The year 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Michael P. LaGatella Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Endowed Scholarship at Wayne State University. Established in 1992, the scholarship honors the memory of Michael LaGatella, who committed suicide as a student at Wayne State in 1991. LaGatella's friends and family created the scholarship to promote a positive gay identity and provide tuition support for gay students and other individuals.
Groundbreaking at the time, the LaGatella Scholarship was the first of its kind in the state of Michigan and one of only a handful in the United States.
Michael Laber, one of the scholarship's founding donors, said, "I am proud to be involved in one of the first scholarships in the nation for gay and lesbian students. David Coulter, John Burchett, Tim Mahoney and I started this effort more than 20 years ago as a memorial to Mike LaGatella. We are thrilled that the scholarship is still vital, with a long history of assistance to Wayne State students. Most of all, we remain committed to this memorial and its legacy to current and future students at the university."
Coulter, now the mayor of Ferndale, added, "A lot has changed since the scholarship was established in 1992, but it continues to play an important role. This scholarship helps support future leaders of the LGBT community and recognizes their efforts to promote a positive identity." Last year, Laber, Coulter and others worked with Wayne State officials to update the scholarship criteria to include support for bisexual and transgender students as well as LGBT allies.
Nine students have received the LaGatella Scholarship since it was established 20 years ago. Susan Minard, a graduate of the School of Social Work, College of Education, and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was the first recipient. "Receiving the scholarship was meaningful because a characteristic of mine that had mostly been a liability was now an asset," she said. "It was validating to know that someone - and an institution like Wayne State - understood that people who are gay, lesbian and/or transgender need recognition and provided it."
Minard is now a middle school social worker and at-risk student advisor. She said she is given hope by the way America's youth are progressively showing greater understanding of and respect for sexual orientation and gender identification. "Our world really is changing," she said.
Former LaGatella Scholarship recipient Greg Durkin, a staff development specialist in nursing at Children's Hospital Boston, agreed. He added that LGBT scholarships are a big deal, especially at a major research institution. "The LaGatella Scholarship and others like it are empowering," he said. "They show student recipients that they are valuable to the community."
Scholarships in general play an important role at Wayne State University. According to the Office of Student Financial Aid, more than 80 percent of Wayne State students rely on scholarships, grants or military funding to meet their educational expenses.
Wayne State students can apply for the Michael P. LaGatella Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Endowed Scholarship at www.scholarships.wayne.edu by Jan. 31, 2012. The LaGatella Scholarship is intended to recognize scholastic achievement and encourage continued progress as students advance toward their degrees. Applicants should demonstrate promise or potential to advocate for the concerns of the LGBT community.
To learn how to contribute to the LaGatella Scholarship, visit www.giving.wayne.edu or contact Kathryn Rusak, director of development, at 313-577-9933.
Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 400 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 32,000 students.