Organization awards scholarships to members of GLBT community

Dylan Thomas

When a gay Minneapolis man discovered he was HIV-positive in the late 1980s and could die, his situation inspired him to give back to the gay community.

Along with three other local men, he founded the Philanthrofund Foundation, a nonprofit organization that administers grants and scholarships to leaders in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

“They wanted their money to go to their ‘family of choice,’ meaning people in the GLBT community,” said Kit Briem, Philanthrofund’s executive director.

“They were visionaries. They were like, ‘Why can’t we have a community foundation that’s really going to look after us?'” she said.

Today, the foundation looks after people such as University junior Nick Schrott, who received a Philanthrofund scholarship in May. Schrott was recognized for his work with the University’s Queer Student Cultural Center, where he has volunteered since coming to the University two years ago.

“I pretty much went down to the QSCC within the first month or so and slowly but surely started volunteering and becoming more and more involved. You just have to go for it, make that first trip down there,” he said.

Schrott is also a member
of Delta Lambda Phi, a fraternity for gay, bisexual and
“progressive-minded men.” Although he is used to support from friends in the GLBT community, he said, it was the first time he had been recognized by so many people from outside the GLBT community.

B. David Galt, assistant director of the GLBT programs office, said the scholarship ceremony “is a really important community event in terms of providing recognition and support to these GLBT students.

“For some of them, it’s a
recognition that they don’t get, and it may be a kind of support that they don’t receive in their home communities,” Galt said.

Philanthrofund scholarships tend to select leaders from within the gay community, Briem said. Former recipients include Antonio Cardona, co-chairman of the University’s queer cultural center, and Gary Schiff, Minneapolis City Council member and University graduate.

Schiff said it was “a moral booster to be recognized by members of my own community who wanted to encourage me with academic and community work I was doing.”

Jane Miller, a University choral conducting graduate student, received one of three University Students Award scholarships from the foundation.

Miller, who came out in her late 20s, said, “I was especially impressed by some of the high school students who had come in high school and organized support groups.

“I think it’s really amazing and commendable that some of these younger people have taken those steps and taken so much leadership in high school and early college,” Miller said.

In 1987, Philanthrofund gave away $2,000 in grants. This year, Briem said, it will give away almost $70,000 in grants and scholarships.

The University funds three of the foundation’s scholarships. Galt, through donor recruitment and fund-raising efforts in his two years at the University, has played a part in increasing the University awards from two $500 scholarships to three $1000 scholarships.

“Here in Minnesota, we have looked at Philanthrofund as a strong GLBT community organization to kind of take on that responsibility,” Galt said. “It’s kind of a cool thing that it’s all pulled together like it is in Minnesota.”

This year, Philanthrofund administered 23 scholarships and awarded $20,500 to 20 students.

Briem said there are three ways to qualify for a Philanthrofund scholarship. Candidates can identify themselves as GLBT, come from a GLBT family – the definition of which, Briem said, is left
intentionally ambiguous – or pursue GLBT studies.

While both Schrott and Miller said their scholarships are a welcome relief from financial burdens, the recognition they provide is equally important.

“Because of the status that gay and lesbian people have in our culture, to have an award that recognizes their work in the community as a queer person I think is really validating,” Miller said.

“It just sort of moves against the cultural norm, and I like that,” she said.

Dylan Thomas welcomes comments at [email protected]