Bespoke Surgical is proud to announce the recipient of our 2018 “Advocacy for LGBTQ+” scholarship. Congratulations to James van Kuilenburg, a student at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania! James is majoring in history with a double minor in political science and gender and sexuality studies. He said this scholarship means he will be able to pursue his education that much more.
“I am paying my own way through school,” he commented. “So this scholarship means I can spend less time working and more time focusing on my class work.”
James’ essay stood out due to the hardships he faced and still faces, as well as the actions that he has taken to help other members of the LGBTQ+ community. He described some of the events of his life:
“I stopped going to school, and soon, I was on the brink of suicide. I turned to hospitalization to help, but I was invalidated, assaulted, and attacked in return. The mental health professionals around me didn’t believe I could truly know my gender identity and treated my queerness as a disease. My peers in the hospital teased and tortured me. My nurses didn’t care. I still carry that trauma with me and struggle even now to find medical resources that validate my identity.”
But, he understands that he is not alone in his struggle. Sadly, what he went through has happened to others and continues to happen. He wrote:
“My life may be unique, but what has happened to me is hardly uncommon for queer youth. In fact, we experience much higher rates of bullying and harassment from our peers. We disproportionately struggle with mental health issues and suicidal ideation. Very rarely do we have access to affirming health care. And almost half of transgender people like myself will experience sexual assault in our lifetimes. These are urgent problems that have lifelong consequences and need to be solved.”
James has helped lead the fight for advocacy and equal rights in his community and when he was in high school. In addition to that, he hopes that continued education and advocacy can help make a positive difference for the community:
“I wish I could tell kindergarten-me what to expect, but I know that my experiences have made me a better person. I know now the power of advocacy and education and can use it to help others. I can’t go back and change what I’ve experienced, but now I can help stop those same things from happening to the new generation of young LGBTQ+ people.”
Congrats, James! In addition, we received so many quality submissions that we decided to award two additional scholarships. Congratulations to Cynthia Vega, a student at Loyola University Chicago, and Isobella Medina, a student attending Michigan State University. They will both be awarded $500 as the runners up.
Vega is an elementary education major and said that not only will this help her pay for school, it will “further my dreams to one day become an educator in public schools. I hope my future classrooms will be places full of diversity and celebration of all kinds of identity.”
In her powerful essay, Vega wrote, “As any LGBTQ+ person can assure you, discovering your sexuality is a long, difficult journey, one often plagued by pain, insecurity, and shame. Even after you come out there is a whole other world of hurt in the form of stigmas and discrimination waiting for you. For me, as a bisexual woman, the stigmas and pain are almost daily occurrences.”
She described some of the challenges that bisexual women in particular face.
“Unfortunately, it is just another negative stereotype attributed to bisexuals: that our identity is not ‘real,’ that bisexuality is simply a stop along the train ride to homosexuality,” she wrote.
Finally, she believes that changes can happen but not without work.
“In order for society to break the stigma and eliminate discrimination for LGBTQ+ persons, there must be a restructuring of systems in place from top to bottom. There must be a focus on education, inclusivity, and protective legislation,” Vega wrote.
Isobella Medina is a journalism major and minoring in broadcast. She said that this award will allow her to continue her education and help her work towards fulfilling her dreams.
In her essay submission, she discussed ways to be an ally and support the LGBTQ+ community, even if you are not a member:
“Even as a strong ally, it’s important to remember that we don’t know everything. There is always something to learn about the LGBTQ+ community, and even after we do that it is crucial to understand that every single person is different and ensure that we don’t make generalizations. Just because someone knows one Middle Easterner, it doesn’t mean that they can walk into a situation and think that they now know how every Middle Easterner thinks.”
“The final, most important piece of advice I have is that it is okay to ask questions. Come from a place of wanting to learn and better yourself. Admit to them that you don’t know and that you want to learn how they feel. Often people are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, but you never know until you ask. As long as your intentions are good and you are willing to listen wholeheartedly, the LGBTQ+ community are often some of the most kind and accepting people out there,” Medina wrote.
Congrats to all of the winners! Opposing discrimination is an ongoing fight and youth across the country are joining it. At Bespoke Surgical, we believe that education and advocacy are two important ways to make changes. Every student should be able to go to school without fear of judgement or harassment. These three students, as well as many, many others who entered submissions, are helping to make that a reality.
Below is the prompt that students were asked to respond to:
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have always faced discrimination and stigmas in the United States. Attitudes have begun to shift in recent years, but individuals still face hardships every day. At Bespoke Surgical, we believe that education and advocacy can make a difference. Sometimes individuals taking small steps in their lives can help affect change.
If you are currently enrolled in college or headed there in 2018 and want to win a $2,000 scholarship to help cover expenses, consider entering the Bespoke Surgical scholarship contest. Bespoke Surgical will award a $2,000 college scholarship to a highly motivated student who is socially conscious and can thoughtfully respond to the prompt below in 800 words or less.
At Bespoke, we are proud to be a voice and an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. We aim to promote acceptance and education for people of all sexual identities. In 800 words or less, tell us about the stigmas or discriminations towards the LGBTQ+ community that you have witnessed or faced yourself. Explain, in part, the steps society needs to take to change and what needs to be done to achieve that. Also explain how you can make a difference.
About the Author
Dr. Evan Goldstein is the Founder and CEO of Bespoke Surgical. Dr. Goldstein has extensive experience educating and shedding light on health care issues relating to the gay community, and has been published in several national publications including The Advocate, OUT Magazine, Vice, Refinery 29, NY Mag and more.
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