“She wants to finish her degree and I just want to be supportive to her on her journey to education as well as giving her some emotional support,” Cunningham said.
First-year Hannah Hendren heard about C’s campaign through a graduate of her a cappella group, the UNC Walk-Ons.
“I’m fortunate to have more than enough money, and I had a gut feeling that I needed to help this girl,” she said.
The support extends beyond just the student community. While Eric Johnson, assistant director for policy analysis and communications at the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, said he couldn’t comment on C’s case, he emphasized that his office exists to make sure that students don’t have to drop out for financial reasons.
He said all financial aid policy, whether it’s federal or institutional, is based on the assumption that guardians will pay for their child’s education to the best of their abilities.
“We have the ability to exercise judgement and override — it just requires working directly with the student to find out if that’s a thing we can do,” he said. “If you’re struggling, we would like to hear from you. It’s not to say that we can always do something, but we would like to have the opportunity, and there are a lot of cases where we can.”
Terri Phoenix, the director of UNC’s LGBTQ Center, was upset but not shocked at C’s situation.
“We don’t track any numbers on this but I know I hear of it happening frequently,” Phoenix said via email. “As a parent myself, it baffles me how a parent could cut their child off financially or otherwise for being LGBTQ-identified.”
C describes the home she grew up in as conservative, Christian and intensely fundamentalist. Most of the people in her rural town held the same values.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.
“We had this stereotype where anyone who differed from those beliefs in any way was the ‘crazy liberal,’ and that was the person that I never wanted to be because my family, my town, my whole extended family had that extreme view of people that differed from their beliefs,” she said.
She wasn’t completely surprised by her family’s reaction to her coming out — she recalls them refusing to watch a TV series because of a same-sex kiss. But the rejection of her identity still stung.
Initially, they tried to bargain with her.
“It came to the point where they were only going to be paying for my education if I did x, y, z things, like speaking to a Christian counselor that they personally selected. I’m already seeing a counselor and I didn’t want to change that,” she said.
“I realized that in their minds, me saying, ‘You know what, this is who I am’ — that is me walking away from them. I view it more as liberating and freeing and really reclaiming an identity that I’ve struggled so long to affirm and to accept.”
Keeping the faith
C said attending UNC was the first time she was able to open a dialogue with people who have different views from her.
“It was the first time that I realized that gay Christians could still go to church, that they could lead churches, that they could be happy and can still be well-received by a faith community,” she said. “Carolina was a place where I was able to meet people that challenged my views and that supported an environment where if I decided to come out, I would feel safe and loved and respected, whereas if I had felt the urge to come out in high school I would be mortified.”
It takes a lot to create this environment, including spiritual fulfillment — especially for C, who said she’s struggled with her faith, like many other college students.
Outside of the University, there are resources for LGBTQ Christians, including Chapel of the Cross and the Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship.
C has attended a few churches around Chapel Hill, but hasn’t found the right place. However, she said God and the scripture are still close to her heart. She ends her GoFundMe page with a Bible verse — 1 Corinthians 13:7-8.
“Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.”