“LGBTQ band geeks need their own scholarship fund”

The Rainbow City Band (RCB) worked for five years to raise $25,000 to start a scholarship fund at the Pride Foundation. This year will be the first time the scholarship will be given out – the online application deadline is January 31 at 5pm PST. Betsy Smith, Pride Foundation supporter and proud “band geek” encourages anyone who is interested in starting a scholarship fund to do it! Here are some of her thoughts:

Why is this “band geek” scholarship so important?

The private sector has to step up and help make college affordable for those who have the skill and desire to attend. Students are leaving college mired in debt with poor employment prospects. As a society we need to do all we can to help alleviate that collar of debt so our future leaders can focus on leading, not just earning money to pay their debt down. LGBTQ students often face the added burden of not having family support based on their sexual orientation. Scholarships through Pride Foundation help to level the playing field. Hopefully the Rainbow City Band Scholarship will help keep an LGBTQ musician engaged in music study beyond their high school band.

What motivated you to work on this project?

As a middle school student in suburban Cleveland, OH in the late ‘60s I knew I was different, I just couldn’t put a name to the difference. When I picked up a flute for the first time in 5th grade I was transported away from my differences. I lived and breathed for band. I couldn’t wait for my band classes to come. By the time I was in high school in rural Virginia I still didn’t know what to call my “difference” but I knew that I was a band geek. Being in the school band helped me get through high school when my family moved in the middle of my Junior year to suburban Milwaukee where I talked with a pretty good accent and didn’t fit it.

It was in this high school where I first was called “lesbo” by a group of “jocks.” I wasn’t a radical, I wasn’t an LGBTQ activist, and I wasn’t even sure what they meant! There was no internet to connect with other kids. But, my band geek family was there. They didn’t necessarily know or want to know that some in my school considered me a “lesbo” but they lifted me up when I was down. They focused on helping me see that the music transcended all labels, all taunts and all the negative emotions that might be happening to any of us in the band. In short, Band Geeks are a special group of people.

Fast forward to 2000. I realized I missed making music and sought out a place to do so. I found Rainbow City Band and found a music family. As my time in the band progressed, I took on leadership roles and when I was president I thought it was time for this wonderful LGBTQ family to give back to the community in a BIG way. I thought that LGBTQ band geeks needed their own scholarship fund where their unique personalities and qualities are recognized. I thought that perhaps, if the “Rainbow City Band” scholarship had been one of the scholarships I saw in the guidance counselor’s office when I was checking out which scholarships to apply to, maybe I would have put a name to my own “difference” sooner.


How might you advise others in their efforts to start a scholarship fund?

Talk to the folks at the Pride Foundation about the scholarship program. Learn all you can about the need for the scholarship you envision. The information you gather will help you convince others to donate to your scholarship fund. Remember that it does not all have to be raised in a single event. It took RCB 5 years to raise the funds, but we did it! A bunch of “band geeks” raised $25,000 doing what they do best – making music!

Contact Anthony Papini or Jody Waits if you have questions about starting a scholarship fund.

By Uma Rao and Caitlin Copple

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