Drexel graduate student Sean Hyatt was chosen to receive the inaugural Danté M. Austin Scholarship Award. Members of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) created the scholarship to honor the legacy of Danté Austin, founding member of GOAL, LGBTQ+ activist, military veteran and Philadelphia deputy sheriff who died by suicide in 2019. The scholarship is designed for individuals who are studying in programs related to public safety, emergency services, mental health or social work who are committed to improving those resources for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Sean was chosen because he’s already doing the work,” said Sergeant Nick Tees, president of GOAL. “One of the things we decided was [the recipient] had to be someone who was going to be a first responder or someone who was going to be in mental health that is going to help our community.”
GOAL members presented Hyatt with the scholarship award at their annual Drag Brunch Fundraiser on Nov. 12 at FOP Lodge 5.
“When I heard that I got the scholarship, I was super eager and excited to come to the event,” Hyatt said.
The Danté M. Austin Scholarship was created “because his core group of friends really truly believed in what he was all about,” Tees said. “No matter who you were, Danté was about bringing you together and saying, ‘we’re all similar in one way or the other.’ When he passed, it was our mission to find a way to honor him and never forget him, and to let everyone know who will receive this scholarship how special and important he was to not only our community, but his friends and family.”
Tees said in an email that the event “was an emotional day but also an absolutely amazing day.”
Hyatt brought his mother to the ceremony as his “plus one,” where they met Austin’s mom and sister.
“I felt very fortunate to be there,” Hyatt said.
Hyatt is pursuing a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at Drexel, a program that he started this past fall. As part of his first-year practicum, Hyatt is doing an internship with the local therapy clinic Inspired and Free, which serves marginalized communities, including people of color and LGBTQ+ people.
“Throughout the next nine months, I’ll be able to work with clients, couples, and also apply what I’ve learned in undergrad as well,” Hyatt said.
He has led LGBTQ+ support groups through the local chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness, which he hopes to continue in the future.
“I feel like growing up, there weren’t as [many] resources as there are now, especially for mental health resources and having your own coming out journey and getting that support system,” Hyatt said. “I feel like what would have benefited me more –– I came out in high school –– was just having that role model and knowing that I wasn’t alone in this process of being myself and being comfortable with my identity.”
Since coming out, “I feel like I’ve just grown as a person, as an individual,” Hyatt said. “If you know me, I love helping others and using what I’ve learned to help others in similar situations.”
Hyatt underscored the dismal statistics that reflect the state of mental health for LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S. For example, according to The Trevor Project’s 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, 41% of survey respondents said that they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and that trans, nonbinary and youth of color experienced the highest rates of suicidal ideation. The survey also indicates that almost one-third of LGBTQ+ youth said that their mental health was low most of the time or always because of anti-LGBTQ+ policies and laws.
“I’m fortunate that I do have a supportive family and friendship circle, but [youth] in a lot of other states in this country aren’t as fortunate to have such a good support system,” Hyatt said.
Tees also stressed the importance of mutual support within the LGBTQ+ community.
“[Danté] always believed in helping those who were maybe not as fortunate, or who were discriminated [against] because of their color or their gender,” Tees said. “Danté believed in always helping those underdogs. [As] Part of GOAL, one of our conditions is to give back to the community, and [the scholarship] just went with everything that Danté’s ever believed in.”