For the last 14 years, the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender United Employees at AT&T have offered scholarships to openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students graduating high school.
So far, a Utahn has yet to win one, despite applications pouring in each year from all 50 states.
But perhaps 2010 is the year for the state’s fortunes to change. Until April 30, the foundation will be accepting applications for each of its three scholarships: The LEAGUE Foundation Scholarship, The Matthew Shepard Memorial Scholarship and the Laurel Hester Memorial Scholarship.
Begun in 1996 the foundation is the country’ oldest employee resource group to get corporate sponsorship (from phone company AT&T) for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, said Charles Eader, the foundation’s Executive Director. In its first year, said Eader, the foundation offered just one scholarship, which was donated by the AT&T employees as a way of “giving back to the community.” In 1999, just one year after the brutal murder of Laramie, Wyo. college student Matthew Shepard, a crime which shocked the nation and changed the discussion around gay rights in America, the foundation also began offering a scholarship in his name with the support of Shepard’s mother, Judy.
In 2006, the foundation created another scholarship, this one in honor of Laurel Hester, a New Jersey policewoman who, while dying of cancer, fought county freeholders for the ability to leave her pension to her partner Stacie Andree. Hester’s struggle was the subject of Cynthia Wade 2007 documentary Freeheld, which won the Special Jury Prize at that year’s Sundance Film Festival and an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Film.
“A lot of our board members live in New Jersey which is how we picked up on what was going on with Laurel Hester,” said Eader. “The personal liberty fund of the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition wanted to start a scholarship in Laurel’s memory but didn’t have the resources to manage it.” When the coalition raised the money for the scholarship, Eader said they turned it over to the LEAGUE foundation to be administered, and when funding ran out in 2009, the foundation continued the scholarship with its own donations.
Eader stressed that students pursuing all areas of study, including certificates and degrees from junior colleges and technical schools, are welcome to apply for all three scholarships.
“We try not to limit ourselves,” he said.
The applications, he added, are read by the foundation’s 12-member board, who are each allowed to score them as they see fit.
“Some board members think that GLBT-specific community service is more important than general community service,” said Eader. “For others, academics are the highest criteria. The interesting thing, and I’ve been doing this since beginning, is when we come together to make the selections, even though board members are looking for different things, we always seem to come to a consensus on that awardees for that year. There’s a natural fall where the line is drawn.”
When asked what advice he would give to students applying for the awards, Eader said that “being well-rounded is probably the biggest attention-getter for us.”
Eader also encouraged members of Utah’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community who admire the foundation’s goals to consider donating their time to the organization.
“We’re looking always for additional board members and volunteers to help us raise awareness, including bringing [information bout us] to schools in the area, especially gay-straight alliances. We don’t have enough manpower at this point to be able to send a letter to every single GSA or guidance councilor or organization or newspaper.”
He added that the LEAGUE Foundation is very proud of its all-volunteer nature, which keeps overhead costs low and donates nearly all of its money back to the students.
“These students are going to be tomorrow’s community leaders and we want to make sure they get a positive start,” he said.
For scholarship applications visit leaguefoundation.org.