Philip Comans graduated in the 1970s when tertiary degrees were free for students in Australia. An experience which guided him when he, along with his partner Sean Linkson and two friends, co-founded Pinnacle Foundation. The not-for-profit, which was set up with the aim of providing educational scholarships to young LGBTQI Australians, is now calling for applications for its 2021 round of scholarships.

“I am a passionate believer that every young person should have the opportunity to gain an education,” Andrew Staite, Managing Director and CEO of Pinnacle Foundation told Star Observer.

“Education increases options, enriches and empowers. Many of the young LGBTQI Australians that Pinnacle supports have grown up in environments where they have been rejected because of who they are and how they identify, making it hard to complete study,”

Young LGBTQI Australian citizens or permanent residents between 17 and 26 who are planning to take up full time study at Australian public universities can apply for the multi-year scholarships. The scholarships are awarded for four-year undergraduate studies, two-year postgraduate studies and full-time TAFE courses.

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 According to the Foundation, “first year scholars receive between $5000 and $7000 and those in subsequent years of study receive between $4000 and $5000.”

The scholars are also matched with mentors to guide the students.

“Through the award of a scholarship, the support of a mentor and the wider Pinnacle family, we can help these incredible young people to realise their full potential and contribute to our community,” said Staite.

In 2020, the Foundation awarded around 44 scholarships across Australia. As per its figures, around 89% of its scholars have gone on to achieve their academic goals. In 2021, the organisation is planning to award 50 scholarships.

“Thanks to the support of over 115 volunteers and the generosity of our financial supporters and partners, the Pinnacle program has continued to grow. We are so grateful that many people in the LGBTQI community who have the means to do so make regular donations to support the Pinnacle program,” added Staite.

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 Albury residents Scott Aldred and Zac Hayes are among the successful alumni who have benefitted from the program. Hailing from regional Australia, Scott and Zac were selected for the Pinnacle scholarships, went on to complete their studies, co-founded successful businesses together, got engaged and have now returned as sponsors with the aim of “paying it forward.”

“We both decided to apply for the scholarship due to the fact that we did not, besides ourselves, have many connections in the LGBTQI community, especially living in rural NSW. We were both studying full time at university, along with Zac working full time and we were living off his wages,” Scott said.

The scholarships helped them pay their rents while they were studying, supported them financially, while also linking them with mentors who could guide them. The couple said besides the financial support it was the feeling of connecting with the community and making lifelong friendships and relationships that they valued the most.

“Growing up, all through high school and the early years of university, there were many cases of homophobia that we both faced. That only made us feel more isolated, alone and that we don’t belong and we can’t be proud of who we are. I remember early on in our relationship we would be holding hands while walking down the main street in Albury, and many people would walk by and give us disgusting looks.  It made me feel ashamed of who I am and that I should not be doing that,” recalled Scott.

“After being a scholar and meeting my mentor and meeting the Pinnacle Foundation community, it showed us that we are definitely not alone and there is more support and love for us than what we had. It helped me gain more confidence and to be proud in who we are and that we should not be ashamed,” said Scott.

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 The couple now hope that as sponsors they are able to help others with the opportunities that they benefited from.

“We are now in a position where we can pay it forward to the next generation. We are now in a position that we can give back to the Foundation in hopes of providing more LGBTQI students in rural Australia the same experience we were both lucky to receive,” said Zac.

In a report, ABC News had cited officials in the education department who had said that around 276,498 students were offered a place at Australian universities in 2020  With the COVID-19 pandemic and global travel restrictions, many more students are likely to apply for university courses, instead of taking a gap year. For LGBTQI students who plan to take up full-time University and TAFE courses, this might be an opportunity to apply for the scholarship to fund their education.

The deadline for applying for the scholarship is September 15, 2020. Apply here.

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