The University of Georgia’s (UGA) School of Law has successfully endowed the Stonewall Equality Scholarship Fund for law students who demonstrate leadership in the LGBTQ community – the first LGBTQ scholarship at UGA and the first LGBTQ law scholarship among Georgia law schools.

The fund will benefit students who demonstrate leadership in LGBTQ issues or lend to the advancement of LGBTQ equality in the legal profession, Charles Hicks, a third-year law student at UGA’s School of Law and the former president of OUTLaw, the school’s LGBTQ organization, told Georgia Voice. Hicks was a part of the group of students who worked to campaign for the fund last year after it was launched by Professor Joseph Miller in 2015.

The fund has been opened and the first recipient will receive the scholarship next year based on existing contributions. “However, by keeping the scholarship fund open, UGA Law is inviting donors to contribute to the fund’s principal and hopefully continue to increase the number of recipients,” Hicks said. Hicks continued, saying that the money awarded to each recipient “will change lives.”

“There are LGBTQ students at the University of Georgia who have made the heavy decision to stay closeted because they believe their domestic support system will cut them off financially if they live openly,” he told Georgia Voice. “Scholarships like the Stonewall Equality Scholarship Fund make it more likely that students will choose to live in freedom decades before they otherwise might.”

Not only will the scholarship provide financial security to UGA’s LGBTQ and allied law students, but it will also ensure that UGA Law will continue to produce LGBTQ and allied alumni – like Judge Mike Jacobs, the nation’s first openly bisexual judge, and Thomas Mew, one of the advocates who appeared before SCOTUS last month on behalf of Gerald Bostock – who will act as LGBTQ legal advocates in the state and nationwide.

The scholarship is funded by contributors who want to invest in students who are fighting for a more inclusive Georgia. “Every single person who has contributed to the scholarship fund so far has donated on purpose,” Hicks said. “Their stories have been moving, meaningful, and full of hope. One of our contributors donated in the name of his gay relative who died as a result of a hate crime. One of our contributors donated in honor of ensuring there are LGBTQ judges in Georgia in the future. People are donating as a way of saying, ‘I want a better Georgia for my son, my daughter, and my community.’” Contributors who donate more than $10,000 before next summer will be listed as a founding member of the fund.

The scholarship has already made a difference nationwide: the University of Wyoming’s Law School’s LGBTQ organization had reached out to OUTLaw to receive help replicating UGA Law’s success and endowing an LGBTQ scholarship of their own. Hicks hopes that the success of the scholarship will lead to the introduction of similar LGBTQ scholarships at all levels of UGA.

“My hope is that the University of Georgia builds upon UGA Law’s success in endowing the Stonewall Equality Scholarship Fund and creates more LGBTQ-oriented scholarships for undergraduates and at the university’s other professional schools,” he said. “Oftentimes, we underestimate the power of a group of people coming together around a common purpose to accomplish an improbable goal. The Stonewall Equality Scholarship Fund is proof that we’re stronger together than we are divided.”

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