A Catholic school in Iowa has decided to allow an openly gay student to receive a scholarship from a gay organization at his high school ceremony – but only if a school representative presents the scholarship, as the gay organization's position is contrary to Roman Catholic teaching on sexuality.
The student, Keaton Fuller from Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton, Iowa, explained that he was awarded a $40,000 Matthew Shepard Scholarship by the Des Moines-based Eychaner Foundation, which recognizes openly LGBT students. The award is named after the 21-year-old gay man who was tortured and murdered in Wyoming in 1998 because of his sexual orientation.
Although the Catholic school is allowing Fuller to receive his award at the ceremony, Bishop Martin Amos in Davenport ruled that the Eychaner organization will not be allowed to present the award, and it will have to be done by a school staff member, which is causing an uproar at the school.
"Everybody at the school has always been very accepting and extremely encouraging toward me," Fuller shared of his disappointment with MSNBC.com. "That's why the latest turn of events has been such a surprise – I feel invalidated and unaccepted."
"At some point, we hope they realize and agree for us to present the award because it is the right thing to do," expressed Mike Bowser, a spokesman with the Eychaner Foundation.
The Diocese of Davenport has defended its decision, however, explaining that it was based on a long-standing policy regarding guest speakers.
"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. Bishop Amos also expressed his congratulations for Keaton's reception of the award and recognized his hard work in achieving it," the diocese began in a statement.
"We are glad that Keaton and his family chose to pursue his education at Prince of Peace Catholic High School in Clinton, IA. We hope that Keaton will benefit from the generous award and wish him well in his academic pursuits," it continued.
Fuller, who is identified as the only openly gay student at the Catholic high school, has shared that he has received support from friends and teachers in what he sees as a decision that seeks to diminish his accomplishments.
"It is difficult to understand how, after I have spent 13 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 said.
"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," he added.
Prince of Peace school board president Edward O'Neill has decided to stand behind Fuller, but expressed that he can do nothing to challenge Bishop Amos' decision.
"We preach tolerance and acceptance but then we turn around and we don't practice what we preach," O'Neill was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. "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."
The student has not given up on his efforts to get the decision reversed, however. He has written an open letter to church officials calling on them to act and show a "teachable moment" of tolerance to students at the school by allowing the gay rights organization to present the award.
An online petition on Change.org has also gathered over 4,000 signatures in his support as of Tuesday.