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LGBTQIA Support Fund gives hope to students

image of a gay pride flag glove with a graduation cap

To be turned away by a parent or guardian can be heart-wrenching. To have it accompanied by a loss of financial support can drastically change a student’s ability to stay in school.

“My parents found out I was in a same-sex relationship and cut me off,” said Blair Fernandez, a junior legal studies major from Beecher. Fernandez had a job to pay the rent, but her parents had set up a payment plan to help with tuition and fees. The sudden loss of support left Fernandez with a University payment due, and no time to apply for loans.

Desperate to stay in school, Fernandez searched online for scholarships, and came across the LGBTQIA Support Fund through the Dean of Students Office. “I applied for the fund as a last resource. Otherwise I was going to have to stop classes and work full time.”

Without [the LGBTQIA Support Fund], I have no clue what my life would be like now. —Blair Fernandez

The fund paid her University bill for the semester, giving Fernandez time to get on her feet. “This fund takes the burden away a little bit, and I am forever grateful for it,” she said. “Without it, I have no clue what my life would be like now.”

Fernandez’ story is one Barb Dallinger has heard many times over the years. Along with her duties at the Bone Student Center, Dallinger sits on the LGBTQIA Support Fund Committee. “I can’t believe, after all this time, that students are still losing family and friends,” she said. “There are times I feel like we’ve come so far, but the need for this fund is still there.”

Dave Bentlin and Barb Dallinger

Illinois State alumni Dave Bentlin and Barb Dallinger, who both serve on the LGBTQIA Support Fund Committee.

The LGBTQIA Support Fund (which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexual, and asexual) began shortly after the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten to death by classmates in 1998. Mark Vegter was an academic advisor in the Department of English, and heard stories from students who were cut off when they came out to their parents. “It was apparent there was a need,” said Dallinger, who created the fund with Vegter, Dave Bentlin of the Office of the President, and Associate Dean of Students Jill Benson.

Benson noted the average fund award is around $1,500. “We do not limit the amount of the award, but it usually covers the balance due for the current or upcoming semester,” she said.

A lot of teens who have gone through what I have gone through are not around anymore because the burden becomes too much. —Blair Fernandez

The fund is meant as a temporary stop-gap measure for students, said Dallinger. “It answers the question, ‘What can we do to get you through this?’” Though many students already have a job, the unanticipated loss of funds usually means students have to make a choice between rent and tuition. “The goal is to keep students in school,” she added.

Logo with the words Diversity at State

Logo with the words Diversity at State

Students applying for the fund are also sent a list of University resources to access assistance. “These students have needs that go beyond financial,” said Benson. “The loss of support financially causes an immediate need that has to be addressed but they are also in need of support and care for the sudden shift their lives have taken.”

For Fernandez, the LGBTQIA Support Fund meant more than a temporary relief from monetary problems. “It helped me to know that I wasn’t alone in this fight and that if some people believed in me enough to give me this money, then I am worth more than what I have been through,” she said. Fernandez said she hopes the fund grows to help more students. “A lot of teens who have gone through what I have gone through are not around anymore because the burden becomes too much. I hope the fund can help those people who feel like no one has your back.”

Requests for the fund have spiked with the last couple of years, noted Dallinger. “We’ll probably get three a semester, which puts a strain on what we do have, but it’s important to help.”

Find applications at the Diversity Advocacy and LGBT/Queer Studies and Services Institute websites. Find out how to support the fund by contacting Benson at (309) 438-2008.

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