Daily Egyptian

FAFSA change may aid LGBTQ families, students

By Jessica Wettig

Changes in the FAFSA could mean more opportunities for nontraditional families.

The U.S. Department of Education announced April 29 the Federal Application for Financial Student Aid will now allow students with unmarried  or same-sex parents to list both parents’ incomes. Gay rights advocates have expressed excitement because this change recognizes households led by a homosexual couple as a family, and several students said the changes are a step in the right direction.

SIU’s Coordinator for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Resource Center, Wendy Weinhold, said this is one more step to equality for homosexuals and transgendered peoples. The more barriers broken, she said, the better.

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“This is not just an issue about students (or) children whose parents are in same-sex relationships,” Weinhold said. “This about making the world better for all of us.”

She said the changes can open doors for students whose college education might have previously been unattainable. Being allowed to claim both parents’ incomes can make a difference in qualifications for financial aid, she said.

Weinhold said she has not heard arguments against the decision at this point. However, she said she thinks the change is related to the arguments for and against the controversial same-sex marriage issue, and the changes are bound to be met with dissent.

Weinhold said her only concern is that social aspects of same-sex marriage will be ignored, even while legal issues are being solved. Gay marriage remains a controversial issue and many people still don’t accept it, she said. Because of this, she said the issue of gender identity is something society has a harder time accepting than gay marriage.

“We should not think we’re done once marriage equality occurs,” Weinhold said.

She said the country is headed in the direction of marriage equality, but there will still be work to do even then. People still don’t understand how unrelated gender identity and sexuality are to the rest of a person’s life, she said.

“It’s astonishing to me that it is a radical idea still today in our society that your penis or vagina, or combination thereof if you’re intersex, does not determine the clothing you wear, the career you want, the experiences and expressions you have,” Weinhold said. “And neither of those two things either relates to what you want to do with your penis or vagina when you take your clothes off and are intimate with someone.”

While the new inclusions may be positive for gay rights advocates, Director of Financial Aid Terri Harfst said the changes may not be financially beneficial.

When a person applies for financial aid, she said, only being able to claim one parent’s income could mean a smaller household income is listed, which means more financial aid could be awarded. If students include both parents, their eligibility might decrease, she said.

Despite the lack of benefits, Harfst said this sends a message for recognizing families of different kinds in society, instead of just recognizing a heterosexual married couple and their children.

Several students said the FAFSA changes will benefit more than simply LGBTQ families, and bring equal opportunities for many different households.

Andrew Harless, a junior from Springfield studying photography and radio television, said this change brings up many interesting sides to the gay marriage argument, particularly focusing on the financial benefits of these couples’ children. However, he said he wonders whether the FAFSA change just targets the tip of the iceberg, or the entire issue.

“I don’t know if this is a Band-Aid on a gaping wound or something that can legitimately affect some change, but l think either way it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Jake Vrabel, a sophomore from Mundelein studying aviation flight, said this will not affect him personally because his parents are married. However, he said this will allow equal opportunity not only for children of same-sex couples, but also for children of parents who chose a domestic partnership instead of marriage.

Vrabel said the church and state are separate, and the arguments of marriage are often religious issues. Differences in sexuality should not prevent a person from getting the same opportunities as everyone else, he said.

“You should be able to do what everyone else is doing and getting the benefits that everyone else is getting,” Vrabel said.

Kristen Whiteford, a graduate student from Carbondale studying behavioral analysis and therapy, said recognizing homosexuals and domestic partnerships as families is a step  toward equality in society. Messages sent by governmental decisions can have a huge impact on society’s views, she said.

Anna Cronin, a graduate student from Peoria studying behavior analysis and therapy, said this change would affect some of her friends, and they would be excited to know their children would have more equal opportunities.

“Such base level changes, such as a FAFSA changing, says that there’s certainly a movement towards acceptance of gay marriage on a federal level instead of state,” she said.

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