Colonials Win Scholarship for LGBT Students

Medical student Daniel O'Neill (top) and Kathleen McGinn, B.A. '11
July 18, 2011

A medical student and recent graduate are among 34 national Point Foundation scholars.

Daniel O’Neill was born in June 1981.

The same month AIDS was first documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The coincidence couldn’t be more fitting for Mr. O’Neill, a passionate advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and care who is earning a joint M.D./M.P.H. at GW.

“I came into the world with the virus, and I want to make sure I do something to make headway in the fight before I’m gone,” said Mr. O’Neill, who plans to go into primary care and specialize in HIV/AIDS.

Mr. O’Neill’s dreams—and those of GW graduate Kathleen McGinn, B.A. ’11—just became a lot more attainable thanks to a scholarship reserved for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

The two Colonials were among 34 national Point Foundation scholarship awardees selected from a pool of 2,000 applicants. The Point Foundation is the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBT students.

The scholarship will help fund law school for Ms. McGinn, a New Jersey native who heads to Boston University this fall.

“Getting the scholarship was amazing,” said Ms. McGinn, who was in GW’s University Honors Program and graduated with a double major in sociology and women’s studies. “I am so thankful.”

At GW, Ms. McGinn was a student leader who advocated for LGBT rights, especially for those of lesbian and bisexual women.

She came out after her freshman year of college and said it had difficult moments.

“It was a series of connections and disconnections with people,” Ms. McGinn said. “People think of you in one way, and it’s hard to adjust, to say this person’s path is going to be different,” she said. “I saw people I’d known all my life not really understand me anymore.”

Ms. McGinn found “a home” in GW’s LGBT community.

But when she joined Allied in Pride, she was surprised to find few lesbian or bisexual women at its gatherings. “It was all gay men and straight women,” she said. “I wanted to have a group that included more lesbian and bisexual women so I started one.”

She founded and led the Association of Queer Women and Allies, a subgroup of Allied in Pride, which hosted a series of events for lesbian and bisexual women, from a “queer women’s health forum” to movie screenings. “It had a really positive response,” said Ms. McGinn.

She was also a champion for gender neutral housing—advocating for it in forums with top administrators and student leaders—and lived in the one of the first gender neutral housing options on campus, a Living Learning Cohort called Escaping Gender.

“I knew there were a lot of students on campus who identified as LGBT and wanted to live with people who might not match the sex they were born with, and I knew that gender neutral housing would address those needs,” she said.

Being a voice for the community helped inspire her to pursue a career in law advocating for human rights.

“The LGBT community has been like a family to me,” said Ms. McGinn. “I want to give back.”

For his part, Mr. O’Neill knew he wanted to become a doctor from an early age. He was diagnosed with diabetes at age 13 and living with the chronic disease made him “passionate about health care.”

After earning an M.B.A. from Indiana University, Mr. O’Neill came to D.C. to lobby for stem cell research but his focus soon turned to HIV/AIDS in part by virtue of location—his apartment was near the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the community health center specializing in HIV/AIDS and LGBT care.

“Living by the clinic and seeing young kids come in and get broadsided by a diagnosis before they even know who they are, who they love, was devastating,” said Mr. O’Neill.

He now serves on the community advisory board for Whitman-Walker and as a leader in the D.C. community coalition planning for the international AIDS conference that will take place in Washington next July.

Mr. O’Neill also co-founded D.C. Fuk!t, which he describes as a provocative campaign targeted toward young gay men that promotes safer sex and distributes condoms throughout the city.

Serving as a mentor for young people struggling with their sexual orientation or coping with HIV is a powerful motivator for Mr. O’Neill.

“Growing up in Indiana, I saw homophobia all the time and occasionally it was directed at me,” he said. “It hasn’t always been easy for me, but certainly there are other LGBT youths who have it much worse,” he said.

“That’s why I want to be able to pay it forward to LGBT youths who may feel hopeless or be devastated by an HIV diagnosis.”

“The scholarship is a tremendous honor,” said Mr. O’Neill. “I look forward to the challenge.”

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