SDA create scholarship for LGBTQ+ students

Transgender actress and pioneer Alexandra Billings will launch a scholarship for LGBTQ+ students applying to the School of Dramatic Arts. Billings joined SDA’s faculty in 2017. (Sasha Urban/Daily Trojan)

Actress and assistant professor Alexandra Billings announced on March 13 via Instagram the launch of a scholarship for LGBTQ+ students applying to the School of Dramatic Arts.

“I am overwhelmed and profoundly moved by this honor,” Billings wrote in her Instagram post. “As a 56-year-old mixed-race trans woman living with AIDS since the mid-1980s and having survived on the streets of Chicago as a sex worker, a heroin addict and being homeless for almost a year and a half, this sits in a place in my spirit that is truly humbling.”

Billings, who has been acting for over 40 years and has performed in live productions and is known for her guest appearances on “How To Get Away With Murder” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” She also played Davina on the Golden Globe-winning show “Transparent.” According to the SDA website, Billings is also one of the first transgender actresses to play a transgender character on television. She has been recognized with five After Dark Awards and the Rainbow Spirit Award.

According to its fundraising website, Billings hopes the scholarship will send a message to the LGBTQ+ community that they belong at USC.

“[This scholarship] sends a clear message that the LGBT community is here and that they matter,” the fundraising website read. “It reaches out to young LGBT Americans searching for artistic expansion.”

Yahm Steinberg, a freshman majoring in theatre who identifies as pansexual, said she believes this scholarship will help queer members of the theater community feel validated.

In 2018, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation  found that 8.8% of regular television characters identified as LGBTQ+.

“Even if you’re not gay, [you’re] being exposed to stories of people who are,” Kleinberg said. “Gay people are forced to conform to heteronormativity all the time, and I think it’s really cool that [this scholarship] is starting to break that idea [and] celebrate people in [these] communities.”

Billings is hosting a fundraising show May 1 at the Bing Theatre called “I’m Still Queer: A TransAmerican Cabaret.” At the time of publication, the scholarship has raised more than $10,000.

Samantha Ruzon, a freshman majoring in theatre and political science, said she is worried about students applying to the scholarship who have not yet come out as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

“That’s the difficult thing,” Ruzon said. “If [the student] gets [the scholarship], they shouldn’t have to advertise that.”

SDA Dean David Bridel said the cabaret concert is the most fitting way to fundraise for this scholarship because of Billing’s background performing in cabarets.

“In addition to being a passionate advocate for the LGBT community, Alexandra Billings is one of the country’s great cabaret performers,” Bridel wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “It is especially fitting that [SDA] should choose to present her work in this format, as cabaret has always been a place to give voice to individuals and communities who have a vital message for society.”

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