After meeting Jackie Sandmeyer, you know immediately that she’s one of those amazing young women who is going places.
At only 23 years old, the Idaho native and 2012-13 Pride Foundation scholar from Boise has had to overcome more obstacles than most people have to in a lifetime. On discovering she was queer, Sandmeyer’s parents shut her completely out of their lives—depriving her of all financial and emotional support, including closing her bank accounts and taking her car and phone away.
“I came from a family where the word ‘fag’ was used often, and where we were taught that being queer was not an option for any of us kids,” she said. “I had people in my extended family who were gay, but they were often used to make an example of, and I was never allowed to have close relationships with them.”
Already a student at University of Idaho in Moscow, Sandmeyer returned to college and started putting her life back together. She is now in her final semester, planning to graduate in December with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology with an emphasis in Inequalities and Globalization, a Minor in Women’s Studies, and a Certificate in Diversity and Stratification. She recently completed a 10-week Pride Foundation fellowship for the Bus Project Foundation in Portland. Jackie’s fellowship focused on integrating identity and diversity training into the foundation’s curriculum. While there, she also found time to volunteer with Basic Rights Oregon on marriage equality work.
“Looking back, I’m so thankful for the people who helped me stay in school and helped me make that decision, but part of me is angry that that decision has to be made for queer youth who are in my situation,” she said. “It’s still hard for me today, but I believe that it gets better. My experiences motivate me and humble me instead of inhibit me. I know now that I have a whole community of compassionate and caring people who I can reach out to.”
After college, Sandmeyer hopes to work in the nonprofit sector, expanding on the diversity and inclusion trainings she’s done, and continue on to graduate school, and perhaps one day earn a Ph.D.
“I have a love for academia and I love the freedom academia gives me to tell untold stories through qualitative research,” she said. “After being subjected to a lot of personal assaults on my identity, I have come to realize that the one thing no one can take away from me is my education. I realized that the more I learned about the world around me, the more I knew for myself, and could critique what others had told me. That was a major saving grace for me.”
Another passion that inspires Sandmeyer is poetry, particularly spoken word, which she says gives a voice to the underprivileged.
“You have a chance to tell an audience who may not identify the same as you or who has not gone through the same experiences, and it’s your chance to open their eyes,” she said. “I think that experiential storytelling is critical to education.”
Sandmeyer has incorporated spoken word in diversity training workshops she’s done, and written some of her own poetry.
“It’s my outlet when things seem hard,” she said. “It’s also my way of not forgetting the struggles, hardships, or love that I have seen and experienced.”
Sandmeyer is grateful for her Pride Foundation scholarships and her college education, which she said opened doors for her that would not have been available before.
“No student should ever have to make choices that sacrifice their education, safety, or mental well-being,” she said. “College should be a time of self-discovery, lasting friendships, and academic inspiration. I feel like Pride Foundation helped me get back some of that chance to be a college student again, and I will be forever grateful for all the amazing people I have met along the way.”
So, who is Jackie Sandmeyer today? She points to a few lines from her own poems to offer a glimpse.
“‘I learned from a young age that I don’t bruise. I could be hit by a bus, and the only thing I’d have to show for it would be my recollection to look both ways when crossing the street,’” she writes. “‘I hold my emotions much the same way. … Just because I don’t use an easel doesn’t mean I’m not an artist because from pain comes beauty, and I’ve got enough to make a masterpiece.’“
Steve Martin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email Steve.