This November, Point Foundation presented our inaugural Out in Higher Ed Week, a campaign designed to highlight LGBTQ voices in the academic world and give them a platform to share what our community needs in order to thrive and to lead. One of the major highlights of this engaging week was our featured panel discussion titled “What LGBTQ Students Need to Thrive.”
Broadcast across Point Foundation’s social media channels on November 5, the panel discussion was moderated by journalist and DailyMailTV host Thomas Roberts. Scholars participating in the discussion were McCray Rudman Community College Scholarship recipient Graciela Cain, Barbey Family Flagship Scholarship recipient Ranen Miao, and Flagship Scholarship recipient Kelvin Moore.
Chief among the topics shared by all three scholar panelists was the need for a focus on safeguarding students’ mental health – not only because of the pandemic, but also because of systemic issues such as racism, sexism, poverty and homophobia. The students explained that because of the complexity of these issues, policy change and social justice are key components to mental health.
“We still have a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of policy change that needs to happen. There needs to be a lot better dialogue when young people are pushing back against institutional power,” said Graciela Cain, who is enrolled in African American Studies at Florida State College at Jacksonville. “There needs to be a lot more dialogue with students when they are coming up.”
Cain spoke passionately about how their past role as an HIV case coordinator in Jacksonville gave them a unique vantage into the types of issues that need to be addressed within LGBTQ communities, particularly those of color. During their time as a care coordinator, they worked with individuals facing eviction, clients who were unable to access lifesaving medication, and those facing various challenges accessing the basic essentials of life.
“All of this affects mental care,” they mentioned. Making things more difficult, there is an overall paucity of resources for those who need care the most. Cain highlighted the lack of access to therapy – and to Black therapists specifically – as a challenge for the community. “We only have about 15 thousand Black therapists for 42 million Black people,” they observed. “That’s nowhere near enough.”
Kelvin Moore, who is a medical student at the University of California, San Francisco (as well as a clinical research coordinator), reinforced Cain’s points with his own observations as someone who has made it his life’s mission to provide quality health care to the LGBTQ community, particularly focusing on the subsets of our community that do not have access to medical resources. Asked about what it will take to improve health outcomes in some of the most marginalized communities, he answered: “Really connecting with the community. Going into the community and meeting people where they are. Not expecting folks to come to big institutions to seek care. Bridging that gap is what it’s going to take.”
Moore also spoke about the issues that can become obstacles for people in the LGBTQ community. “As queer people, as trans people, especially people of color, you have to build these barriers to shield yourself in the world, and in doing that, you are suppressing all of the hurt you encounter on a daily basis.” He is happy to see a major push for wellness and mindfulness in society, however: “I think especially in the LGBTQ community and for LGBTQ people of color, really sitting with how you feel and trying to unpack your suppressing of feelings…that’s going to lead to a journey of healing.”
When it comes to addressing policy and changing society for the better, Ranen Miao sounded ready to engage in the challenging work of making progress happen. A student at Washington University in St. Louis and the son of first-generation immigrants, Miao is the Student Body President and Social Justice Chair of his campus’s Pride Alliance.
Miao discussed his coming out experience and how his formative years shaped his view of the need for social justice. “I was in the closet for a long time,” he said. “(Realizing I was LGBTQ) was a conclusion that I wasn’t able to fully come to terms with until I was in high school…College has given me the platform and the opportunity to explore my sexuality and my identity.”
Now that he has taken a visible role as a leader in his community, Miao wants to make sure that the policy approach to our community’s challenges is broad and inclusive.
“When we talk about LGBTQIA issues, we also need to remember that all of them are intersectional,” he said. “The LGBTQIA community is big, and it includes people who are low income and people who are BIPOC and people who are disabled, and how are we going to make sure that when we try to fight for the advancement of civil rights and freedoms for all people that we are truly inclusive of all people?”
While the work for social justice and mental health -as well as the many other needs of our community – remains challenging, all three scholars discussed how crucial and necessary a connection to our other LGBTQ individuals is. And they are thrilled to be finding these connections among their fellow scholars at Point.
“Being part of this community made me feel seen,” Miao said. “I am grateful for all the financial opportunities, all the mentorship opportunities, and especially the amazing community that Point has given me.”
For Moore, the Point community helps address one of the issues he identified as a challenge for LGBTQ students: “The most pressing barrier is probably the fact that there aren’t out administration or leadership (among college professional staff), so a lot of students may not feel comfortable fully arriving as themselves. Speaking from a medical education standpoint, it can feel a bit daunting being myself and being out in spaces that are traditionally not that. It takes representation and leadership to create a culture that is more welcome and acceptable.”
Speaking later in the discussion about how Point has helped him, he said: “Having that mentorship and community is very important. I think about when I was a child and how I would have loved to be around queer people just pursuing their dreams in academia, so to be in that space now, I am so humbled and grateful.”
As for Cain, they are adamant about being committed to the struggle for equity and social justice. “I’m here to struggle with folks, and that’s how I see us getting to liberation, getting to freedom.”
Like all their colleagues in the cohort of 389 students across the country that Point will be supporting during this academic year, the featured scholars in our “What LGBTQ Students Need to Thrive” discussion exemplified the best of this generation’s intellect and passion. Those of us who believe in their vision will continue to work every day to provide them with all the support they need to continue thriving.
Watch the panel discussion below or visit www.youtube.com/PointFoundationOrg.
This article was included in the December 2021 edition of Point Foundation’s newsletter, On Point. You can read the whole newsletter here.