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    Homeless Gay Valedictorian Helps to Make the ‘Impossible Possible’ for LGBTIQ Youth

    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney–

    We, like many other LGBTIQ people, were heartened to learn of the outpouring of financial support from the community for the Jacksonville, Florida, high school valedictorian Seth Owen that will enable him to attend Georgetown University after his parents kicked him out of the house and refused to support him because he was gay. As Owen’s struggle received extensive national media coverage, nearly 2,500 donors contributed over $135,000 on the GoFundMe page that his high school biology teacher and mentor Jane Martin, other teachers and his fellow students organized—far surpassing the initial goal of $20,000.

    On the site, Martin described the struggle Owen faced:

    “Earlier this year (after a year of attempted conversion therapy), Seth’s parents gave him an ultimatum. He would either continue to attend the church that outwardly attacked him and his sexual orientation or he would need to leave home. For his own well-being and safety, Seth chose the latter. He’s been living with friends and working to sustain himself since financially. His parents have refused to support him emotionally or financially because they deem his sexual orientation inconsistent with their religious beliefs. Throughout this all, Seth held his head high and continued to work almost full-time while finishing high school at the top of his class as the co-valedictorian.”

    In an NBC News video, Owen, who was also his high school’s swim team captain and leader of its gay-straight alliance his junior and senior years, described how his father told him that “biblically, we have the right to stone you” for being gay and forced him to go to a Christian conversion therapy counselor to “fix” him.

    Martin explained on GoFundMe that Owen was admitted to Georgetown for college, but the university based his financial aid on the erroneous assumption that his parents would support him. Even after Owen appealed the decision with extensive accompanying documentation, Georgetown refused to alter its decision, leaving Owen $20,000 short. As they continued to try to convince Georgetown to change its decision and policies, Martin and others initiated the GoFundMe fundraising appeal.

    Owen told NBC News: “I can truly say I felt unconditional love” from his teachers and fellow students—something his parents seemed unable to provide.

    As support poured in, Owen responded to his supporters with immense gratitude: “I simply cannot say thank you to you all enough … . I am forever grateful to you all for making my lifelong dream of attending college possible.”

    And Owen revealed how he understood it was about much more than just him: “S

    ince this story became public, I have had numerous people reach out to me and say that they are going through similar situations.” While Owen found that the “passionate response” to his plight “reassure[d]’ him that “Jacksonville (and our country) will not tolerate injustices towards the LGBTQ+ community,” he pleaded for all of his supporters to “continue to be allies in whatever capacity, not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but for all marginalized groups.”

    Two days later, Martin on behalf of herself and Owen further underscored Owen’s prior message. Out of all the responses Martin received, “what sticks out most is the messages I have received from LGBTQ students from around the country whose stories are all too similar to Seth’s.” Martin came out herself in the post and spoke of the “ostracism” from her own family and community she experienced growing up in the South. She and Owen pointed out that “LGBTQ youth account for 40% of the homeless teen population.”

    And Martin and Owen explicitly acknowledged their “privilege” as “white, cisgender, middle-class individuals.” They highlighted how black LGBTIQ youth “have the highest rates of homelessness” and how “transgender people of color are getting murdered, misgendered, and also overlooked by the same media” that showered Owen with “immeasurable recognition.” They wanted “to use [their] privilege to shine light on the realities of this situation.” Late last week, Georgetown finally did the right thing and provided Owen the full financial aid he deserves. He and Martin now plan to use the additional money donated on GoFundMe to establish a scholarship fund for students in similar need.

    They also “implored” people to support homeless LGBTIQ youth in their own communities. “There are voices and stories that deserve to be amplified, uplifted, and supported just as much as Seth’s story. There are organizations working to provide resources, safe spaces and support to LGBTQ students who need funding and volunteers. Find those voices and organizations. Invest in them and help make our nation a little brighter and inclusive for all.”

    In her initial GoFundMe post, Martin acknowledged that the $20,000 “goal seems unrealistic and the circumstances aren’t ideal, but I also know communities can make the impossible possible.” That’s what the LGBTIQ activism is all about: making the “impossible possible” even when “circumstances aren’t ideal.”

    You can help to make the difference, through your own personal efforts to support queer youth directly and by supporting organizations such as Larkin Street Youth Services, Lyric, Trans:Thrive and the SF LGBT Center, just to name a few. And we hope that elected officials on all levels of government take note of Owen’s story as well. He, his classmates and many other teens like him will all be eligible to vote for the first time this November.

    You can visit Owen’s GoFundMe site at:
    https://www.gofundme.com/hoyaseth

    The SF LGBT Center publishes a terrific resource book for LGBTIQ homeless youth. It lists many local supportive services and organizations: https://www.sfcenter.org/sites/default/files/SFLGBTZineWebVersion_1.pdf

    Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.