Vancouver-based LOUD Scholarships empower LGBT Canadian youth leaders beyond academics

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      The first sentence of one scholarship application was: “I’m a university drop-out.” The applicant described how stress about gender-identity issues and cross-cultural complications led them to have difficulty with school and work.

      By phone, LOUD Business Association cochair Blair Smith explains that his organization helped this person through the readmissions process. It’s an example he uses to illustrate how LOUD Scholarships is neither about getting good grades nor solely about academics.

      The Gay and Lesbian Business Association of B.C. (GLBA), which became known as the Leadership, Opportunity, Unity, and Diversity (LOUD) Business Association, launched the LOUD Foundation in 2007 to recognize youths who demonstrate leadership in LGBT issues through action.

      Smith says the idea for the scholarships came from seeking “a way to stop looking at the past and start looking to the future” as a business organization and to help LGBT youths, such as those kicked out of their homes after coming out and having to give up education.

      In 2009 (its first year of giving out awards), it granted two $2,000 scholarships and one $1,000 scholarship from Little Sister’s Bookstore. This year, the foundation celebrated its 10th year on May 16, awarding a total of $38,000 in scholarships to students aged 14 to 37.

      He also says that because it’s important to support youths “trying to make healthy communities where they live” instead of them relocating to large urban centres, they also support long-distance education.

      Smith has also heard from parents with children who have come out but who don’t know much about handling LGBT issues and have heard a lot about potential problems. He says they have told him things like: “For us to find out that there’s a whole business community and scholarships and stuff to support my child makes me so much more hopeful for the future.”

      Contrary to the perception that queer youths have it easier today due to social progress, Smith points to the Internet as a “mixed blessing”.

      “They can find information online, but they’re also finding misinformation online and they’re finding hatred online,” he says, adding that issues from cyberbullying to lack of support add to the intensity of adolescence, which is already hard enough for cisgender and straight students.

      However, Smith says he has noticed how awards can transform individuals and their relationships. He has seen how a change in confidence and self-perception can, in turn, influence how others, including peers, families, and educators, regard them.

      “To receive the recognition that what they’re doing is valued, as well as some financial assistance, really changes their own self-worth,” he says.

      And by helping these individuals to grow and change, these scholarships are also helping to change the future.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook. You can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.