by Viktor Bogatko -
SGN Contributing Writer
The nation's largest LGBTQ scholarship organization, Point Foundation, announced Monday morning that it is awarding an additional 23 scholarships, bringing the organization's total to 80 full-time students for this academic year.
One of these outstanding students is coming to Seattle to attend law school this coming fall. Crys O'Grady was recently accepted to the University of Washington School of Law, where she plans to further her education in pursuit of a career in policy and legal advocacy for LGBTQ youth.
Born in southern New Jersey, Crys entered the state's foster care system at the age of 13. Her experience in the child welfare system exposed her to instances where government agencies can perpetuate racial, sexual, socioeconomic, and gender inequality. It was at this point in her life that she became committed to the pursuit of social justice through public service.
In 2008, Crys left New Jersey for Stanford University to begin her undergraduate career. At Stanford, she studied Sociology with a focus in poverty and inequality. As a student, Crys felt that the issues surrounding poverty, race, and the expression of sexual identity were not being explored. As a result, she decided to get involved as a research assistant for the Lucille Packard Children's hospital on a study on how child abuse affects brain development. She then began to use her personal experience and education to advocate on a national scale for current and former foster youth.
As a foster child, Crys struggled to come out as a Lesbian in homes that placed a heavy emphasis on religion. This experience encouraged her to make a difference in her academic and professional careers targeting foster youth. In 2011, Crys was an intern for FosterClub, a national advocacy organization for youth in care, and contributed to working groups and panels that developed LGBTQ awareness materials and trainings for foster parents and social workers.
After graduating from Stanford, Crys became the Policy Coordinator for the California Youth Connection, an advocacy organization for current and former foster youth focused on incorporating youth input into future legislative and policy reform.
This summer Crys chose to intern with a Federal District Court Judge in Birmingham, Alabama so that she could observe some of the struggles for equality in the Deep South. Armed with a wealth of knowledge and experience, Crys plans to come to Seattle to attend law school after her southern exposure.
In an interview with the SGN, Crys admits deciding on a law school was a tricky task. Ultimately, four factors brought her to the University of Washington. First, the school had to have the option of pursuing a joint degree in social work. Second, whether the institution was public or private. Third, whether the law school had a strong focus on public service, and finally, whether the location was LGBTQ friendly both socially and professionally.
'The University of Washington School of Law had the best combination of those four factors for me,' she told the SGN.
Like most Americans, Crys is excited about the recent almost weekly news about marriage equality and other LGBTQ issues. Though she is unsure of how these developments will affect the make-up of LGBTQ families, she hopes 'that LGBTQ families will look at the options of fostering and adopting children as viable ways to have children.'
There are currently 6 states that protect same-sex foster parents, 2 states that explicitly forbid same-sex foster parents, and 42 states that have varying rules that are dealt with on a more case by case or agency basis. As an adult who spent her teens living in foster homes, Crys believes 'the system would benefit significantly' if more LGBTQ families were able to foster or adopt children or if the process was made easier for these families to do so.
'This would increase the likelihood that children and youth find permanent families. LGBTQ youth would benefit if LGBTQ people chose to foster older youth because many young people are struggling with their sexual identity and their gender identity - issues that LGBTQ individuals may be able to help with in providing safe homes where they feel understood and supported.'
Growing up a Lesbian and in foster homes equips Crys to see LGBTQ issues in a unique light, giving her the drive to pursue positive changes in the child welfare system. She is particularly concerned about LGBTQ children of color living in poverty.
'They represent a disproportionate ratio of youth in foster care and those involved in the juvenile justice system.'
When asked about what can be done to ameliorate this problem, Crys proposed a simple, yet completely feasible solution that makes perfect sense.
'If low-income and minority families were given more support when children are young with childcare resources, food, school programs, parenting classes, and respite care, this could have a profound impact on the number of children that are placed in foster care.
'I hope as society begins to accept LGBTQ people, families will become more accepting of children and youth of minority sexual orientations. An increase in support for these families may help. However, child protective services and child welfare often do not become involved in these cases until the relationship between the child and parent is severely strained.'
Given her enormous potential, we asked Crys if she has ever given any thought to running for office in some form of public service. Her answer was perfect. 'Honestly, I never thought I had the nerve to campaign for public office,' she replied.
'I would love to work in public policy as an advocate or within the Children's Administration.'
If her professional and personal triumphs, experiences, and current successes are any indication of her future, we at the SGN believe that no matter what Crys decides to do with the rest of her life, she will be absolutely terrific at it, making Point Foundation and her community proud.
Notable facts about the 2014 Class of Point Foundation Scholars:
48 percent of the new scholars are people of color.
35 percent of the new scholars are originally from the South and 17 percent from Mountain States. (A notable increase in scholars from these regions compared to previous years.)
30 percent of the new scholars are the first-generation in their family to go to college.
22 percent of the new scholars are Transgender, and 13 percent are gender nonconforming.
The Point Foundation, located in Los Angeles, California, empowers promising Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, and Queer students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential - despite the obstacles often put before them - to make a significant impact on society. Point Foundation's rigorous selection process for awarding scholarships requires candidates demonstrate academic excellence, leadership skills, community involvement, and financial need.
By identifying and supporting these scholars, Point hopes to provide a greater level of acceptance, respect and tolerance within future generations for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.
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