Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scholarship helps him move on with life

He can be himself, sometimes. At the Eastern Washington community college where he co-founded
“She threw something at me and chased me out of the house, screaming."
a club for gays and lesbians. In a WSU Online classroom, where he can “give the gay perspective on different issues.” When he got Elton John to do him a favor.
     Other times, concealment is required. He learned that lesson as a teenager, when his father and stepmother threw him out. That’s why he doesn’t want his real name used here. “Prospective employers will no doubt use Google to screen applicants,” he said.
     Brandon, as we’ll call him, was 17 when he wrote what he calls a “compromising poem.” His stepmother found it and spent a week mocking him with crude homophobic jokes. Then she decided he was no longer part of the family.
     “She threw something at me and chased me out of the house, screaming. I’m a big guy, 6 foot 3, 170 pounds, but my stepmother was a large woman and full of anger. I was disowned and unwanted simply because of who I am.”
     Brandon ended up in a cockroach-infested apartment, so afraid of the insects that he slept with the lights on.
   He’s 27 now. He said he doesn’t dwell on the past.
More...      “I couldn’t care less about the whole debacle,” Brandon said. “My stepmother's years of verbal and emotional abuse, coupled with my father's fearful acceptance of her repulsive conduct, made my life unpleasant for years before they knew I was gay. I am glad to be rid of them. I wouldn't want it any other way.”
     Brandon stayed in Eastern Washington, where he works as a clerk, and is finishing his bachelor’s degree in humanities with a minor in management information systems through WSU Online.
     “The goal of some online programs is to accumulate students to maximize the federal funding they receive, with scant regard to the quality of the education or even whether or not a student graduates,” he said. “I wanted a respected school based out of an existing campus program, and that is what WSU Online represents.”
     Brandon has a 3.77 GPA and will graduate next spring. Helping him reach his goal – and move on with his life – is WSU Online’s student government, which awarded him a $2,000 scholarship for the 2010-11 academic year.
     “My scholarship has made it possible for me to complete my bachelor's degree this year,” he said. “I am not sure what I would have done without it.”
     Brandon’s past experience with scholarships was as a donor, not a recipient. At his community college, he gave $1,000 in cash and possessions and started a computer repair clinic to contribute to a scholarship in honor of a friend who died at 22 of heart failure after a short illness. He also persuaded Elton John to dedicate a song to his friend.
     “I wrote Elton John a heartfelt letter to his Peachtree Road residence in Atlanta,” Brandon said. “I had never written to him or any celebrity before.” Brandon combined video of the introduction with different versions of the song, added a montage of still photos of his friend, and posted the tributes on YouTube.
     ”It remains very shocking that someone so vivacious and with so many plans could die so suddenly,” Brandon said. “There is no good explanation as to why or how it happened.”
     In truth, there is a good explanation for how it happened. It’s the “why” that’s impossible to answer, much like all the “whys” Brandon has had to face.
     But sometimes cruelty can inspire kindness. Just before Brandon’s stepmother threw him out, she called his mother, who lives in Iowa. She told his mother that Brandon was gay, “as if it were the worst, most loathsome thing that could ever befall someone.” Then she handed Brandon the phone.
     “My mom asked me if it were true,” Brandon said. “When I admitted it was, she said, to paraphrase her, ‘That's OK. It doesn’t matter.’ My being gay has probably brought me closer to my mom. I can tell her anything, no matter how personal. She doesn't judge me.”

By Richard H. Miller/WSU Online


  1. Great story, Brandon. I've lived this side of the mountains all my life, and share similar tales of non-acceptance in my family.
    Good luck and hang in there. There aren't many of us over here, but we're here just the same.
    Eric in Moses Lake

  2. This story made me very happy to read; the part I found made me smile most was when your mother accepted your sexuality without a second thought. I am a female, so perhaps being gay would not carry the same sort of stigma, but I am bisexual (I am 25 now), and even though I don't "display" it, I have every confidence that if I introduced a girlfriend to my family, not a single person (aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, parents, anyone) would give it a second thought other than "Shannon's new boy/girlfriend". I might get a surprised/amused look from my Dad, and that would be the extent of it. I could seriously come home next week as a man, and I don't think the shock would last more than a couple days.

    I realized while I was writing this, just how lucky I am.

  3. My daughter is a lesbian. I've known it since she was a tiny child. I watched her struggle with her sexuality and finally she came to me at age 14 in tears and said, "Mom, I think I'm gay." I threw my arms around her and said, "Well thank the Goddess! That means I don't have to worry about you getting pregnant too early in life." I told her Love knows no gender, and the heart wants what it wants. I remind both of my children every year on their birthdays, how privileged I am that they each chose me to be their mother. I feel the same way about each of my students. As an academic advisor for WSU Online I help make the world a better place one student at a time. It is a privilege to partner with each person and assist them in earning their degree. I am blessed to have the best job at the University!!
    Jaqueline Almdale