YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A Youngstown State University graduate is helping her alma mater to help LGBTQ students.

Cathy Lucas is one of the leaders of the new LGBTQ Alumni Chapter at YSU, which now has grown to 100. The group has set up an emergency fund to help foster equity for YSU students who identify as LGBTQ and face financial hardships.

Lucas said the movement locally has come a long way since she was a student in 2001. Back then, she said that while she didn’t hide her sexual orientation, she did live a very “don’t ask, don’t tell” existence and didn’t have a connection on campus.

Now, the LGBTQ alumni chapter wants to help change that.

“Now that I’m able to be a part of the YSU alumni family as my full and authentic self, I wanted to ensure current students are able to build a connection with YSU and feel a true sense of community,” said Lucas, who has lived in Seattle for nearly 15 years. 

Lucas has worked in Baltimore, at Penn State University and in Harrisburg as a case manager for an HIV/AIDS program. Now, she has relocated to Seattle where she works as a HUD project manager, overseeing housing projects in Washington State.

Lucas had lost all connection with YSU, until September 2020, when she saw a Facebook post for a YSU alumni book discussion on an LGBTQ topic. 

“That rekindled my connection,” she said. 

Lucas said the LGBTQ Student Emergency fund was “my motivation to be an agent of change to improve the campus for LGBTQ students in need that are disenfranchised by stigma beyond their control.” LGBTQ people, collectively, have a poverty rate of 21.6 percent, compared to 15.7 percent for cisgender straight people.

Donations to the emergency fund are being collected online. Once there, select “other” and type LGBTQ Emergency Fund to ensure your donation will be allocated for this endowment.

Also, you can send donations to the YSU Foundation, 655 Wick Ave., Youngstown, OH 44502, with memo “LGBTQ+ Emergency Fund.”

“You can contribute if you are looking for a way to give before the year is up. You can be one of the first donors to our fund that will support students in the new year,” said LGBTQ Alumni Chapter member Jessica Valsi. 

Valsi says anyone is welcome to donate, and you don’t have to be an alumnus or a member of the alumni association.