As you read this, some of tomorrow’s best and brightest might be paralyzed in Houston’s university system. The budding engineer that may have a way to fix our city’s overloaded infrastructure, the quarterback that will take the Texans to a Super Bowl win, the young researcher whose tireless work could save your life if you’re battling cancer — that person could be here. That youth with big dreams and big ideas may be vital to your future.
But if they are a part of the LGBTQ community, that person with the big dreams and big ideas may be unable to get the education they need.
Current laws require students to provide a parental signature, and their parents’ tax information, until they are 24 — six years into their life as a legal, yet apparently not that free, adult.
Not only in Houston, but also across the country, students whose parents refuse to provide this information are left with few options. The only way around the law for most of these students is for them to declare themselves homeless, which is the only way they can be fully emancipated — even if they do have a place to lay their heads.
“In 2017, somehow, we still have to think about this,” says the president and founder of UH’s LGBTQ Alumni Association, Kevin Hamby. “Put yourself in their shoes, and imagine your own parents discriminating against you for something you can’t control. You want an education, you want to be successful, but you have to deny who you are to do it. What do you do?”
“You may be 24 years old, and your parents have kicked you out of the house because of who you are, and you can’t provide their income tax information. You’re stuck.”
According to its website, the University of Houston awards more than 8,000 degrees annually, and educates more than 40,000 students each year. Hamby cited statistics that indicate 80% of UH graduates remain in Houston to contribute their talents, with roughly 10% of those students identifying as LGBTQ.
“That’s why the statistics are so high when it comes to homeless youth. What you’re going to find out when you look into it is that a number of these students declaring themselves homeless — not just in Texas, but around the country — are LGBTQ youth.”
As one of the few universities in the country with a full-service LGBTQ Resource Center — run by alumni trained to identify those in need — the University of Houston is able to offer assistance. The LGBTQ offshoot of the Alliance is alumni-run, providing both tuition assistance and emergency funding in a two-pronged approach. Younger and older alumni are able to identify LGBTQ students in need, whether those may be long-term needs (such as scholarships) or short-term (such as housing or temporary living expenses). Prospective aid recipients must first go through the LGBTQ Resource Center and are assigned a caseworker to assist them in identifying their needs, ensuring that funds are disbursed properly.
Without having to choose between coming out and living an inauthentic life, students are better able to focus upon their studies. Financial help is also available to those across the entire LGBTQ spectrum.
“We like to say it’s about coming out as your true self, not ‘coming out of the closet,’ which people have always done,” says Hamby. “It’s not just about being gay or lesbian, it’s also about being bisexual, transgender, or queer. It’s about being your true self. We’re inclusive with the whole demographic.”
Financial assistance is not limited to tuition, either.
“We want to make sure that if a student needs housing for a month, we can fit the bill,” Hamby explains. “Tuition, food, whatever we can do to make sure that student’s education is not disrupted. If students can’t take care of their basic needs because of family biases, their education is disrupted.”
Hamby added an important message to students in need, and to the Houston community in general:
“We are here to help. And the students that we are helping are future voters, future politicians, future community leaders. We are here to help them through their education, through the process. We are here to help.”
If you’d like to help, or are a student in need of help, there are several upcoming events you can find at rainbowcoogs.com. The upcoming Red Dinner and associated kickoff and brunch are a great way to get involved and learn more about the organization, but you can also follow them on social media at the links provided on the website.