Students often complain about the price of tuition, but imagine paying for college without any help from your parents because they disagree with your sexual preference.
This is the situation one student found himself in after telling his parents he is gay.
“I originally came out to them when I was 12, but then this year I got a boyfriend,” said Joel Pawelski, dance freshman. “We had a lot of fights and things were getting really tense back home.”
Editor’s Note: Joel does not use his legal last name, so neither did Student Publications for the remainder of this story.
Joel comes from a strict Christian household, which is why his parents felt they couldn’t support him.
After realizing his parents would not contribute to his college education, Joel became worried his dream of studying dance at OCU would be over before it even began.
“Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to dance. I just loved it,” Joel said.
Joel’s initial plan was to take out private loans for college that he would be responsible for. His parents planned to take him to an attorney to make sure they wouldn’t be responsible for any part of the loan.
“They were okay with it and then all of the sudden they just said ‘we’re not going to do that loan, that’s not okay,’” Joel said.
Because he had a boyfriend, Joel’s parents told him he wasn’t allowed to live at home or even use their last name anymore, so he uses his middle name. In April 2015, Joel moved in with a friend who also encouraged him to audition for the dance school, even paying for his first trip to Oklahoma City.
“Know that you will always have a family. It may not be biological, but you are loved,” he said.
Right before school started, he realized he wouldn’t be able to afford to go to OCU, Joel said.
In July 2015, Joel’s friend Lyndi Wright started a GoFundMe fundraiser to help him pay for school. Her mother is Joel’s dance teacher and Wright is an alumna of OCU.
“Our biggest goal is to get Joel through four years of college and for him to have a ton of success at OCU,” Wright said.
Dan Savage, a LGBT journalist and blogger, saw Joel’s GoFundMe and wrote about his story. As a result, Joel received national attention and donations to his GoFundMe skyrocketed.
The original goal for the fundraiser was $40,000 to help pay for all four years of Joel’s tuition not covered by university scholarships. After Savage’s coverage, the GoFundMe received $56,886 in donations as of Sept. 23.
The excess money will be donated to organizations that support LGBTQ teens in similar situations.