Four aspiring future leaders were awarded scholarships for their roles and contributions in the local queer community on May 26.
Local youth Paul Hillsdon, Leah Nusgart and Justin Go Saint each received $2,000 scholarships, while Trevor Ritchie received the $1,000 Little Sister’s award at the third annual Leadership, Opportunity, Unity and Diversity (LOUD) scholarship gala, presented by TD Bank and the Gay and Lesbian Business Association (GLBA) of BC.
Hillsdon, 21, has been actively involved with Qmunity’s GAB Youth advisory committee and ran for Surrey city council in 2008. He is working to complete a bachelor of geography degree at SFU.
“A lot of the activism and the leadership skills that I’ve developed over the years are a direct result of the opportunities that have been opened from the queer community,” says Hillsdon. “I really don’t think I would have the passion for active citizenship that I do have were it not for being queer.”
Nusgart, a Grade 12 student, runs the Rainbow Club, a gay-straight alliance at Britannia Secondary in East Vancouver and hopes to study French at Concordia University after graduating.
“I have felt so honoured to watch these students become more accepting of themselves and to see the other children in the school accept them as well,” she says. “I could not have asked for a greater thing to happen in our school.”
Go Saint, 23, says he immigrated to Canada six years ago and came out four years ago. He was completing a degree in health sciences at SFU, but his family stopped supporting him after he came out as transgender.
“My family is very Catholic and Filipino. My father kicked me out of my own home because I was trans,” says Go Saint. “I was left homeless and couch-surfing for about a year.”
He says he wouldn’t be able to go back to school without the support of the LOUD scholarship. He now plans to become a science-fiction makeup artist and will be attending the Blanche Macdonald Centre.
Ritchie, 21, studies political science at UBC and is happy to see how much progress the queer community has made. He says he looks forward to a time when scholarships like these are no longer so desperately needed.
He is currently helping to create the first Burnaby Pride parade, set to take place in September.
LOUD Foundation president Isabelle Swiderski says the awards were launched to recognize and encourage involvement in the queer community and are open to all BC residents regardless of age or sexual orientation.
“There is a a lot of people who are involved in making our community a better place to live in and I think it’s wonderful and needed when those people can feel they’re embraced in return,” she says.
She hopes the program will continue to grow and will bolster and inspire more activism and leadership in the future.