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Okanagan Pride sets up scholarships for LGBT youth

Organizers hope the awards encourage youth to create more supportive spaces

Okanagan Pride Society president Wilbur Turner says it’s inspiring to see students interested in equality issues. He hopes the new scholarships will support them and encourage more people to get involved. Credit: Courtesy of Wilbur Turner

The Okanagan Pride Society has established a new scholarship for Kelowna-area students who have actively contributed to the LGBT community there.

Two $250 Youth Scholarship Awards will be given to two Grade 12 students in School District 23 (Central Okanagan) who plan to enrol in post-secondary studies in September 2014. The final deadline for applications is Monday, Jan 20.

The scholarship is open to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, or anyone who is passionate about creating safe spaces in their schools for such youth, says Okanagan Pride Society president Wilbur Turner.

“I often have speaking engagements with Grade 12 classes on social justice topics,” he says. “I’ve worked with a couple of schools here and did presentations, and it is quite inspiring to see students interested in issues of discrimination and inequality. That kind of cemented it.”

Turner hopes the scholarship will encourage the students, draw attention to the Okanagan Pride Society’s contributions to the community, and inspire more people to become involved.

In addition to organizing Kelowna’s annual Pride festival, the society provides year-round events, services and programs in support of the LGBT community, including Etcetera Kelowna, a queer youth group.

"The youth who attend our program come from various backgrounds and are given a chance to be themselves with no judgment amongst their peers,” says Etcetera coordinator Brad Therrien (who was named one of BC’s queer Top 30 Under 30 in Xtra’s special feature last fall).

“From my experience working with these youth, many of them come out of their shells and finally have a place where they belong,” Therrien says. “This award will hopefully inspire other youth to create spaces in their schools and communities that help LGBTI youth feel supported, just like Etcetera."

Turner says the scholarship, which has been in development for the past year, will be administered by the Central Okanagan Bursary and Scholarship Society, a non-profit dedicated to supporting Grade 12 graduates in their post-secondary studies.

“This scholarship has been a dream of ours for a while,” Turner says. “We’ve talked about it starting early last year, and in the first event we had in the spring of last year, we raised money for it and then started planning on how to disperse it. In the last couple of weeks, we found out about the Central Okanagan Bursary and Scholarship Society, which does the work for us. We give them the money and students apply through them, and then we look at the application and determine who the award goes to. It’s pretty cool that there’s a society like that.”

Turner hopes to increase the scholarship in future years.

“We hope that our events this summer will raise more money and we will be able to increase either the dollar value of the scholarships or number of scholarships,” he says. “We’ve been promoting it in schools and through local groups, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Students can apply for the scholarship by contacting their school counsellor.