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Group Endows LGBT Studies Scholarship at Kent State

Posted Oct, 27, 2010

A local support, advocacy and education group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals has given $30,000 to endow a scholarship for students in Kent State University’s LGBT Studies minor.

The Akron chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered individuals (PFLAG) made the gift through bequest funds designated for education by the Harold Sylvester family of Medina, Ohio.

Rabbi David Horowitz, a local board member who is also the president-elect of the national organization’s board of directors, said the university’s commitment to diversity inspired the gift. In March, Kent State President Lester A. Lefton and other officials opened the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Student Center as part of a universitywide diversity initiative.

“We are impressed with Kent State’s outreach to the LGBT community, particularly the opening of the LGBTQ Student Center,” he said. “Kent State is friendly and embracing of the LGBT community.”

In addition to the LGBTQ Student Center, Kent State’s resources for the community include a previously endowed scholarship for LGBT Studies students and an endowed fund that supports LGBT student programming.

Horowitz said PFLAG made the gift to increase awareness of sexual minority issues by inspiring more students to enroll in the LGBT Studies minor.

“We hope that as more students increase their knowledge of the LGBT community, it will broaden that information throughout the general public,” he said. “The more people are educated, the more people will teach, the more people will understand LGBT issues and equality in America.”

The LGBT Studies minor was the first of its kind in Ohio when it was created in 2001, and today is just one of two such programs in the state. Kent State Associate Professor Molly Merryman, co-coordinator of the minor, said the scholarship not only will raise the visibility of the program, it will aid students who are financially vulnerable during their coming out process.

“One of the really tragic stories is that every year students come out to their families and are then cut off financially,” she said. “Helping these young people deal with their financial issues allows them to remain students and continue achieving their career and life goals. I find it particularly poignant that PFLAG Akron, an organization made up of parents who go out of their way to support their LGBT children, is reaching out to assist students whose parents may not be so supportive.”

Recently, much national attention has been focused on a number of high-profile suicides by LGBT people in high school and college. Merryman said the LGBT Studies minor plays a role in helping remove stigma and shame within the community.

“The high rates of suicide among people who are coming out is a very significant national problem,” she said. “Hopefully, the LGBT Studies program and the assistance provided by the PFLAG scholarship will contribute to lessening that epidemic.”

Hudson resident Bill Libby, who sits on the Akron chapter board with his wife, Marie, helped facilitate the gift in honor of his daughter, Susan, who is a successful potter in California.

“Susan’s doing fine,” he said. “This is for all of the other kids who are dealing with family members who are surprised to learn they are gay, or transgender, or bisexual.”

The group is seeking others to step forward to increase funds available for Kent State LGBT student scholarships.

“By making this gift to Kent State, we’re encouraging others to contribute,” said Ed Kancler, president of the Akron chapter. “We believe that with our contacts we can generate money for the fund, and we hope Kent State alumni and community members will help, too.”

To contribute to the PFLAG Akron Scholarship, contact the Kent State Office of Institutional Advancement at 330-672-2222 or advancement@kent.edu.

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Media Contacts:
Valoree Vargo, vvargo2@kent.edu, 330-672-8577
Emily Vincent, evincen2@kent.edu, 330-672-8595