“Every year it’s kind of a hit of optimism to see we’re in good hands,” Isabelle Swiderski says.
Swiderski is co-chair of the LOUD Foundation, once known as BC’s Gay and Lesbian Business Association. For the past seven years, LOUD has been recognizing and supporting LGBT student leaders with scholarships.
The first of their kind in Western Canada, the LOUD scholarships aren’t just about financial assistance. The foundation seeks to do more than cut cheques and promptly bid recipients good luck and farewell. Organizers hope to invest in the queer community’s future leaders by validating their community contributions and encouraging their ongoing success.
“It’s always really humbling and really exciting to hear the amazing stories and the things people are doing in their lives and to help other people,” Swiderski says. “That gives me great hope.”
“It’s an emotional experience. It really is,” Kasey Reese agrees. Two years ago, he and his partner, Javier Barajas, created their own scholarship as part of the LOUD Foundation’s program.
“Seeing what people are doing, often despite very difficult, challenging family situations or community situations, what they’ve been able to do to advance the community in their world has just been stunning,” Reese says.
Swiderski says the LOUD Foundation was inspired by the Greater Seattle Business Association, which has a 25-year-old scholarship program. Last year Seattle’s program distributed more than $300,000 to LGBT and allied students.
“That was the impetus — seeing a need in our community and seeing that it was something that could happen if we put our minds to it,” she says.
LOUD director Blair Smith has been involved with the scholarship program since its inception, and keeps in touch with many past recipients.
“I have godchildren and I have nieces and nephews, but I would have loved to have kids. But in my generation that just wasn’t possible,” he says. “So to be able to help support and foster change through younger generations is extremely satisfying.”
Swiderski says she and the other volunteers at LOUD are trying to reach as many potential applicants as possible before Jan 31, 2016, when this year’s applications close. “You have nothing to lose,” she tells prospective applicants, encouraging them to apply. “We’re a bunch of people looking to say yes, not to say no. So please apply!”
Here’s a look back at the LOUD scholarship recipients that Daily Xtra has profiled in the last few weeks:
Natalie Kalb received her award in part for her work founding a gay-straight alliance at her high school in 2009. She is now a master’s student in the University of Toronto’s clinic and counselling psychology program.
Joshua M Ferguson — now a filmmaker, activist and PhD student at UBC’s Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice—received a LOUD scholarship in 2009, having just completed a degree in film studies and served as director of Standing Against Queer Discrimination.
Ryan Clayton received his scholarship in 2010 in recognition of his years as an anti-homophobia advocate and speaker in schools. Today he is a wellness worker at the Community Options Society in Duncan, BC.
Jacob Schroeder, a law student at the University of Victoria and co-founder of FactsCan, received a LOUD scholarship in 2010 in part for his volunteer work as a moderator on an online forum for queer teenagers.
Trevor Ritchie received his LOUD award in a 2011 for his work with grassroots LGBT groups in Burnaby, and has now written a book on homophobia in sports.
Leah Nusgart received her award in 2011 while for coordinating her high school’s gay-straight alliance. Now she’s training to be an American Sign Language interpreter and working with BC’s Rainbow Alliance for the Deaf.
Scott Mackay received his award in 2012, having recently been crowned Imperial Crown Prince of the Dogwood Monarchist Society drag court. He continues to volunteer with queer charity events and for the past three years has produced Queens Care.
Jillian (Jay) Wedel, a 2014 LOUD recipient who has worked for years with Out in Schools to bring queer films to students to facilitate discussion, is currently completing a sociology degree from the University of Victoria.
Christopher Severight overcame homelessness and now hopes to be a mentor for at-risk queer youth. This work garnered him a LOUD scholarship in 2015. He is currently completing his bachelor of social work at the University of Northern British Columbia.
Victor Ryan (centre) received his LOUD award in 2015 for co-chairing Out Laws, the queer student association of the University of British Columbia’s law school. He is now articling in the office of BC’s attorney general.
Daniel Elleker received a LOUD award in 2014, in part for his undergraduate research on internalized homophobia. He is now a graduate student at the University of Calgary’s counselling psychology department.