane Kaiser is currently attending Portland State University, working to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. Originally from the small military town of Bremerton, Lane dedicated more than 3,000 hours to his community to develop resources for LGBT+ youth. He has overcome financial hardship, harassment, and discrimination. Lane, a transgender man, is continually dedicating his time to his communities and working to promote social justice for all marginalized peoples. He is a Pride Foundation 2013 Scholar, a GSBA 2013 Scholar, and a GASS 2013 Scholar. Lane received the Dunham-Kerley and Washington Regional Scholarships.

April Nishimura’s goal is to change how we understand health care. Born and raised in Bellevue, she cut her teeth as a labor organizer in Seattle and Johannesburg. This work ignited her commitment to health equity. In 2009, she graduated from the University of Washington (UW) with a major in International Studies (focusing on Global Health) and began working in the domestic violence field. Over two years she re-started the Queer Program and Youth Program at an Asian/Pacific Islander domestic violence center. While there she supported LGBTQ people of color, homeless youth, and high school girls, helping them to heal from trauma and thrive.

April’s work was interrupted when she became mysteriously ill. Forced to quit her job, April began a healing journey that changed her life. She experienced first-hand the strong connections between equity, environment, and wellness. Now back to being a healthy queer Japanese-American woman, April is passionate about community based health care. She is lead organizer and co-founder of Zenyu Healing, an organization that supports the well-being of Queer people of color and allies through local and national programs, retreats, and workshops. This year, April will complete a four-year apprenticeship at the Institute of Structural Medicine. She is currently finishing pre-requisites to gain admission for a Masters of Occupational Therapy at UW to fulfill her vision of creating a compassionate and accessible women’s clinic. April received the Soaring Heart and Vasquez Pride in Health Scholarships.

Haddy Sowe is from Vancouver, Washington and was born in Gambia, West Africa. Haddy moved to the U.S. in 1996 with family at nine years old in hopes of better education and opportunities. Haddy has been accepted to The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles and will be working on a Bachelor’s degree in performing arts. Haddy has overcome a lot of challenges individually as well as with family. Haddy has spent the past eight years working in the City of Vancouver Parks and Recreation Department in the Teen Program. Haddy received the Patricia Van Kirk and Thelma Fisher Dewitty Scholarships.

Read more about the 2014 scholars here.

Full text of Sen. Murray’s remarks, as prepared:

“Good evening!

“Thank you Seth for that very kind introduction.

“And thank you to Kris and the Pride Foundation for inviting me to speak with you here this evening.

“I see so many friends and familiar faces here tonight –

“And it makes me so proud to represent a state that can bring this many people together – year after year, from all over the Pacific Northwest – to recognize our outstanding LGBTQ and ally students.

“Since 1985, Pride Foundation has been doing exemplary work to ensure students who have been stigmatized or isolated because of their sexual orientation or gender identity feel welcome.

“As we know, many students lack critical family, financial, and community support.

“And too often those with excellent potential give up because they do not believe success is possible.

“So I’d like to just take a minute to tell you the story of a young man named Kris, whose life could have taken a very different turn had he not found this type of support during a very trying time in his life.

“Kris would be the first to tell you he hasn’t led the easiest of lives.

“After turning 18 – and aging out of the Texas foster care system – Kris found himself homeless in Houston, sleeping on whatever park bench or apartment roof was available that evening.

“As luck would have it, one night while Kris was searching for a public restroom to use, he stumbled upon an admissions fair for the University of Houston’s downtown campus.

“Kris always had ambitions to attend college, but because of his unstable childhood and minimal income – pursuing higher education was never a priority.

“But once he learned tuition for the school was waived for foster system alumni, this dream seemed more like a reality and Kris decided to enroll.

“After declaring his major in social work, Kris settled into college life, making friends and participating in extracurricular activities on campus.

“In fact, Kris was so involved that one of his good friends, Isaac, invited him to be his running mate for the upcoming student government election.

“Excited about this idea, Kris realized this was his opportunity to make a real difference for many of the students on campus who had been through some of the same trying experiences he had.

