WSU'S LGBT scholarship celebrates 20 Years

By BTL Staff


The year 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Michael P. LaGatella Memorial Scholarship at Wayne State University. Established in 1992, the scholarship honors the memory of Michael LaGatella who committed suicide as a student at Wayne State in 1991.

LaGatella's friends and family created the scholarship to promote a positive gay identity and provide tuition support for gay students and other individuals. Groundbreaking at the time, the LaGatella Scholarship was the first of its kind in the state of Michigan and one of only a handful in the United States.

Michael Laber, one of the scholarship's founding donors, said, "I am proud to be involved in one of the first scholarships in the nation for gay and lesbian students. David Coulter, John Burchett, Tim Mahoney and I started this effort more than 20 years ago as a memorial to Mike LaGatella. We are thrilled that the scholarship is still vital, with a long history of assistance to Wayne State students. Most of all, we remain committed to this memorial and its legacy to current and future students at the university."

Coulter, now the mayor of Ferndale said, "A lot has changed since the scholarship was established in 1992, but it continues to play an important role. With this scholarship, we are helping to support future leaders of the LGBT community and recognize their efforts to promote a positive identity."

Last year, Laber, Coulter and others worked with WSU officials to update the scholarship criteria to include support for bisexual and transgender students and LGBT allies.

Nine students have received the LaGatella Scholarship since it was established. Susan Minard, a graduate of the School of Social Work, College of Education, and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was the first recipient.

"Receiving the scholarship was meaningful in that a characteristic of mine, which had mostly been a liability, was now an asset," she said. "It was validating to know that someone -- and an institution like Wayne State -- understood that people who are gay, lesbian and/or transgendered need recognition and they provided it."

Minard is now a middle school social worker and at-risk student advisor. She said that the progress we have made with our youth around sexual orientation and gender identification gives her great hope.

"Our world really is changing," she said. Former recipient, Greg Durkin, who is a staff development specialist in nursing at Children's Hospital Boston, agreed. He added that LGBT scholarships are a big deal, especially at a major research institution. "The LaGatella Scholarship and others like it are empowering," he said. "They show student recipients that they are valuable to their community."

Students can apply for the Michael P. LaGatella LGBT Endowed Scholarship by submitting an application and essay to the LaGatella Scholarship Committee, care of the Office of Student Financial Aid at Wayne State University. To learn about how to contribute to the LaGatella Scholarship, visit or contact Kathryn Rusak, director of development, at 313- 577-9933.

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