"Queer Eye" fans have rallied around Jess Guilbeaux after a recent episode when they learned she was forced to drop out of college because she could not afford it.
Before she amassed more than 67,000 followers on Instagram, Guilbeaux spoke openly on "Queer Eye" about being estranged from her family after she revealed she was gay. She said it left her financially unable to pursue her dreams of getting a college degree.
When she came out as a lesbian at 16, her adoptive parents kicked her out of the house. Despite no family support, Guilbeaux eventually made it to the University of Kansas to study computer science. But the pressure of going to school and earning a living collided – and left her with little choice.
"College was a different ball game. But supporting myself at that time was really just me doing what I need to do. There wasn't any other option. It was either that or not survive," she said.
While Guilbeaux learned to fend for herself, her family faded from her life. Until she was featured on Netflix's "Queer Eye" – a show that offers more than just makeovers and home renovations. The Fab Five reunited her with her sister Jenice and the niece she'd never met.
"Connecting with her has just been my favorite part. She has become such like a huge piece of my foundation and my support system," she said.
After her transformation came the tears, the hugs and a wave of online support, including a message from Grammy-nominated artist Janelle Monae, who called Guilbeaux her "personal hero."
"I'm inspired by her," Guilbeaux said. "Like what else can you ask for at that point."
Though she never asked for it, a "Queer Eye" fan launched a GoFundMe page to send Guilbeaux back to school. It's reached nearly $100,000.
"I never thought going back to school was something that I would ever be able to do just because I was just drowning in debt," she said. "And I haven't gone back to school but I have paid off my student loans and all my debts so I plan to go back to school really, really, really soon."
After hearing the news, "Queer Eye's" Tan France sent this message: "Have the best time at college. Be sure to study very, very hard, however, I want you to play hard, too. I want you to use this experience to build that friend group, to build that chosen family."
Whatever money Guilbeaux doesn't need for her education will be donated to GLAAD, an organization formed to accelerate acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
"I'm really excited to go to school, but I'm also really excited to give back because I've never been in a position where I've been able to do that," she said.
Guilbeaux plans to use that computer science degree to code, program, or even create video games one day.
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