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Stand Up for Gay Iowa Student Barred from $40,000 Scholarship Presentation

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Keaton Fuller, an openly gay senior at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton, Iowa, was denied the opportunity to receive the Matthew Shepard Scholarship from the Eychaner Foudnation at his school awards ceremony May 20th. The school initially confirmed the award could be presented by a Foundation Scholarship Committee Member at the school awards ceremony. However, Most Rev. Martin J. Amos, Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport, overruled school officials, stating that representatives of the Eychaner Foundation would not be allowed to present the scholarship to Keaton at the school.

Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship is a program of the Eychaner Foundation in Des Moines. The program invests in distinguished Iowa high school students who are openly LGBT. The $40,000 scholarship to the University of Iowa was awarded to Keaton for his scholastic achievement and work reducing homophobia in his school and community.

Keaton learned about the scholarship program, and was encouraged to apply by Prince of Peace School administrators. The school also issued a signed statement that the foundation would be allowed to present the award to Keaton at the ceremony if he was selected for the scholarship. The committee member to present the scholarship was to be a practicing Catholic who has had a personal audience with the Pope.

In response to the banning of a Eychalar Foundation committee member from presenting the scholarship, Fuller penned an open letter in which he outlined the encouragement he received to apply, and his shock at receive the scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation at the award ceremony. “It is difficult to understand how after I have spent thirteen years at this school and worked hard during all of them, I would be made to feel that my accomplishments are less than everybody else’s,” Fuller wrote. “This whole ordeal has been incredibly hurtful, and I am even sadder that this will be one of my last experiences to remember my high school years by.” The full letter is available at here.

The community at Prince of Peace has rallied around Fuller. Already, a Facebook page titled “Stand Up for Keaton” has been established, with over 1,500 “likes”. A Change.org petition calling on the school to honor its agreement to allow the Eychaner Foundation to present the scholarship has already gathered about 4,000 signatures.

“Keaton Fuller was awarded the Matthew Shepherd scholarship because of his tireless work in promoting LGBT acceptance in his high school,” said Ross Murray, Director of Religion, Faith & Values at GLAAD. “This is a scholarship based on compassion, acceptance and human dignity – tenants at the root of Catholic teaching. It is encouraging to see school administrators, friends and family support Keaton, at a time when the diocese has chosen to discriminate against the foundation that honors and enhanses his efforts.”  

The discrimination against Keaton Fuller comes just a week after another Roman Catholic high school in Pleasant Hills, Michigan uninvited their graduation speaker for posting engagement photos with his fiancé. A third-generation alumnus of Sacred Heart Academy, Dominic Sheahan-Stahl was invited last fall to be the keynote speaker for the class which includes his younger brother. Shortly after sharing his engagement to his boyfriend via Facebook, the administration at Sacred Heart Academy, with pressure from Bishop Joseph R. Cistone of the Diocese of Saginaw, rescinded Dominic’s speaking engagement. The Principal made a public apology for ousting Sheahan-Stahl and has since taken a three day paid leave of absence. Students from Sacred Heart Academy will attend a separate ceremony to hear Sheahan-Stahl speak prior to their graduation. For more information visit http://glaad.org/letdominicspeak.

The Diocese of Davenport has released a statement, offering to have a school official present the scholarship. However, they refuse to allow a representative of a foundation "which promotes a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church to present at a diocesan institution." This is despite the fact that the school has signed an agreement to allow a foundation representative to present the award. It is currently unclear how the scholarship, foundation, or Keaton will be represented in the scholarship presentation.

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