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Future UI student faces controversy over LGBT scholarship

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | MAY 09, 2012 6:30 AM

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Keaton Fuller is one of this year's recipients of the Matthew Shepard Scholarship in Iowa — and as such, he will receive $40,000 toward his University of Iowa experience.

Yet the Catholic Diocese of Davenport — who oversees the Prince of Peace High School that Fuller attends — refuses to allow the award to be presented at his graduation.

"I'm not concerned about what it means for me specifically," the openly gay 18-year-old said. "I'm concerned to get the message out there that it is OK to be gay in any circumstance that you are in."

Fuller was awarded $40,000 through Iowa's Matthew Shepard Scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation for his efforts toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in his community. The Diocese of Davenport decided to reverse the school's decision to allow the foundation to present the award to Fuller at his graduation.

UI freshman Quentin Hill, a 2011 recipient of the same scholarship, said the presentation is one of the greatest parts of receiving the award.

"Especially if you are in a city where it's hard being the odd one out," the 19-year-old said. "We are looked at as outcast or the black sheep or the rainbow sheep, if you want to call it that."

Hill was the only openly gay student in the history of his high school in Eagle Grove. Coming out created a division in his church and pushed him out of friend circles, he said.

"[But] it's important not to generalize all of the religious community," Hill said. "There are a lot of progressive communities out there. It's just institutions [like the Catholic Church] take a little bit longer to adjust on these things, especially social issues."

The Davenport Diocese issued a press release explaining its "long standing policy regarding guest speakers."

"This policy was explained to Keaton's parents at their meeting with Bishop Martin Amos last week," wrote Deacon David Montgomery, the director of communications. "It states: 'We cannot allow any one or any organization that promotes a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church to present at a diocesan institution.' "

Fuller said he wants to promote equality for all people and believes his action will make a difference as there have been few openly gay students at his school.

"It's a little bit overwhelming, but I am really very happy to have all this support," he said. "It's incredible."

Sexuality and gender-rights advocates statewide said they were disappointed by the bishop's actions.

"It's always shocking when this kind of thing happens, because you hope that hearts and minds have changed," said Ryan Roemerman, the executive director of Iowa Pride Network. "To have someone at the top keeping a young man from having the best moment of his life because of bigotry is disappointing."

Rich Eychaner, the founder of Iowa's Matthew Shepard Scholarship and the denied presenter, said the organization is trying to provide a lifeline for people and save lives through the scholarships.

"The kid's OK. The money's OK, and the scholarship is OK," he said. "Then why can't the organization that funds and makes available for the student come and present? What line does that cross?"


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