Coming out in mid-life is not an easy journey as long time readers of my personal blog know from my travails - not to mention two suicide attempts during some of the darkest hours.
One of the wisest things I did in retrospect was to co-conspire with Christiana Flynn to form Hampton Roads Business OutReach (HRBOR) - Virginia's only affiliate of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce - with the help of eight other dedicated individuals whom I now view as quasi-family.
Yes, HRBOR has brought me business and has brought me friends to replace those "friends" who abandoned me when I came out. But more importantly, HRBOR has been a vehicle where I can try to make a difference in this all too often backwards area of Virginia.
On April 14, 2011, the paperwork was signed to establish a permanent endowed scholarship for graduating LGBT high school students in the Hampton Roads area. Here is the press release issued by HRBOR:
PRESS RELEASE - NEW HRBOR SCHOLARSHIP ESTABLISHED
The Board of Directors of Hampton Roads Business OutReach ("HRBOR") is please to announce the establishment of a new scholarship to be available to students in the seven cities of the Hampton Roads area. The scholarship will be managed by the Hampton Roads Community Foundation ("HRCF") with the first award to be made in May, 2012. Applications forms and eligibility requirements will soon be available on the HRCF website. The purpose of the scholarship is as follows:
"To provide scholarships for self-identifying, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) students attending high schools in the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk or Virginia Beach, paying special emphasis to those who have demonstrated involvement in the LGBT community, and who are in need of financial aid for undergraduate education at a four-year college or university."
The scholarship will be called the George D. and Marion Phelps Hamar HRBOR Scholarship in memory of the parents of Michael B. Hamar, a co-founder of HRBOR and one of HRBOR's founding directors, who provided the funding to endow the scholarship fund. Once the HRCF website is updated, donations to the scholarship fund will be feasible online and it is the hope of HRBOR that more than one annual recipient will be possible in future.
Hampton Roads Business OutReach (HRBOR) is a broad based coalition of LGBT owned and LGBT supportive businesses and professionals dedicated to the development, growth and advocacy of Hampton Roads and its LGBT community. By promoting an environment in which diversity can flourish, HRBOR is committed to the economic growth and prosperity of our members and our community.
No doubt some will think me crazy. But I provided the initial funding to establish the scholarship for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to honor my parents who always valued education and who were unwavering in their support of me when I came out.
In fact, when I was telling them that I was gay and made a remark that I hoped that they would not disown me, my father - not always the easiest of individuals to get along with - was incensed that I'd even think such a thing about them. He honestly could not conceive of any decent parent who would disown their own child merely because they were gay.
Unfortunately, many parents do not follow my parents' example. And as a result, LGBT youth make up a disproportionate percentage of homeless youths because too many parents prefer to cling to religious based bigotry or worry about what others will think rather than stand by their children. Other LGBT youths, if not disowned and homeless, nonetheless can find themselves cut off from family resources and may never have an opportunity to got to college.
Sadly, I know a significant number of individuals who suffered this disheartening experience. It's a tragedy. I sincerely hope that this scholarship will help offset such bigotry in small part and over time will grow and provide benefit for more aspiring LGBT youth each year.