Teacher raises $70,000 for gay student to go to university after his religious parents throw him out
A gay teenager whose parents sent him to ‘conversion’ therapy and forced him out of their home will be able to go to college after his teacher raised more than $70,000 in six weeks.
Seth Owen, 18, is set to achieve his “life goal” of attending Georgetown University, thanks to his former biology teacher Jane Martin and the more than 1,100 donors who have contributed to his cause.
The Florida high school co-valedictorian was sent to gay ‘conversion’ therapy when he was in his sophomore year, becoming one of the 20,000 teens who will undergo gay cure therapy before they’re 18, according to a study published in January.
This was after Seth’s Southern Baptist parents discovered he was secretly gay.
“I was writing a paper, and my dad decided to check my phone late in the evening,” he told NBC News.
“He found a damning photograph of me and another guy. Nothing inappropriate, but it clearly indicated that I was gay.”
After his parents interrogated him about his sexuality until 4:30am, it wasn’t long before he was forced into therapy aimed at changing his sexuality.
“They sent me to a Christian counsellor,” he said. “It was clear that their intent was for me to walk out of therapy straight.”
He added: “It was not like a conversion camp, but it was definitely awkward conversion therapy where they tried encouraging stereotypical masculine tasks and things like that.”
Seth convinced his parents to let him leave the therapy after a few months, but in February, during his crucial senior year, their vocal intolerance reached new levels.
“I mean, there was just incident after incident,” he said. “They talked very negatively about the LGBTQ+ community. They said that gay people would not serve in the church.
“Then they were talking about transgender people as though they weren’t human, and that really, really bothered me.”
After numerous arguments, his parents gave him an ultimatum: go to their anti-gay church, or leave their home.
He couldn’t choose any other option but to leave – but he still had hope that his parents wouldn’t go through with it.
“The worst part was I was packing my bags, and I was walking out the door, and I was hoping that my mum would stand in my way,” remembered Seth.
“I was hoping that she would say: ‘I love my child more than I love my religion.’”
She didn’t, meaning that the teenager had to spend the next months sleeping at friends’ houses and working full-time to support himself while he completed high school with a 4.16 GPA.
And when the Georgetown acceptance letter came through, there was more pain in store for Seth, who realised that his financial aid package had been put together with the expectation that his family would contribute.
“I started to cry, because I realised there was no way that I could go to college,” said the 18-year-old. “Georgetown was my only option, because I had already denied my other acceptances.”
It was then that his former teacher and mentor Martin, whose same-sex wedding Seth attended as the ring bearer, stepped in.
On June 18, she started a GoFundMe page with a target of £20,000 and the message that “I know the goal seems unrealistic and the circumstances aren’t ideal, but I also know communities can make the impossible possible.
“It’s Pride Month and rainbows abound around the world. Help me bring a rainbow in the midst of Seth’s storm.”
The community responded – and how. The goal has been smashed more than three times over as people have rushed to help Seth live out his dream.
There have been nine gifts of $1,000 or more – plus a $500 donation from Martin herself – but the figure has been reached through community spirit.
“After we had hit $2,000, Seth was just like, ‘I’m so surprised that people, like, actually care about me,’” Martin said.
“He has had so much support and so many people reach out and say ‘You’re not alone,’ and ‘It gets better,’ all of the things that we all need to hear when we’re queer teenagers and are suffering,” she added.
“I’m just excited for him to have this community literally come around and put all of our arms together and bring him up and raise him up for the first time.”
Seth responded to the tsunami of support on the GoFundMe page, writing: “I simply cannot say thank you to you all enough. My dreams have come true because of you all.
“Through this entire process of sharing my story, I have been shown by an abundance of loving and generous people that Jacksonville is a place of growth and support.
“I appreciate that you all have given me the reassurance to live authentically and the ability to continue to be relentless and tenacious in pursuing my dreams,” he added.
“Your passionate response to my situation reassures me that Jacksonville (and our country) will not tolerate injustices towards the LGBTQ+ community.
“Since this story became public, I have had numerous people reach out to me and say that they are going through similar situations.
“Unfortunately, this is still a problem in Jacksonville (and across the country) for many people, not just me.
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“So, I ask that you all continue to be allies in whatever capacity, not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but for all marginalised groups.”
The teenager said he was “forever grateful to you all for making my lifelong dream of attending college possible.”
Next month, he will move to Washington DC to join Georgetown’s Class of 2022.
Last month, San Francisco’s LGBT+ community held a celebratory funeral for trans student Daine Grey, who took his own life, after crowdfunding more than $25,000 – including a donation from celebrity chef Nigella Lawson – to pay for the costs.
Friends of City College student Grey attended the colourful and emotional service on July 26 at Oakland Chapel of the Chimes, featuring a performance a three-song performance by San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.