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Youth receive scholarships from BC’s LGBT business association

‘Scholarships specifically tailored to our community’ are rare: recipient

LOUD scholarship recipients Ben Choquette (left to right) and Jillian Wedel pose with business association member Javier Barajas, Barajas-Reese Scholarship recipient Daniel Elleker and Kasey Reese at the LOUD Foundation luncheon May 23. Credit: James Loewen

Four young and future leaders of Vancouver’s queer community received a leg up May 23, when the LOUD Foundation, an arm of BC’s LGBT business association, presented scholarships on behalf of local businesses and individuals.

For the past five years, the scholarships have been awarded to queer students and their allies showing considerable promise in their respective fields.

At an intimate luncheon at the Listel Hotel, members of the LGBT community and the business association gathered to honour the recipients. Along with two LOUD scholarships worth $2,000 each and the Little Sister’s Scholarship of $1,000, this year saw the creation a new Barajas-Reese Scholarship worth $2,000.

Francisco Javier Barajas and Kasey Reese, who hope their donation will inspire others within the business community to similarly support youth, awarded their inaugural award to Daniel Elleker.

While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in arts and psychology, Elleker has been actively conducting research focusing on the health of gay and bisexual men and is about to embark on a master’s degree in counselling psychology.

“There isn’t a lot out there in terms of scholarships specifically tailored to our community,” Elleker says. He plans to continue his research work and study, eventually becoming a licensed counselling psychologist. “I want to be a really busy guy,” he says.

Jillian Wedel was awarded a LOUD scholarship by Helen Gardener on behalf of herself and her husband, Dan, a fondly remembered member of the business association who died last year.

“First of all, I want to point out the irony of a quiet introvert like myself winning a LOUD scholarship,” said Wedel, now in the third year of a bachelor of sociology degree.

“I think that being loud is not always about shouting at the top of your lungs; I think that most of the time it’s about delivering your message in a way that resonates with and inspires the people that you’re trying to reach.”

Wedel has been speaking in high schools on Vancouver Island for the last three years, working with students on issues related to homophobia and bullying, which, she says, while not as prevalent as they once were, are still present under the surface in the form of heteronormative expectations in the classroom. “That’s harder to get at,” she says.

Ben Choquette, the recipient of the second $2,000 LOUD award, funded by the West End Slo-Pitch Association, is studying year-round and part-time for a degree in social work while working full-time to support himself.

“It is really well timed because I have run out of money for school,” Choquette said, adding that he’s going to use the scholarship immediately to pay for his next semester’s tuition this summer.

“It’s more than just getting money,” he says. “It’s opened my eyes to what these people and this foundation does in our community. It’s a real honour.”

Aysia Law, recipient of the Little Sister’s Scholarship, is the Youth Poet Laureate for the City of Victoria and a writing student at the University of Victoria. She was not present at the luncheon.

“The business community through the last 30 years has been very, very important, so I think it’s important that [it] continues to be relevant to the LGBTQ community,” said Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sister’s bookstore and a LOUD selection committee member .

“I also think it’s nice to champion not so much the victims of our world, which is important, but the people that are fighting, that are accomplishing, that are doing well, that are going to be the leaders of the queer community in the future,” he said.