LGBTQ scholarships give students resources, hope

Governor Ron DeSantis has drawn the ire of activists nationwide for his administration’s treatment of LGBTQ Floridians, especially the state’s students.

“Parental Rights in Education” was signed into law earlier this year, more widely known as the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law, and in 2021 he championed “The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” to restrict transgender youth from playing sports aligning with their gender identity. The vulnerable population’s access to gender-affirming care has also been targeted.

According to its most recent National School Climate Survey, GLSEN – which has worked to ensure LGBTQ students thrive in schools since 1990 – found that nearly 60% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, 42.5% felt unsafe because of their gender expression and 37.4% felt unsafe because of their gender. Nearly all heard anti-LGBTQ remarks in the classroom.

In Central Florida and Tampa Bay, LGBTQ safe spaces are working to make a difference for these students. These organizations ensure that LGBTQ youth, adults and allies flourish in their education and future careers through scholarships ranging from $500 to $10,000 per recipient. We detail some of their efforts here.


The onePULSE Foundation formed after the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando. It was established to create a sanctuary of hope and honor the 49 lives that were taken, the 68 others who were injured and the countless first responders and health care professionals who treated them.

In 2020, the onePULSE Legacy Scholarship was created to keep the memory of those 49 alive, offering recipients up to $10,000. The scholarships are based on the victim’s vocation, hobbies or aspirations.

Preference is given to immediate family members, survivors of the shooting and first responders on the scene. No age restriction, GPA or school location impacts the scholarship selection and applicants all share the common thread of community service, leadership and advocacy. The committee seeks to pair a recipient with a scholarship based on matching interests.

“What makes our program really unique is we are open to everyone. Our scholars have come from all over the United States. We have scholars in technology, cosmetology and fire science schools, undergrads and grads, all the way up to a scholar doing her residency at Harvard Med. It’s a really nice representation of the community,” says Genelle Kelly, director of the Legacy Scholarship Program. “Our founder Barbara [Poma] took an incredible tragedy and created a program out of that. The Foundation reached out to each of the families of the 49 angels to give a designation to each scholarship.”

Scott Bowman, chief communications and government relations officer, says there is also “a process after they’re awarded that they can actually meet the family members if they want to.

The family members wanted their loved ones to be more than a name on the memorial. This program really allows their memory to live on through each scholar.”

In 2022, Nicky Macias received the scholarship for their degree in Linguistics (ASL) at Gallaudet University, honoring the memory of 26-year-old Oscar A. Aracena Montero.

“It was an emotional reaction. The director of onePULSE Foundation was the one who actually told me, and she was the owner of Pulse when everything happened,” Macias says. “I was really moved by being able to connect with her. She started Pulse in response to losing her brother to HIV. Pulse was a place where she turned tragedy into something beautiful – and so in the same vein, [she made] the onePULSE Foundation similar in that it almost parallels taking this horrible tragedy and turning it into a place where we can memorialize, honor and make sure we never forget.

“It also gives opportunity to people such as myself, a Latinx queer, trans person,” Macias continues. “I hope to make my journey in tribute to Oscar and all the victims, especially knowing there is a lot of work to be done for our existence and to make a joyous life to be authentically who we are … I’m honored to be associated with the onePULSE Foundation.”

Since its inception, $917,300 in scholarships have been awarded. Applicants can submit more than once. The next submission period is Dec. 1- Jan. 31.

One of the victims of the Pulse massacre was Christopher Andrew Leinonen, who was just 32 years old when his life was cut short. To honor his memory, The Dru Project was born in Orlando, and with it, The Spirit of Dru scholarship.

Co-founder Sara Grossman explains, “We launched immediately after the Pulse Nightclub shooting. While alive, Dru was a huge proponent of supporting queer youth, so we decided to continue his legacy. We give out scholarships yearly to those who encompass Dru’s attitude for unity, respect, progress, perseverance and unity.”

The scholarships “go out to queer students who are advocates in their community and continue to do amazing work,” she continues. Six $5,000 scholarships were awarded last year to LGBTQ students pursuing higher education.

The organization also began awarding grants to help with student debt relief. “That’s a major hindrance for people pursuing the good work they are doing,” Grossman notes. “We want to help out wherever we can.

“The work that the Dru Project does to affirm queer youth is more important than ever, especially in the face of what’s happening in Florida politics,” she concludes. “We are so proud to be able to push forward Dru’s legacy of love, acceptance and community through this work.”

