A gay student at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton has been chosen to receive a scholarship from an Iowa organization that promotes tolerance, but controversy has erupted over presentation of the award.
Keaton Fuller, a senior at Prince of Peace, is one of eight recipients of a Matthew Shepard Scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation based in Des Moines. The scholarship honors the memory of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old tortured and murdered in Wyoming in 1998 because he was gay. Scholarship recipients and their schools agreed in the application process to permit an Eychaner representative to present the award during graduation awards ceremonies.
While Keaton can receive the scholarship award during graduation ceremonies at Prince of Peace Church May 20, a school representative — not an Eychaner representative — will present it. That decision has generated national press attention and confusion about the award presentation.
Diocesan officials explained their decision in a May 7 press release: “The Diocese of Davenport congratulates Keaton Fuller on receiving the Matthew Shepard Scholarship. The diocese has a long-standing policy regarding guest speakers. This policy was explained to Keaton’s parents at their meeting with Bishop Martin Amos last week. It states: ‘We cannot allow anyone or any organization which promotes a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church to present at a diocesan institution.’ Bishop Amos also expressed his congratulations for Keaton’s reception of the award and recognized his hard work in achieving it.
“We are glad that Keaton and his family chose to pursue his education at Prince of Peace Catholic High School in Clinton, IA.,” the diocesan statement continued. “We hope that Keaton will benefit from the generous award and wish him well in his academic pursuits.”
Keaton expressed disappointment and frustration with the diocese’s decision in a May 7 letter addressed to the Prince of Peace student body and staff. But he had plenty of praise for his school.
“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,” he said. “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 you for this.”
Learning that he had been awarded the foundation’s highest scholarship — the $40,000 Gold Matthew Shepard Scholarship — was one of the happiest moments in his life, he wrote. “When word got around about this achievement, I received a great deal of praise from many of you, for which I am extremely grateful.”
He said that he felt “invalidated and unaccepted” by the diocese’s decision and felt that he was being “made to feel that my accomplishments are less than everybody else’s.”
The award recipient concluded his letter by asking the student body and staff to “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.”
Fuller is believed to be the first gay student at a Catholic high school to attend multiple school dances with a partner of the same sex, said foundation executive director Michael Bowser.
“We were very proud of him for that,” he said.
Am I the only one who finds that surprising?
UPDATE: The Anchoress has a few thoughts on this subject:
My first thought was, “so, you friends at Catholic high school have supported you as you came out and by your own admission, always been respectful, and the school was fine about your bringing a boyfriend to prom, and you’re going to reward them by making commencement all about you? Why all the taking and no giving?”
I think you do nothing to build goodwill when you say, “your friendship, support and all the rest have meant nothing unless this advocacy group is now given a platform at our graduation.” It’s suggests an insensitivity to both one’s classmates and — dare I say it — the very Catholics who have supported you.
Is sensitivity and tolerance something that only goes one way? Is there to be no sensitivity for people of faith, only for “people of [name an issue]“, no tolerance for church views, only secular ones? Unless everything goes your way, and only your way, you feel “invalidated and unaccepted”?
I’m sorry, but that bugs me.
Me, too. Read the rest.