There are 1.6 million young people experiencing homelessness in the United States and 40% of them identify as LGBT. A large percentage of homeless LGBT youth were thrown out of their homes because their parents refused to accept their sexual orientation.
“Sometimes [parental rejection] is based on religion; they think that their child is a sinner or that their child needs to be punished so they see ‘the error of their ways,’ LGBT youth advocate, Telaina Eriksen, told The Washington Post. “They might think if they force their child to leave their home, their child may return repenting, magically somehow no longer LGBT.”
Seth Owen, 18, was forced out of his parents house during his senior year of high school after his Baptist parents discovered he is gay.
Owen’s parents forced him into gay conversion therapy and made him attend a church that attacked him for his sexual orientation. Owen asked his parents if he could attend another church and they gave him an ultimatum: attend their church or move out.
Owen felt safer being homeless.
“The worst part was I was packing my bags, and I was walking out the door, and I was hoping that my mom would stand in my way,” Owen told NBC News. “I was hoping that she would say ‘I love my child more than I love my religion.’ ”
But his parents never took him back.
Even though he was forced to couch surf for the rest of his senior year, Owen earned a 4.61 GPA, was named high school high school valedictorian, and accepted at Georgetown University.
But then he received another blow. His financial aid package from the university had been determined based on expected contributions from the family who rejected him.
“I started to cry, because I realized there was no way that I could go to college,” he told NBC News. “Georgetown was my only option, because I had already denied my other acceptances,” he said.
But then his biology teacher, Jane Martin, stepped in and started a GoFundMe page to help him pay for college. It began with a lofty goal of $20,000.
After news spread of Owen’s situation, over $141,000 in donations poured in.
When Georgetown heard about Owen’s struggles, the university awarded him with a full scholarship.
Now that he had a full ride to Georgetown, Owen decided to pay it forward and use the remaining GoFundMe money to start a college scholarship for LGBT youth who’ve been rejected by their families. After hearing about Owen’s scholarship, Ellen DeGeneres invited him on her TV show.
“I often had to look up your videos for inspiration,” Owen told DeGeneres. “There were so many times that you really pulled me through.”
At the end of the interview, DeGeneres gave Owen an incredible surprise: a check for $25,000.
“We’re partnering again this year with Cheerios to encourage one million acts of good, and they’re inspired by young people like you,” DeGeneres told Owen. “They’re going to help you start your scholarship with this check for $25,000.”