To apply for The Spirit of Dru Scholarship, students must complete an application, answer two essay questions about advocacy and intersectionality, and submit transcripts. They may apply once for the scholarship and its next submission period is March 15-May 15. Recipients are announced on June 1, Drew’s birthday, also the kickoff of LGBTQ Pride month and Gun Violence Prevention Awareness month.

Awarding recipients since 2009, the Orlando Youth Alliance offers an Orlando Youth Alliance Scholarship and a special Rodney Hughley Memorial Scholarship designated for a Black, gay male.

Past and current members of OYA of all ages are eligible for the scholarships. Candidates complete an application and an essay about what OYA has meant to them and share educational endeavors. They provide a college class list, transcripts, a letter of recommendation and a resume. Scholarships vary year to year, based on the generosity of the nonprofit’s donors and the number of applicants.

“The scholarship started because the youth came to us,” OYA CEO Michael Slaymaker says. “They were voicing a need for educational purposes, things they wanted to do to better themselves, and that’s why we started talking to different donors and individuals in the organization to see what we could put together.”

While OYA helped students purchase computers and books as well as cover testing fees, they formalized the scholarship program in 2015. Slaymaker says a minimum of $1,500 is given per student but that this year they received up to $3,000.

His favorite memory was in 2015 when he knew two students were able to go to college because of the OYA scholarship.

“That meant a lot to me personally to see someone with great potential and be able to help them, push them forward, get an education and help them become leaders of tomorrow. That’s one of OYA’s goals, to build tomorrow’s leaders,” Slaymaker says.

Since 2015, the nonprofit has awarded $80,000 in scholarships. Submissions are open now, with a deadline of Feb. 28. Scholarships are awarded in the spring.

In Central Florida, LGBTQ youth and allies ages 16-24 with financial needs in the field of theatre — performance, technical, creative and costume design — also have a scholarship that supports formal education and specific individual needs related to their craft.

Established in early 2022 by Neil Hamilton, the Singhaus Scholarship for Performing Arts is in memory of Marcy, Sam (drag icon Miss Sammy) and Steve Singhaus. They were a beloved family of activists that contributed to and supported theatre, art, music, fashion and drag in Central Florida.

“Sam Singhaus was a good friend to me and so many others … he was a bright light and truly one of a kind. Sam, his brother Steve and his sister-in-law Marcy were wildly creative. For over 30 years, they poured their time and talent into the Orlando community and mentored many young people along the way,” Hamilton says.

“After they passed, it seemed fitting to honor their legacy while helping the next generation of young creatives to achieve their goals,” he continues. “The theatre community can act as a safe harbor for young people that may feel a bit different from their peers, including LGBTQ youth. It can offer a place for expression and growth at a pivotal time.”

At the LGBT+ Center Orlando’s 10th annual Diversity Awards in July, 10 recipients received a total of $10,000 in scholarships.

“It was an amazing day to give the awards, and we surprised the recipients with a performance by Ginger Minj from ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’” LGBT+ Center CEO Dr. George Wallace says. “She sang ‘I Am What I Am,’ a song from ‘La Cage aux Folles,’ which Sammy was in on Broadway.”

The scholarship does not have to be educational. A recipient can be a drag performer needing make-up and wigs or a seamstress who needs a new sewing machine.

“They can utilize the funds however they see fit,” Wallace explains. “The checks are made out to the students and not the school. We know that education is important, and that’s what most people use the scholarship for, but they don’t have to use it just for that. If you get it and need a laptop for college, you can get one.”

Submissions for the next round of scholarships will be accepted in the spring and will be presented at the Diversity Awards Banquet the following July.

Established in 2010 in Orlando, the Zebra Coalition assists LGBTQ youth, ages 13-24, facing homelessness, as 18% of the national homeless youth reside in Florida. The organization helps with bullying, isolation from their families and physical, sexual and drug abuse with individualized programs to guide them to recovery and stability.

In 2013, the Zebra Coalition expanded its reach to provide students with financial support for college. That year, Zebra wanted to think outside the box with the Jefferson R. Voss Education Fund Scholarship, named after founding board member Jefferson R. Voss.

“We promote our scholarships throughout the year through the support of our major donors,” Executive Director Heather Wilke says. “The scholarships provide basic needs assistance to students going to college. It helps overcome any barriers someone would have had to attend school.”

While Zebra has assisted with tuition, they offer help with books, laptops and transportation.

“We ask what is it that you really need that goes above and beyond a traditional scholarship,” she says. “We do a lot of vocation support. For example, we paid for one of our youth to go through cosmetology school. We do out-of-the-ordinary scholarship requests. It’s to help give an opportunity that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

An average of 15 students per year receive the scholarships. The amount awarded is based on the need of the recipient and submissions will open in the spring and run through June.


ALSO Youth is celebrating its 30th anniversary of empowering LGBTQ youth and their allies in Sarasota and Manatee counties this year.

One of the ways it’s done that is through two scholarships — one for $500 and another for $1,000 — that a donor named in honor of his deceased partner and teacher. The Greg Jung Memorial Scholarship helps students majoring in education.

“Providing scholarships has been the priority of the organization for a long time,” Executive Director Becky McDonough says. “We’re doubling our scholarship money for the 2022-23 fiscal year … we’re committed to supporting youth, and this is one way we can do it on a practical basis.”

Students who apply must be under age 22 as of Aug. 1, a resident of Sarasota or Manatee county, enrolled in an accredited college or university for the summer or fall of the year applying. They need to provide transcripts and letters of recommendation, and a personal statement of why the scholarship is important to them.

The application committee considers academic achievement and financial needs when we make the awards.

“One of the six who received a $500 scholarship, we’re not able to talk about because they are not out of the closet with their family, and it would make things difficult with them,” McDonough notes, but Hannah Padalik was awarded the Greg Jung Scholarship. She is attending the University of North Florida for a degree in Elementary Education.
Evangeline Brancati, 18, is using her $500 scholarship to help pursue a degree in zoology at the University of Florida.

“I was super excited and was really honored to get the scholarship. I was excited that they read my story about my experience being queer in high school, how it impacts me and my decisions in life,” Brancati says. “It’s really important for queer people – especially in Southern states – to be more involved and more out there in everything. I think many queer people are focused on the arts, but I’d love to see more in science and politics.”

Mo Jones, 18, is seeking his AA to apply to a future joint sociology major and gender studies. He discovered ALSO Youth by attending the organization’s inclusive prom earlier this year.

“I’m so grateful to have earned the scholarship,” he explains. “It’s an amazing opportunity to curb some of those college expenses … This and other scholarships help so much towards my dream of not having to put a dollar towards my college. I want to work in a nonprofit organization, particularly LGBTQ+. I love everything about it.”

Submissions are open in the fall and scholarships are awarded at a reception in the spring. Applicants may apply more than once.

In St. Petersburg, Come OUT St Pete launched the Longstreth Family LGBTQ+ Scholarship this year. The nonprofit was founded in 2017 to celebrate National Coming Out Day and advocates for community awareness and acceptance of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

COSP will award up to three scholarships totaling $5,000 for students attending St. Pete College through a joint effort with the school’s foundation. SPC awards millions of dollars in scholarships each year, funded by corporations, private donors like COSP, the state and college itself.

“The scholarship is named after Brian Longstreth because he’s a pillar in our community and his family who have been very influential in this community,” COSP Chair Chris Jones says.

“They lost their mother this year,” he continues, “so we wanted to do something to continue the legacy of the Longstreth family and the work that Brian does.”

One of the nonprofit’s youngest board members, 22-year-old Christopher Gorman who is a St. Pete College student himself, was instrumental in creating it because he understood firsthand the expenses. It is open to students in all levels of education and enrollment capacity, on all campuses of St. Pete College, all degrees and is not restricted to merit or financial need.

Submissions opened Aug. 15 and close Sept. 30.

In Gulfport, The LGBTQ+ Resource Center is committed to promoting awareness of the diversity of experiences, contributions and needs of the LGBTQ community. The nonprofit provides educational, social and recreational opportunities through the Gulfport Public Library.

Since 2020, the Resource Center at Gulfport Public Library has provided an LGBTQ student in Pinellas County with a $1,000 BranchOut Scholarship. High school graduates or those with a GED, 18 years or older who live, work or attend school in Pinellas County may apply for any accredited educational program.

Applicants must be LGBTQ-identifying and out as they speak as the center’s scholar to promote the nonprofit.

“This is not the traditional educational scholarship that you think of. It is for any accredited education program,” LGBTQ Resource Center Board President Susan Gore says. “We care about leadership development and bringing that leadership into the community.

“If you want to be a hairdresser, a bookkeeper, a truck driver, or go to an art school – it doesn’t have to be college, graduate school or community college – it can be any accredited education program,” she continues. “This year, we had an anonymous donor who said the cost of education has gone up and $1,000 was not enough. They added a $1,500 donation, and we were able to give a $2,500 scholarship to a 24-year-old first-generation Caribbean-American woman, Nathalie Marcelin, a graduate student, and full-time employee.”

Marcelin, a student and coordinator for diversity, inclusion and collaboration at Stetson College of Law, will use the funds to pursue a Master of Social Work at the University of South Florida this fall.

