What Sonia Kruger or the Media isn’t saying about LGBT Scholarships (and why we need them)

Professor showing gay man something on a computerSonia Kruger (an Australian ‘personality’) stirred up social media this week by appearing on national television and condemning targetted scholarships for young people who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans. Kruger claimed the scholarships were being awarded because of ‘sexual preference’.

… I don’t think it should have anything to do with the awarding of a scholarship. I think a scholarship should be given on merit. – Sonia Kruger

There was plenty of agreement on Facebook, even pages like QNews:

I don’t think getting a scholarship because you are lgbti is ok at all, they should be earned academically.

I agree with her 100% what does sexuality have to do with anything?

LGBT Scholarships: Whose Business is it Anyway?

No one has mentioned something glaringly obvious. The Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN) which is offering the scholarships is entirely funded by business. This isn’t the taxpayer’s money we are talking about, it’s private money raised by the ABCN through member fees and donations. So essentially it’s up to them how they spend it. It’s none of Sonia Kruger’s business!

The ABCN is a not-for-profit organisation that connects business with disadvantaged education through mentoring and partnership programs. Members include companies like PWC, Commonwealth Bank and EY who are generally known for their support of LGBT employees.  But that’s not the point. Imagine you and a few mates formed a club to raise money for a particular cause and then someone from outside your club started banging on about what you should and shouldn’t do with the money. Mostly the response would be ‘mind your own business!’ (smiley face optional).

No one seems to have said this to Kruger yet. But in her line of work, it matters little what she says. The celebrity business is highly competitive and the goal for any ‘media personality’ is to be seen and heard, so we can’t really begrudge her for having a rant when she gets a spot on the Today Show can we? It’s just a shame she had to be so mean-spirited in the course of furthering her career.

Group of college students in the library standing in line and looking at camera

The ABCN Scholarship Foundation is offering a number of year 10 students $7000 each over their senior school years and the first year of uni in addition to a mentor and travel expenses. I wasn’t able to see how many scholarships were on offer this year, but 41 scholarships have been offered since they started in 2013 so my guess is it’s between 10-15 that are available. Contrary to the myth that now seems to prevail, they aren’t just for LGBT students but exceptional students facing economic, family or social challenges. Five (yes, only 5) are targetted: 1 to an indigenous student, 1 to a female student in Victoria, 1 to a student from a refugee background, 1 to a student who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or intersex (LGBTI) and 1 to a student from Western Australia (it begs the question why Kruger doesn’t have it in for ‘Sandgropers’ as well?).

According to the invitation from ABCN, students selected for targeted scholarships must also meet the primary criteria for a scholarship. So we are talking about just one of a number of scholarships here. And it IS being awarded to a young LGBT person with academic merit. The danger is that, when dumbed down for viewers of morning TV, an opportunity to publicise these important scholarships gets derailed into yet another act of gay bashing by a celebrity desperate for airtime.

Karl Stefanovic knows how to – to use a Swedish expression – ‘do a poodle’. He’s a celebrity who can say something offensive about transfolk then claim the spotlight again by rolling on his back and apologising. Offensive but crafty. Kruger tends to just move on, so if she follows the pattern she is establishing, the next soft target will be just around the corner. Before it appears, let’s debunk a few myths…

Scholarships are often Targetted at Particular Groups.

Scholarships should be awarded on merit only.

I saw several comments like this on Facebook and some of them came from gay-identifying people.

Scholarships are only awarded if you are exceptionally great at what you are studying, not because you think you should be entitled to one because you have had a hard past.

Not true. Even if it was public money being used, which it is not, these comments reflect ignorance about scholarships. It is commonplace to award scholarships to those whose background has disadvantaged their access to academic opportunities. Most universities in Australia award targetted scholarships including, for example, the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) which offer scholarships to students with disabilities, women students, indigenous students and those from regional areas.

Arabic Student With Books Sitting In Classroom

Sexual Identity is not Sexual Preference.

To ask a student if they identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual… you are asking somebody about their sexual preferences and I find that that’s a really odd thing to do… – Sonia Kruger.

This is a common error for (some straight) people discussing LGBT concerns. Unfortunately some do struggle when the question of identity arises. Perhaps it conjures images of nudity or pleasure that can only be imagined? But your identity and the details of the sexual activities you enjoy are not necessarily the same thing. There are many young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bi or trans who may not have had any sexual experience but they still know who they are. To ask a young person how they identify is not to pry into their sexual habits but to acknowledge and dignify the person.

Gay People Still Experience Discrimination.

Isn’t affirmative action for gay youth twenty years too late?

No, it isn’t. Some of us might live in a gay bubble but I’ve spoken to many LGBT people who continue to experience similar bullying, threats and violence to that which I experienced growing up in Brisbane in the 1980s.

Someone else wrote:

If LGBTIQ people want equality then they should be treated the same as anyone else in society.

Hell yeah! The problem is, we are not treated the same, are we? In Australia, it’s still possible for a gay teacher at a private school to be sacked if it becomes known they are in a same sex relationship. You can still be refused access to your partner in a hospital which is under a religious auspice. It’s still impossible for same sex couples to access the most common legal contract available to heterosexual couples under Australian Commonwealth Law (it’s called ‘marriage’). And if you are in a same sex relationship in this country, you do not have the same property rights or automatic inheritance provisions as you do in a heterosexual relationship. In some states, you cannot jointly adopt children. Yes, LGBT people SHOULD be treated equally in Australia, but they are not. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why this charitable organisation is targetting a scholarship to LGBT young people.

Teenage student holding bag and booksIf you are a young person or know of one who might benefit from a scholarship, the Pinnacle Foundation also provides them to LGBTQI young people 16-24 years of age. (By the way, if you have got this far and are still antsy about young LGBT people being offered scholarships, the Pinnacle Foundation relies on donations and corporate sponsorship as well, i.e. no taxpayer dollars were used in their generosity)

To create a society based on principles of inclusion and diversity, we have to be prepared to support those values. I applaud both The Australian Business and Community Network and the Pinnacle Foundation for the important work they are doing to assist LGBT young people to achieve their goals.

If you would like to talk about achieving your goals, coming-out, gay relationships , self-esteem, overcoming shame or sexual identity, you can contact me about making a time to meet.

While writing this post, I was reminded of an expression that was popular about 25 years ago:

kissing doesn’t kill, greed and ignorance do