“So Kris and Isaac kicked off their campaign in pursuit of elected office.

“Then one day – in fact, one year ago this month — Kris was called into the Dean of Student’s office.

“Kris sat down as the Dean reached into his briefcase and pulled out a stack of papers with Kris’s photo on each and every one of them – with a big X across his picture.

“In big, bold letters across the top of the flyer it read: WANT AIDS? – with a question mark at the end.

“And across the bottom it read: Don’t Support the Isaac and Kris Homosexual Agenda

“And on the back of the flyers – unbelievably — was a copy of Kris’s official medical records, displaying in plain view that Kris was HIV positive.

“I know, I was just as stunned as you are when Kris sat down and told me this story.

“The Dean then informed Kris that these were found all over campus.

“And as if the situation couldn’t get any worse, the Dean told Kris there was nothing the university administration could do about it.

“Nothing.

“At one point Kris said the administration even accused HIM of being responsible for these acts.

“Kris was told the administration’s sole responsibility was simply just to inform him of what was going on.

“Nothing more – just making sure he knew what had happened.

“Kris was told that words like “homosexual” and “AIDS” were proper terms, as well as protected speech, and therefore not grounds for punishment.

“Kris was devastated.

“He didn’t attend class for weeks and weeks after that.

“His friends and loved ones started to seriously worry about his well-being.

“In the meantime, word of this incident – and Kris’s status as HIV positive – spread like wildfire across campus.

“And while Kris had been out to a small group of friends – there was no going back once the local papers picked up on the story, eventually circulating in the national media.

“Thankfully, Kris’s heartbreaking story has a happy ending.

“Kris and Isaac won their election and Kris served a term as the student body vice president.

“Kris then moved on to serve in a different, but similar capacity…

“And that was as a Congressional intern in my Washington, D.C. office last semester.

“Unfortunately Kris had to return to school to finish up his degree, but – as I have told him several times – he has left a lasting impact not only on me and my office, but on the future of our LGBTQ and ally students as well.

“That is because back in March – with Kris standing there with me on the Senate floor – I reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2014.

“As many of you know, this bill is named after Tyler Clementi – an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University.

“In 2010, without his knowledge, Tyler’s roommate streamed video footage on the internet of Tyler in his dorm room, being intimate with another male.

“After his roommate and another student invaded his privacy in such a serious way, and continued to harass him over the Internet, Tyler leapt off the George Washington Bridge – taking his own life.

“When I was thinking about introducing the bill, I sat down and spoke with Kris and he told me how his story was very close to ending just like Tyler’s.

“Fortunately, he was able to lean on the campus LGBTQ community for support during this trying time, but he said QUOTE “If I hadn’t reached out to the community, I probably wouldn’t be here today. Every day going to school felt like a battlefield.”

“Quite shockingly – despite statistics telling us LGBTQ students are nearly twice as likely to experience harassment when compared to their heterosexual peers – there is no federal requirement that colleges and universities have policies to protect their students from harassment.

“And that’s why I feel so strongly about this legislation.

“Unfortunately, as you all know, there are so many others like Kris who don’t have that point of contact on campus or a supportive parent or network like the Pride Foundation , who will help them get through these experiences.

“But being here in this room tonight – with all the volunteers, advocates, parents, mentors and students – talking to you and hearing your incredible stories…I am so encouraged and hopeful for our future.

“It’s getting better – and it’s happening quickly.

“People like you are truly turning the tide – as we saw in Oregon and Pennsylvania last week – and I thank you for standing up and speaking out.

“And here in Washington state, schools like UW and Western Washington have already adopted policies to address campus bullying.

“But as you know, we can’t leave it up to chance.

“We need bills like the Tyler Clementi Act and ENDA to combat discrimination in all walks of life.

“So I just want to once again applaud the great work you all are doing day in and day out to not only support LGBTQ and ally students in their academic endeavors, but also by creating a strong foundation for an even brighter future.

“And of course, my deepest congratulations to all the scholarship recipients here today.

“I look forward to seeing all they will accomplish in the coming years.

“I am so proud to be your partner in the United States Senate.”

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