Orlando – Perhaps we’re feeling a bit of hubris on the LGBTQ end about coverage of the Pulse massacre. Or, in a brighter light, maybe we’re pooling our resources into something larger, something more important to keep LGBTQs in Florida afloat. Realtor and attorney Barry Miller is doing the hard work, starting The 49 Fund as a means of pushing through the tragedy and into something more. The fund is, in fact, for college education. The fund is for moving past this nightmare. There are other funds in the pipeline from alternate sources, but Miller’s is the first of its kind in the wake of the June 12 tragedy. Watermark spoke with Miller recently, and he showed that his roots in the community are strong, and his aim is true.
“I’ve always been involved in the arts and the LGBTQ community for the last 20 years,” Miller says. “At one point I was the president of The Center and I was president when we spearheaded it, and it was my idea to get those buildings over there. I had an apartment downtown; I’ve always been trying to get the community to move forward and be visible and stand up [for LGBTQ concerns].”
Miller, who makes a point of being present at most LGBTQ fundraisers, and, as such, is a serious funder for LGBTQ causes, comes from a history of paying it forward. It’s in his genes, he says.
“I grew up in a household of an educator, and with parents who were of that mindset where your kids are going to go to college – you’ve got to get to grow to be better. And my mother was a teacher, and taught so that she could afford to put us through school and that there’s always better education.”
Like many in the Orlando area – and worldwide – Miller felt called to action after the Pulse tragedy last year. At first there was trauma and bewilderment, he says.
“I was very affected by what happened here. How did that happen in our own backyard? I went to that vigil and I came back with my candle still lit and sat on my porch steps at my condo looking at the fountain. And I sat there going, ‘How could this have happened? What are we going to do to make sure it doesn’t again, and what kind of good could come out of that?’”
So Miller looked into what would be the best avenue for his advocacy. At the time, there were numerous groups leaning in for funds, he says. He started his with an advocacy approach, one that would pay it forward.
“Someone else who’s involved in the community, as soon as I said it, stepped right up to the plate,” he says. “Education is great and it’s really great that they’re doing it, but I like to make sure that these students give back to our community and give back to the LGBT community. So part of the scholarship application is — in the essay — first of all they have to be out. That’s the first gray area. And then a 3.0 grade-point average; they need to have a financial need; they have to be from Central Florida.”
If the standards sound strict, they’re intended to. Miller is doing this out of love for the community, he says.
“This is a homegrown fund for our community, and they need to show how they’re going to take a leadership role in our community in the future. It’s, ‘you’re going to be at The Center,’ or ‘you’re going to be at the Zebra Coalition,’ or ‘you’re going to be at Orlando Youth Alliance’ – whatever it is you like to do. There are so many opportunities in our community and we have such a need. You have to be giving back. That’s what makes our fund the first of its kind; it’s unique and no one else is doing it and I’m passionate about it.”