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A new scholarship in Middletown looks to support LGBTQ+ high schoolers in college

FILE- A giant pride flag marching down the street during a Pride Parade in May of 2023.
Greg Miller
CT Public
FILE- A giant pride flag marching down the street during a Pride Parade in May of 2023.

A new scholarship for LGBTQ+ students in Middletown is helping high schoolers feel seen and validated for who they are, while also giving them a financial boost as they head off to college.

City officials voted to approve the scholarship in July. It would go into effect next spring and grant $1,000 to eligible graduating seniors from any Middletown high school.

The idea began at a Wesleyan lunch for LGBTQIA staff. Nina Vasquez, program coordinator for Upward Bound, a program that encourages low-income, first generation high school students to apply to college, proposed a scholarship just for LGBTQ+ high schoolers.

Christopher Forte, the assistant general counsel for the city of Middletown, helped pitch the idea to the LGBTQIA Commission in Middletown.

Forte says this is something the city has always wanted to do. But now that Middletown has one of the biggest pride festivals in the state, there’s more money to support a scholarship.

Middletown says they want to invest in their youth. And Forte says it’s still tough to be an LGBTQ+ student. Even though there’s been so much progress with marriage equality, Forte said students can still feel defeated when it comes to using the right pronouns and transgender rights.

“I think to have something like this, to say that people do appreciate who you are, you can be visible, you can be supported and affirmed, whether it’s just in this small way. But hopefully, students will be able to see themselves reflected and use this to go to college and meet new people that are like them,” Forte said.

The LGBTQIA Commission in Middletown will have its first meeting in early December to go over what the form of the scholarship will look like and the dates students can apply. According to Forte, application dates will open in the spring – at the end of April 2024.

Vasquez said when she told her students, they were more than excited for the opportunity. “They felt validated and seen. They told me, ‘Wow. Like, I could go to college.’”

“It becomes isolating when you don't see that visibility and that exposure. I feel like this scholarship is a welcome, it’s a ‘your high school sees you, your town sees you, your people see you’ and you feel more confident. Like, I got a scholarship for being me,” she said.

Lesley Cosme Torres is an Education Reporter at Connecticut Public. She reports on education inequities across the state and also focuses on Connecticut's Hispanic and Latino residents, with a particular focus on the Puerto Rican community. Her coverage spans from LGBTQ+ discrimination in K-12 schools, book ban attempts across CT, student mental health concerns, and more. She reports out of Fairfield county and Hartford.

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