Pete Subkoviak, from Madison, Wis., entered the world female, but never identified as anything other than male. From the age of 3, he insisted he was male. With the support of family and friends, Subkoviak began to transition, gained a second chance at life, and went after it with passion.
As an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Subkoviak spoke often about the transgender community. He interned for Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and pursued a career working on state and federal HIV policy for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
Subkoviak is among 76 LGBT students awarded scholarships this year by the Point Foundation, a national group that raises money to fund scholarships for LGBT students in need due to unsupportive families. The Point Foundation began offering scholarships in 2001 and has supported hundreds of students, with 145 alumni already earning their higher education degrees. Many have gone on to pursue their life goals, including becoming doctors, lawyers and filmmakers. Alex Morse, the country’s youngest openly gay mayor, was a Point scholar.
Subkoviak used his Point scholarship for graduate school and plans to matriculate from Johns Hopkins this month and work on health care reform implementation and other policies that will expand access to health insurance.
“The Point Foundation is not just a scholarship program, but has also given me the professional guidance and emotional inspiration I need in order to achieve my academic and post-graduate aspirations,” Subkoviak says. “I really feel driven forward by the fellow scholars, the organization and all of its supporters.”
While the financial assistance that Point offers has helped him a great deal, it’s the networking and growth opportunities that have played just as important a role in his success. Each year, Point holds a leadership conference where all the scholars, alumni, staff and boards get together to share experiences, support each other and build skills.
“Last year we held the event right here in Washington D.C., and we were able to speak with successful LGBT individuals from all walks of life to hear their stories and get advice on how we might follow their path,” Subkoviak says. “The foundation has seen some tremendous growth over the past few years to the point where they can now support 76 scholars. But the need out there is huge so I hope that people continue to jump on the Point bandwagon and they can extend the opportunity to many more LGBT youth.”
One of the most important moments of his time as a Point scholar happened just a few weeks ago when Subkoviak had the opportunity to meet Tyler Clementi’s father and brother and spoke with them about the importance of their work to support LGBT youth. Clementi is the gay Rutgers University student who committed suicide after being secretly recorded during a date with another man by his roommate.
“School can be tough for anyone, but LGBT students can feel especially alone. Point really understands the need for LGBT students to have visible, overt support, and they really work to makes you feel like you have a large community right there with you, rooting for you all the way,” he says. “A few years ago, Point and the Tyler Clementi Foundation joined together to offer a scholarship in Tyler’s name—one dedicated to ending the bullying and isolation of LGBT youth in educational settings.”
With a background and interest in public policy and politics, Subkoviak is working on an innovative transgender employment program.
“As a transgender man myself, I became distressed that very few organizations were serving the community, much less appreciating the discrimination in education and employment that forces many transgender individuals into the street-based sex work and HIV risk behavior,” he says. “In 2010, I drew up the blueprint for a transgender employment program and found a partner in Chicago House and Social Service Agency. Together we built a large coalition of government officials, community leaders and transgender individuals in order to make it a reality.”
Then something interesting happened: public and foundational support for the program exploded, and the scale of the project transformed in breathtaking fashion. It’s taken some time, but this July the final product, called the TransLife Center, will be fully realized.
It will offer TransHousing, beginning with more than 30 units of housing to those who are trans and living on the streets. It will also offer TransWorks, a full-scale employment program, TransHealth with medical connections to care services, TransLegal services and TransSafe, a drop-in center where transgender individuals can get off the street to get a shower, a meal and relax in an environment that is free from discrimination.
“I think that as LGBT organizations continue to acknowledge the need to more fully integrate the ‘T’ into their work that the TransLife Center is going to offer incredibly important lessons and be looked at as a trailblazing program,” he says. “Over the long term I’m interested in authoring a book on domestic policy. I’d also like to join a rock ‘n’ roll band and run for public office—hoping that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Another Point scholar is Monica Motley, a dual degree student at Virginia Tech seeking a doctorate degree in philosophy in the Department of Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences and a master’s of public health degree in the Department of Population Health Sciences.
“When I think about the Point Foundation, it’s really meant to me guidance, support and opportunity,” she says. “I can be exactly who I am unapologetically, but also at the same time, better ensuring that I can achieve my potential for greatness to change the world.”
In 2007, Motley was elected the first African-American homecoming queen in 35 years, as well as the first openly gay homecoming queen at Virginia Commonwealth University.
A Danville, Va., native, Motley, who came out at 16, plans to become a social scientist and public health practitioner seeking to better understand how various socioeconomic factors influence health behaviors and outcomes in high risk populations, such as the LGBT community.
“My research aims to identify and better understand different social factors—physical environment, education, income — influence our health behaviors, especially physical activity and nutrition,” she says. “I look at that in high-risk communities, communities of color, LGBTQ, individual of over 45, low-income.”
Not only does she work on the research itself, but she tries to figure out how to recruit more diverse individuals into research so that it can better prepare those as catalysts for change.
“One of the most valuable things I have taken away from Point is mentorship from people who look like me,” she says. “Not necessarily in the literal sense, but being from a small city, an African American, a woman and an out lesbian, it was really important that I was connected personally and professionally that I was connected to people who were also gay. It has helped me become more confident.”
Point Foundation’s academic/program year begins in July with a leadership conference, where past and recently awarded scholars receive intensive training in leadership development, accountability, community service guidance, and advocacy and philanthropy to the LGBT community.
“When I look at my fellow scholars, these are brilliant individuals. There’s someone who has discovered a planet. There’s someone who has won an award for documentaries. For someone to say that they need me to succeed so we can all continue this movement to achieve equality, it moves me and gets me so emotional,” Motley says. “Think of how much further along we would be if we had more people tell the generations that are our future that we are underestimating our ability for equality. That’s what the Point Foundation did for me. It’s been life changing for me.”