“I want to continue extending my passion for healing the queer community and the generational trauma we have faced due to being persecuted and oppressed for being ourselves,” she shared after receiving her award.

“My mission is to help teens know that they are allowed to be authentically themselves and provide them emotional support,” she added. “ Queer kids are our future, and their unapologetic queerness inspires me.”

The Resource Center board has committed to providing three $2,000 scholarships moving forward. They are the Emerging Scholar, given within three years of high school or GED; the Continuing Scholar, given more than three years of school to those working and looking to continue their education and the Returning Scholar, awarded to those who are seeking to reenter the world of academics.

“These three different scholarship areas give people better chances to be considered alongside their peers,” Gore says. Submissions open in June next year and scholarships will be awarded in Oct. 2023 during LGBTQ History Month.

The Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber of Commerce, which since 1983 has represented over 600 businesses, community groups and individuals representing Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee, Sarasota, Polk and Hernando counties, offers another resource.

The mission of its associated foundation is to raise scholarship funding for LGBTQ and allied students, focusing on education for their members and the community at large. It was last awarded in June at the organization’s annual Pride in Business luncheon.

The Foundation presented a $2,000 scholarship to Lennard High School graduate Kaitlyn Bautista in partnership with GLSEN Tampa Bay. Bautista will be attending the University of Central Florida.

“The Tampa Bay LGBT chamber Foundation Scholarship Fund, previously known as the Diamond Scholarship Fund, started seven years ago … and today is still one of the very few scholarships and support LGBTQIA students in the Tampa Bay region,” Chamber President and CEO Justice Gennari shared at the time.

“These students exhibit leadership potential, demonstrate strong academic abilities and are actively involved in their communities,” he continued. “Our partner this year for the scholarship program is GLSEN Tampa Bay, a community organization that supports students and teachers in the Tampa Bay area [and] this year’s scholarship fund committee reviewed over 50 applicants.”

Gennari says the scholarship allows recipients to make a difference in the world.

“With a Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber Foundation scholarship, students are able to focus more wholly on their academic pursuits,” he says. “With the financial burden lightened, they are able to work one less job, avoid going into student loan debt and involve themselves in community activities.”

“This is a community effort,” he continues. “We are giving these students the gift of education and they are giving us a future full of hope and equality. We encourage you to join us in supporting tomorrow’s leaders today.”

The Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber Foundation has provided nearly $50,000 in scholarships since 2015.

PFLAG Tampa also began offering a scholarship this year. The chapter sees it as an extension of its mission to save lives, strengthen families and change hearts, minds and laws.

PFLAG National was founded in 1972 to make a positive change in the world. Celebrating 11 years this month, its Tampa group consists of the LGBTQ community, family members and allies wanting to make that difference.

“We’re recognized for being the group that holds up the signs – ‘I love my gay son,’ ‘I love my trans daughter,’ ‘I love my nonbinary child’ while walking in Pride parades,” PFLAG Tampa President Trevor James says. “We are very much run, led and supported by parents of queer children.”

The organization meets monthly at the LGBTQ-affirming MCC Tampa. The nonprofit provides corporate training, partnering with organizations and now, offers two $1,000 scholarships.

“We started talking about this coming out of the 2020 COVID pandemic,” James explains, “recognizing that it has changed our world and is providing increased barriers to queer folks, particularly queer folks of color, to education.

“There are academic barriers potentially coming out of high school and going to college for their first year,” James continues. “There are barriers to accessing education outside of community college and funds to support those educational goals, whatever those might look like.”

The scholarships are offered to Hillsborough and Pinellas County students who complete necessary paperwork and are enrolled or attending a two or four-year college, a technical or trade school or an approved certification program. The college can be online and/or outside of Florida. PFLAG is interested in the applicants’ dreams, goals and how they plan to be an asset to the LGBTQ community.

“We use four different criteria,” James explains. “Service to the LGBTQ+ community, clarity of future goals and determination to achieve them, maturity and positive sense of self as an LGBTQ+ individual or supportive ally, and sense of integrity, ethical judgment and honesty. We want them to have the best intentions in their educational goals and what their future would look like.”

Submissions are open through Nov. 30 and recipients will be announced in late 2023.

Throughout Central Florida and Tampa Bay, these nonprofits are providing LGBTQ youth, adults and allies the financial assistance needed to help them make a difference. Each organization welcomes support to strengthen their scholarships and the LGBTQ community’s future.

Learn more about the work and scholarships of each Central Florida and Tampa Bay organization at,,,,,,,, and

More in Features

See More