Kate Koenig isn’t the first person to turn to crowdfunding for college tuition money, but her unusual story is sparking an equally unusual mixture of support and suspicion, with an extra dose of confusion to go with it.
The 19-year-old University of Pittsburgh student, who identifies as pansexual and gay, says she was left to pay for her own education after her parents learned of her sexuality and cut her off. Last week, Koenig launched a campaign on GoFundMe asking for $15,000 to make it through the school year. As of Monday afternoon, she was more than halfway to that goal.
Here’s how Koenig explains it in the campaign:
“Unfortunately, a week before my first year of college started, my father went through my mail and found out that I am gay. My family, including extended family, is extremely homophobic. After they found out, my parents cut me off financially and I am no longer living with them. They are both unwilling and unable to co-sign loans on my behalf. I have searched extensively, but I have been unable to find any loans which don’t require a co-signer.”
Several months before taking to GoFundMe, Koenig told her story on YouTube and started the hashtag, #KeepKateInCollege, but the effort never took off. In the video, she gets choked up as she explains the moment her father discovered that she is gay and dating a transgender man.
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After the GoFundMe campaign was picked up by the Daily News, Koenig’s story gained wider attention -- naturally, not all of it positive. Plentiful amid the standard complaints about millennial entitlement and “kids today” were expressions of confusion and downright hostility toward Koenig’s sexual identity and choice of partner.
“Whatever happened to working and putting yourself through college?” wrote one Laist.com commenter. “And what in the heck is a pansexual?”
“Today if you want to make a pro team, or get financial assistance you can pull the gay card,” wrote a commenter on the Daily News article. “It works every time.”
Following the reaction, Koenig posted in a GoFundMe update that “being in a ‘straight’ relationship” does not change her sexuality. “So many are claiming that I am straight and this is just my attempt to make a fake gay story for money,” she wrote. “Regardless of if I am dating him or anyone else in the LGBT community I am still gay.”
Pansexuality refers to an attraction, either sexually or emotionally, to people of all genders or sexual identities.
Koenig also explained -- apparently responding to numerous critics -- she has exhausted numerous other options to pay for school, including applying for scholarships and the Point Foundation. And despite a multitude of commenters telling her she should simply get a job and work her way through school, she said she had been working two jobs this summer. She was apparently fired from her job at Costco soon after the campaign gained attention. (She posted the termination form to GoFundMe, explaining that she was let go because the company overhired.)
Koenig did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Updates will be posted here if she does.
Personal appeals on GoFundMe -- which is among the most loosely restricted of the popular crowdfunding sites -- are known to arouse suspicion when they go viral. To combat that perception, GoFundMe even set up a page attempting to explain why Google autocompletes its name with the word “scam” in front of it. The site’s official stance is that funders should be wary of donating to people they do not personally know.
Nevertheless, Koenig is enjoying a groundswell of support and encouragement, and some commenters on the Daily News article are vouching for her story. “Every word is true,” wrote one. “I know her personally. It isn’t just about college -- her parents kicked her out and completely cut her out of their lives.”
Watch Koenig’s YouTube video below.