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GSBA celebrates a milestone at awards dinner
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GSBA celebrates a milestone at awards dinner
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

The Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) awarded $137,000 in scholarships to 27 Washington State undergraduates May 15, bringing their total to nearly $1 million in financial assistance to LGBT students since the program's inception 19 years ago.

This year the GSBA Scholarship Awards Dinner was held at the Westin Seattle, with Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle) acting as emcee along with his partner, Eric Cochran Pedersen. Each of the 27 awardees was recognized on stage by various figures important to the Seattle LGBT community, including Sen. Joe McDermott.

"I am so proud that our LGBT Business Chamber, the GSBA, is passionate about investing in the next generation of leaders through our Scholarship Program," GSBA Executive Director Louise Chernin told SGN. "GSBA believes all businesses should incorporate philanthropy into their business model, and for GSBA this means a commitment to providing hope and financial support for the education of our students."

The GSBA Scholarship Fund was founded in 1990 to promote leadership and diversity in the LGBT and allied community. The fund includes gifts from hundreds of donors and, to date, has graduated scholarships to over 266 students.

"I feel honored to receive this scholarship - it is much more than money," Sergey Smirnov told the SGN. "It provides confidence and assurance that someone believes in you and the work you are doing to improve the community." The 21-year-old University of Washington communications and art history major said the much-needed funds will allow him to place more focus on school work and community service. While attending Bellevue College, Smirnov created the LGBTQ and Allies Resource Center - the first fully funded program of its kind at a two-year college in Washington State. He plans to pursue a career in nonprofit management and philanthropy.

The GSBA Scholarship Program supports future leaders of the LGBT community by providing financial resources, role modeling, and hope to outstanding LGBT and allied students.

An Evergreen High School student, 18-year-old Karsen Farmer also received a scholarship on May 15. The Evergreen student body president and Gay-Straight Alliance leader said that without the scholarship, he wouldn't have been able to afford the first year of college. Karsen has his sights set on leadership within the community. "For so many years of my life, I hid who I was from the world; I could never just be Gay," he told SGN. "Now comes the time where I can be free - I am learning more and more about myself and the other LGBT people of the world. I know that in the next four years of college I will be on my way to becoming the person I've always had locked away." Receiving the scholarship is something Farmer never thought would happen so quickly or be as beneficial as it is.

GSBA chooses students who they believe excel academically, have overcome the challenge of being from a marginalized community, and exhibit strong leadership qualities. GSBA officials say by choosing these students, they know the investment will lead to a more just future for generations to come.

"This is a true honor," said 30-year-old Lorenzo Cervantes. The Pierce Community College digital design and graphic art student grew up in a poor Mexican family in a rural part of New Mexico. He is the first person in his family to graduate from high school and attend college. His first year of college was difficult as it was the year he came out. Struggling with the rejection of his family, Cervantes took a year off from school, hoping to go back the following year. Time passed before he was able to return to school - the scholarship is setting Cervantes back on track. "It feels great that people who only know me from an application believe in me and want to help me obtain my goal of getting a college education," he said.

The GSBA Scholarship Program works cooperatively with the Pride Foundation to promote the scholarships granted by both organizations. Applications are available each October in schools and community organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest and on the GSBA website, www.thegsba.org.

"Our scholars, regardless of their challenges and often without family support, have already accomplished so much," said Chernin. "To be granted a GSBA Scholarship, students must have outstanding academic credentials, a commitment to LGBT civil rights, and have excellent leadership potential. As was clearly shown at the GSBA Scholarship Dinner, these students are already community leaders who are committed to making the world a better place for us all."
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