By Kristen Grau, South Florida Gay News
May 2, 2019
The future of Palm Beach County's LGBT youth is bright - and $2,000 richer.
Two LGBT high school seniors, Kavyasree Chigurupati and Eric Burchill, were both awarded $1,000 scholarships last month by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC). The annual scholarships, called the Daniel S. Hall Social Justice Awards, recognize high school seniors who demonstrate LGBT advocacy. Chigurupati was granted hers April 29, while Burchill is slated to receive his May 16.
"Both Kavi and Eric have been passionate advocates for the local LGBTQ community," said Carly Cass, PBCHRC's vice president and scholarship coordinator.
Chigurupati, 17, is the intersectionality leader of the Gender-Sexualiy Alliance (GSA) at her high school, Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach. She was also voted "Class Activist" in her class' senior superlatives. But what she's most proud of is an initiative she co-founded in GSA called Technicolor.
Technicolor is a submission-based student magazine that focuses on self-identity and self-expression, Chigurupati said.
"I felt like I wanted to give people this platform where they could express themselves in a way where they felt like they belonged, because is that not the point of the LGBT community? I just wanted everyone to feel included on a level that I didn't for a little" as an LGBT person of color, she said.
This was the project's first year, and it received about 60 submissions. Chigurupati said that although the call for submissions was open to all students, it was mostly LGBT students that participated. While collecting artist statements, there was one that was particularly rewarding for Chigurupati.
"There's this one that was very ... visually detailed piece about the experiences of being a transgender male that I really resonated with," she said. "I think they said the piece really helped them with their gender dysphoria and that putting it on paper really helped them visualize what they were going though and helped put themselves in the right mindset going forward."
Another one of Chigurupati's achievements for the LGBT community was interning for openly lesbian congressional candidate Lauren Baerduring the 2018 midterm elections. Baer lost, but her campaign impacted young people like Chigurupati.
"Her wife and her daughter - just her family experience, really - helped me see that she ... has this full level of experience and showed me what it meant to live an entire life outside of your sexual orientation. She was not defined by it at all, she was so inspiring," she said. "She's so passionate about everything that she did and she was so well-spoken and so well-educated but also someone I can identify with."
Chigurupati is heading to Rutgers University, a college in New Jersey, to study political science and pursue a career in public service.
Burchill, 18, is his class' valedictorian at Wellington High School. He excelled in his science and math courses, even becoming a National Merit Scholar. But in his advanced courses, he noticed a shortage of LGBT representation.
"I'm an academic person, my schooling is really important to me. But ... in all of my upper level math and science classes, I'm almost always the only gay person in my classes and I don't think that's right," Burchill said. "So one of my goals is to increase the representation of gay people in the sciences and academia in general."
Burchill has been involved in LGBT advocacy through his school's GSA chapter while serving as vice president. He said he's proud to make GSA an "outlet" for those who might not have supportive families. One way Burchill has provided a safe space through GSA is by organizing LGBT-specific events like trips to youth summits and Pride festivals.
Those events are important for high school students in particular, he said.
"I think we learn about all the diversity in the gay community because being gay is not the sole characteristic that a lot of people have," he said. "There are gay people of color, and gay people with disabilities and gay people from all walks of life so we kind of see that those people do exist because you don't always see them in our day-to-day lives."
Burchill is attending Middlebury College, a small school in Vermont, to study neuroscience and psychology. He said that since GSA has given him the opportunity to increase LGBT visibility, he wants to continue doing so in Vermont. Since it is a small school of less than 3,000 students, according to the U.S. News & World Report, he said he feels a greater responsibility on his shoulders to make sure gay people are represented on campus.
He plans to join Middlebury College's LGBT student association to give other LGBT people the many opportunities that he's been given.
"I've always felt comfortable with myself and I've always felt safe in my community and my home, but I'm not small-minded enough to think that everyone has been that lucky. So I did feel like I would be remiss if I chose to give up the voice that I've been given and those opportunities," he said. "I do want to make sure that everybody is given those opportunities as some people at some point in their life."
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, Inc. is dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The Council promotes equality, through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach.