Few opportunities for sexual minority students

While scholarships exist for at-risk minorities in Alberta, there are few targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) population, which has been documented as facing more risks on average than their heterosexual peers.

Scholarships and bursaries offer an incentive for students to attain a higher level of education. A scholarship is typically awarded for academic achievement, while a bursary is given on the basis of financial need.

A multitude of scholarships and bursaries exist in Alberta for students to take advantage of. Many of these monetary awards assist groups in society that face disadvantages that could prevent them from pursuing or completing a post-secondary education.

“I think it’s about empowerment, and I think these scholarships and education is a way to empower people.”

– Joshua Cadegan-Syms, president of the Pride Centre at Mount Royal University.

Visible minorities, women, single parents and people with disabilities such as hearing impairments and vision loss are among the groups targeted by scholarships and bursaries.

Entrance scholarships awarded by Mount Royal University include the BMO Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship, which awards $6,000 for academic achievement preferably to a graduate from an Aboriginal Education Program, which prepares students of Aboriginal ancestry to receive a post-secondary education.

The Sam and Betty Switzer Foundation Bursary awards $6,000 to returning students with a preference given to single parents. The Alan Dyment Bursary awards a variable amount to a student with a disability and enrolled part time or full time in their second, third or fourth year of university.

However, there are few scholarships and bursaries in Alberta that target LGBTQ youth, despite studies show this group faces a significant risk of experiencing homelessness, bullying, depression and suicide.

YOUTH AT RISK

A fact sheet released by Rainbow Health Ontario, in partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, states that the risk of suicide in LGBTQ-identified youth is 14 times higher than in their heterosexual counterparts.

Additionally, Canadian studies have found high rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and alcohol and drug dependence in the LGBTQ population. The fact sheet cites studies suggesting that minority stress, which is “the accumulated stigma, prejudice and discrimination” that minority groups are exposed to, could be a factor putting youth at risk for these behaviours.

LGBTQ-identified youth are also more likely to experience homelessness, with numerous studies stating that they are overrepresented in the homeless population.

A study in Toronto found that almost one third of street youth identified as non-straight and about three per cent as transgendered.

The Pride Centre at Mount Royal University offers peer counselling for LGBTQ students who are facing difficulties.

Photo by Kristine SaretskyJoshua Cadegan-Syms, the president of the Pride Club at Mount Royal University, says that coming out to family members is still a risk for LGBTQ youth and could result in a loss of financial support for their post-secondary aspirations if their parents don’t respond well to the truth about the sexual orientation of their child.

“When you’re 18, you’re 19…you might think you’re slightly emancipated from your parents but you’re not, you’re quite dependent on them,” he says. “A lot of the time when students are in university they’re dependent on their parents for their tuition, room and board, spending money, these sorts of things.”

He states although that a lot of people are drawn to the idea of coming out and being honest to their family and themselves, they are putting their livelihood at risk in the process.

“I think that’s why you have such high rates of homelessness for queer students. But not just that, you know, [there are] students that are having to forego their education in order to stabilize their life, because they cannot be both out and have their parents support them through university.”

SCHOLARSHIPS IN ALBERTA

A list compiled by the Alberta Distance Learning Centre [ADLC] shows that there are a small amount of scholarships and bursaries available for LGBTQ-identified students in Alberta.

The University of Alberta offers the Michael Phair Leadership Award for LGBTQ students and is the first queer-specific award in the history of the University of Alberta.

The John M. Kerr Memorial Scholarship Award is a yearly scholarship of $500-$750 given to gay or lesbian students enrolled in post-secondary programs in Alberta.
At Mount Royal University, the Students’ Association offers a gender and sexual diversity enrichment award.

A search conducted by the Calgary Journal at the Scholarships Canada website did not uncover any other LGBTQ scholarships in Alberta.

The list compiled by the ADLC showed that Ontario is the province with the most scholarships and bursaries available to LGBTQ students, with a total of seven scholarships.

Cadegan-Syms says that higher education is key to social mobility and that is why scholarship and bursary availability is so important for minority groups.

“We have these scholarships for women and visible minorities because we have recognized the fact that these are minority groups and these are groups that are prone to say, poverty, prone to suicide, that are prone to systematic forms of oppression within society and we’ve created these scholarships in order to elevate them.

“I think it’s about empowerment, and I think these scholarships and education is a way to empower people.”

He is uncertain of the possibility of more scholarship opportunities for LGBTQ youth in the future.

“I would hope that this need would be met. I don’t know how it would, to be honest. There might not be scholarships out there specifically for queer youth, but I’m sure there’s other ways in which we can sort of appropriate those [other] scholarships.”

ksaretsky@cjournal.ca