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PFLAG Perspective: Past, future, and the magic moment in between

Oppressed people need their history.

In ways big and small, it shapes the landscape and shows the mountains and valleys. It cautions us, keeps victories alive, and solidifies us for what’s left to be done. Every now and then history becomes palpable, though when it does, you could no more explain it than you could the wind.

That was my experience at PFLAG San Diego's 11th annual scholarship award ceremony where, as I saw it, the past present and future briefly coalesced.

PFLAG SD’s scholarship awards ceremonies have always been uplifting events.

Olivia Dorman, scholarship committee chair, event organizer and master of ceremonies, has mastered the form and brings it all together with tremendous enthusiasm, humor, and just a little bit of cajoling. She knows how to heard cats.

This year's presentation took place June 27th, during our regularly scheduled monthly meeting, held at First United Methodist Church, 2111 Camino del Rio South, in Mission Valley.

PFLAG scholarships were created to recognize outstanding LGBT high school seniors, undergraduates and graduate students, who are also residents of San Diego County at the time of their application.

The scholarships are made possible by the generous donations of our annual sponsors, whose gracious gifts are generally in memory of a friend or loved one who was affiliated with the PFLAG or LGBT community in some way, however, this year Raytheon's GLBTA Association also joined the ranks of sponsors.

Seven individuals were awarded scholarships during the ceremony. Guest speaker Todd Gloria, 3rd district city council member and a former 1998 scholarship recipient, himself, gave a truly inspiring speech and then presented each 2011 recipient with a City Proclamation of Recognition, a first for the awards.

This year's sponsors then each took turns to share the inspiration of their individual sponsorships -- the exceptional people and organizations in whose honor the scholarships were given -- and the seven recipients each read from their essays and basked in a rousing, well-deserved applause.

Recipients took this year’s essay subject: "LGBT discrimination and how to overcome it," and explained what they are planning to accomplish with their education.

Following are the list of scholarships, the generous donors behind them, the recipients of each award, and excerpts from the essay of each scholarship recipient:

    Mary Wagner Memorial Scholarship (11th year donors)
    • Sponsor: Wagner's partner Sharon Murphy, longtime friends Marilyn and Art Carpenter
    • Recipient: Daniel Tillapaugh, University of San Diego
    • Daniel plans to give back to students. "I hope to become a professor of a higher education administration program, teaching individuals who want to work with college students outside of the classroom.

      "My own identity as a gay man as well as my research definitely plays a profound role in my professional identity, especially as it relates to working with individuals from underrepresented communities."

    John Bessemer Memorial Scholarship (10th year)

    • Sponsor: Family of John Bessemer and PFLAG San Diego Friends
    • Recipient: Kristen Torres, Mount Miguel High School
    • Kristen will " ... continue to study Social Sciences and Criminal Justice, to help teens like me fight against statistics that hold us back from who we are and who we can strive to be.”

    Rob Benzon Memorial Scholarship (6th year)

    • Sponsor: Board and Members of the Rob Benzon Foundation
    • Recipient: Elizabeth Nguyen, University of California, San Diego
    • Elizabeth plans to be a community activist. "I’ve begun this work by helping lead queer and feminist organizations and by interning at my university’s LGBT Resource Center.

      "However," she continued, "I’d like to further my activism through literature. Through stories, I want to express the suffering, joy, oppression, and liberation of those in our community. I want to be able to speak of my own stories as a queer woman of color, which have been long silenced by hostile cultural attitudes."

    Stephen G. Bowersox Memorial Scholarship (4th year)

    • Sponsor: Family and friends of Stephen G. Bowersox, a 2003 scholarship recipient
    • Recipient: Michael Cueva, Castle Park High School
    • Michael wrote, "Becoming a successful journalist will motivate me to use the media to further strive for the rights and equality of the LGBT community."

    John McCusker Memorial Foundation Scholarship Fund at the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation (3rd year)

    • Sponsor: Family and friends of John McCusker and Board Members of the SDHDF
    • Recipient: Edward San Fillipo, University of Pittsburgh
    • Edward wrote, "What often surprises people is that [transgender] advocacy work is not my ultimate career goal. In law school, I will focus my studies on International Law and Human Rights coursework, with the intention of someday working with the United Nations for refugee rights.

      "Although I will always be committed to transgender advocacy, and I will always be a vocal member of my community, the plight of refugees moves me at a deeper level."

    Mac McWhorter Memorial Scholarship (3rd year)

    • Sponsor: The family of Capt. Mac McWhorter, USN
    • Recipient: Pamela Highfill, Springfield College
    • Pamela chose Springfield College (a Massachusetts college with a campus here in San Diego) because, "... their goal is to teach the students how to be change agents within their own community. I hope to fully integrate Stepping Stone, the organization I work for, into the community of City Heights, where we are located.”

    Raytheon STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) Scholarship (1st year)

    • Sponsor: Members of the Raytheon Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally (GLBTA) Association
    • Recipient: Anthony Gomez, Eastlake High School
    • Anthony wrote, "I plan on becoming a college professor to do research and enact legislation to promote species conservation. When I am presenting the results of my research to a committee in Congress, they will know I am gay. This will help foster acceptance of homosexuals as contributors to society and break down negative stereotypes."

