Keaton Fuller, a graduating senior at Prince of Peace Catholic school in Clinton, IA, won the prestigious Matthew Shepard Scholarship, named after the young gay man brutally murdered by bigots in 1998. And Fuller (far right) first heard about the scholarship and was encouraged to apply for it by staff at the school.
But after an Iowa Bishop stuck his miter in, he won’t be able to accept the award at his May 20 graduation ceremony.
Bishop Martin Amos of Davenport, IA, overruled school officials, who originally told Fuller a committee member could present him with the award: “We cannot allow any one or any organization which promotes a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church to present at a diocesan institution,” Amos said in a statement.
Oddly, Amos is allowing Fuller’s accomplishment to be mentioned by a school employee during the assembly.
School Board President Edward O’Neill, who said no one on the board had a problem with the scholarship, is shocked and appalled by Amos’ action. “We preach tolerance and acceptance but then we turn around and we don’t practice what we preach,” he told the AP. “If the bishop says we’re not going to do it, I can voice my objection to it but there’s not a whole lot I can do.”
You could resign, Ed. Or leave a church that throws away promising young men.
The situation underscores the growing disconnect between everyday Catholics—who increasingly support LGBT equality—and their out-of-touch and hypocritical clergy. Fuller has been out at school for years with no problem and was even able to take his boyfriend to prom the other weekend.
But somehow accepting this honor is a step too far?
“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 in an open letter to students and educators. “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.”
Given to a few openly LGBT Iowa high school students each year, the Matthew Shepard Scholarship is sponsored by the Eychaner Foundation, a Des Moines nonprofit committed to battling discrimination. Keaton received the scholarship—$40,000 to attend the University of Iowa—for his outstanding academic record and his work reducing homophobia in his school and community.
Below, is the full text of Keaton’s letter. Grab a tissue, it’s heavy stuff.
To: The Prince of Peace Student Body and Staff:
Being the lone openly gay student in a small, Catholic school has not always been easy. Upon first realizing I was gay, I suffered a lot of anxiety over wondering how everybody in this school would treat me if I were to tell people the truth about my sexual orientation. When I did begin to tell people, I was pleasantly surprised and touched to find that nearly everybody treated me with the same acceptance and respect as they always had.
I have always been very grateful to all of you for this.
This past March, I was made aware by our school of an incredible scholarship opportunity. The Matthew Shepard Scholarship is awarded to a few LGBT students across the state of Iowa each year by the Eychaner Foundation in honor of a young man who was beaten and later died because of his sexual orientation. The purpose of the scholarship is not only to honor the recipients for their efforts working for the acceptance of the LGBT community, but also to raise awareness and understanding throughout the state.
After becoming one of eight finalists interviewed, I was very excited. The moment I was told that I had been awarded a 2012 Gold Matthew Shepard Scholarship was one of the happiest of my life. It made me feel that my efforts had truly paid off. When word got around about this achievement, I received a great deal of praise from many of you, for which I am extremely grateful.
Part of receiving this generous scholarship includes having a member of the scholarship committee present the award at each student’s graduation or awards ceremonies. This protocol was communicated to the school as part of the scholarship materials and the scholarship committee received written confirmation that should a scholarship be awarded, a representative from the scholarship committee would be allowed to present it in person to me at graduation. Upon being selected for the award in very early April, the scholarship committee wrote to the school confirming that a committee member would present the award on May 20th.
However, on Friday, April 27th, my family and I were told by the school that a member of the foundation would not be permitted to present this award at graduation. The scholarship committee has not been notified of this decision and my family has been put in the middle, so my family has asked for a reversal of the decision.
I have never felt as invalidated and unaccepted as I have upon hearing the news that the scholarship that I have worked so hard for not just in the application process, but also in my deportment and actions over the years, would not be recognized in the way that it should at the graduation 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. 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.
This is a teachable moment for Prince of Peace to stand up against rejecting and invalidating the accomplishments of any student. Please help me by respectfully requesting that this decision be reversed. Share your thoughts about why all students deserve to be treated with respect and dignity at Prince of Peace.
Keaton M. Fuller
Here’s an idea—maybe Keaton should study theology!
Photos via Facebook