    What did some of the recipients have to say about LGBT equality? Here’s a brief summary of their commitments to helping end LGBT discrimination:

    Kristen Torres: "We still face the fear of the unknown as many people don’t understand or try to understand us and accept us equally. The fear that has stopped so many from being receptive is the same fear that gave us strength to fight for civil and human rights.

    "Everyone is born with who they are from the time of conception, you are not made to be gay or straight nor are you chose to be made the same as another individual,” she said. "Lesbian and Gay community members deserve the same opportunities to give to society, be productive, fight for our country and to be treated equally as those who live in a world that is not with certainty completely happy."

    Daniel Tillapaugh: "As an educator, one of the most heart-wrenching things to hear about is a young LGBT-identified or questioning person who has committed suicide as a means of ending their feelings of alienation, discrimination, and isolation.

    "No young person should have to negotiate those issues on their own," he continued. "The safety of LGBT people – young or old – is critical within the larger society. We need to be able to promote discourses from a young age about dimensions of power, privilege, and difference to instill common respect, empathy, and compassion for all.

    "Lastly, legal rights for the LGBT community, such as anti-harassment and non-discrimination laws, are essential for our community’s success, but also for the larger society’s civility. Members of the LGBT community should have full access to equal rights for all rather, than just the privileged majority."

    Michael Cueva: "The oppression of women plays a vital role in the marginalization of LGBT people, due to the widely accepted notion that to act or be in any way female is degrading. Once a person breaks out of the expected gender norms, he or she is seen as a threat to the established definitions of what to be masculine or feminine is.

    "The mainstream media often reinforces the stereotypical gender roles of 'machos' and 'damsels in distress' to the extent that citizens accept such notions as commonplace and natural. Thus, when a woman is labeled as 'butch' or a man appears 'feminine,' their behavior conflicts with the already established codes of conduct set for each gender.”

    Elizabeth Nguyen: "Homophobic violence is a serious threat to LGBT lives. This oppression pushes queer people onto the margins of society, and LGBT youth and women are at particular risk.

    "Queer youth are often victims of gay-bashing or anti-gay bullying. This violence can also fuel depression and self-hatred, and contributes to the disproportionately high LGBT youth suicide rate.

    "In addition, sexism and homophobia contribute to a rape culture in which women are constructed as sex objects for male heterosexual pleasure. In some countries, there is even a widespread acceptance of using rape to 'cure' lesbians of their sexual orientation."

    Edward San Filippo: "As a transgender individual, I find myself at the intersection of conflicting possibilities.

    "On one hand, my transition has been successful in that strangers passing me [on] the street assume I am biologically male, which gives me the option of staying stealth and disconnecting from the broader transgender community.

    "On the other hand, my experiences of marginalization and discrimination (including those that are non-trans related) compel me to commit myself towards making a difference in the world."

    Pamela Highfill: "Anytime we have a campaign such as Proposition 8 that opposes gay marriage we can see the issue of endorsed bigotry that confronts the LGBT community.

    "The need to feel safe is a basic human right that should be accorded to everyone. This bigotry trickles down to our children and is exhibited in schools where young people are needlessly picked on. Violence still occurs across America due to false perceptions about sexual orientation."

    Anthony Gomez: "The human right deprived of those in the LGBT community is one others enjoy everyday without even acknowledging its existence. I am talking about the most basic human right: the right of acceptance.

    "If somebody is gay, it is often swept under a rug. This shouldn’t be the case. Being gay shouldn’t be a big deal. There shouldn’t even need to be a process of coming out. If society is brought up with the notion that homosexuality is commonplace, no one will question the acceptance of these members of society."

    As you can see, the recipients were all exceptional choices and in a future column I hope to go into some of the issues they have raised in more detail.

    For more information about PFLAG San Diego's scholarship program or how to become a donor, click HERE.

    Upcoming Events for PFLAG San Diego

    The next monthly meeting is this Monday, July 25th, at 7 pm. Featured guest speaker for the July meeting is Maureen Steiner, board member of the Lambda Archives of San Diego.

    Maureen will give a presentation on San Diego's own local LGBT history. Her presentation will be followed by refreshments and support groups for those interested.

    The mission of the Lambda Archives is to collect, preserve, and teach the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the San Diego and Northern Baja California region. Although most of the collections date to post-1970, there are original materials dating back to the 1930s.

    Maureen is also a lifetime member of PFLAG San Diego and was able to marry her partner, Camille Davidson, when marriage was legal in California, 2008.

    About PFLAG San Diego County Chapter

    PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through support, to cope with an adverse society, education, to enlighten an ill-informed public and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights.

    PFLAG San Diego meets every fourth Monday of the month at the First United Methodist Church, 2111 Camino del Rio South in Mission Valley. For more information, visit their pflag.com website or call the PFLAG SD support line, at (888) 398-0006.

    You can also follow PFLAG San Diego on Facebook and also on Twitter.

    Mark Thompson has been a PFLAG member for five years, including two years as co-president (with his wife Karen) and a year as treasurer. He says his experience of helping in the LGBT community has been one of the most rewarding he's ever had. Mark has lived in San Diego since the late 1960s, is a land use/environmental consultant, and is currently working on a novel.

    Photo above, left, top: Councilmember Todd Gloria giving a City Proclamation of Recognition to Pamela Highfill. Bottom: Michael Cueva receiving his scholarship from the Raytheon GLBTA Association.