Iowa Catholic School Will Not Recognize Student for LGBT Scholarship

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Liam Jameson

A Catholic high school in Iowa which previously fired a gay teacher is now refusing honors to a graduating senior who is also gay.

Officials at Dowling Catholic High School, West Des Moines, have said senior Liam Jameson may not receive an LGBT scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation during the school’s awards ceremony this Thursday. Jameson is asking school officials to reverse their decision, so that he can be recognized equally for his accomplishments, reported OutSports. A Change.org petition, which you can sign here, has more than 1,000 signatures already. The student wrote an open letter explaining his appeal, stating in part:

“I’ve worked hard to prevent suicides, and having this scholarship presented allows other students to learn that LGBTQ students are valued in society, not shunned. That’s why the Committee presents the scholarships at Senior Awards Programs, to try and help save other young lives who feel isolated and worthless, like I once did. . .Bishop Pates, President Deegan, Principal Meendering, please choose life and demonstrate that all lives are worthy of ‘wholeness and dignity’. Doing so shows the entire Dowling Catholic student body that they are truly valued and loved regardless of who they are.”

The Eychaner Foundation describes itself as a “non-profit organization committed to promoting tolerance and non-discrimination,” and notes that it is “dedicated to anti-bullying.” Jameson was awarded the $40,000 Matthew Shepard Scholarship, named after hate crime victim whose 1998 murder in Wyoming sparked a national call to end violence against LGBT people.  The scholarship recognizes Jameson’s leadership as a gay student at Dowling Catholic where he helped organize a 250-student walk-out last year protesting the firing of gay teacher Tyler McCubbin. He also led efforts to found an LGBT club, called One Dowling Family, which provides a safe space at the school. Of this latter work, Jameson shared:

“I wanted to leave Dowling a better place, one worthy enough to educate all the brave souls who have had lives far better and far worse than mine. A space for all. A space that valued the few just as much as it valued the many. That space is now called One Dowling Family, formerly One Human Family. . .I can leave Dowling knowing that I made it a better place, one that provides students a place where they can be free.”

Dowling Catholic administrators released a brief statement yesterday, stating that scholarship organizations are not allowed to present awards during the ceremony, and thus Jameson would be honored in a manner consistent with his peers. The statement reads:

“At Dowling Catholic High School we are proud of all of our senior students who have received awards and scholarships to further their education. All scholarship recipients are honored during the Scholastic Award Assembly. Each senior selects up to two scholarships to be read out loud when a slide that includes their name and picture comes up on the screen. We do not allow organizations who are awarding the scholarship to attend and individually present the scholarship to the student. This policy was shared in writing with the Eychaner Foundation regarding the Matthew Shepard Award. We are pleased one of our students received the Matthew Shepard Award and he will be honored in the same manner as his classmates.”

The Eychaner Foundation refuted this claim with their own statement from Rich Eychaner, which said Dowling Catholic “misrepresents the efforts the efforts the school has gone to in dishonoring Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship.” The statement continued, noting the scholarship had been presented at Dowling Catholic in 2014 without problem:

“Since then, Dowling constructed and then revised a policy to limit scholarships presented to their students. Dowling further tightened their policy to specifically target the Matthew Shepard Scholarship by writing in ‘rules’ that the school could deny the student’s choice of scholarships that were publicly read under criteria that targeted our scholarship. . .

“After Principal Meendering became aware that Liam intended to apply for Iowa’s Matthew Shepard Scholarship Program the policy was revised to state. . .’Students may choose to accept any award; however Dowling Catholic High School reserves the right to not acknowledge any award.’ (emphasis added)”

Other Iowa Catholic schools have welcomed the Foundation, though not without some controversies. In 2012, a student at Prince of Peace Catholic High School was also the recipient of the Matthew Shepard scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation.  Bishop Martin Amos of the Diocese of Davenport originally denied permission for the scholarship to be announced at graduation, but he reversed the decision and allowed the presentation to go forward. The bishop also congratulated the student, and re-affirmed the diocese’s support of anti-bullying and anti-discrimination principles.

In a related note, there are questions about the safety of One Dowling Family as a space inclusive of all students. Fr. Zach Kautzky, the school’s chaplain whose oversight of the safe space group had been mandated by the school, tweeted a link a news story which denigrates transgender identities. Though students have requested Kautzky be replaced, Principal Matt Meendering “downplayed the group’s LGBT focus” and said the matter was being discussed, wrote a columnist for the Des Moines Register.

It is inexplicable why Dowling Catholic administrators will not allow a graduating gay student to be honored alongside his peers, and why rules have been repeatedly revised. Jameson has contributed greatly to the school community, testifying to the power of being one’s authentic self, and to helping his peers do likewise. He should be celebrated not only for receiving this scholarship, but for modeling the type of student that Catholic education seeks to form when it is at its best. School officials will hopefully find a wisdom and courage similar to their student’s and reverse their discriminatory decision. Regardless, Jameson will surely excel at Iowa State next year and then wherever life takes him.  Congratulations, Liam!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

10 thoughts on “Iowa Catholic School Will Not Recognize Student for LGBT Scholarship

  1. Loretta Fitzgerald May 3, 2016 / 9:45 am

    Yet another blatant incident of not respecting the dignity of all AND anti-life. As Sr. Joan Chittester has said the Church adamantly rejects abortion but once they’re born too bad for them (paraphrased). This fine young man helped prevent suicide and that apparently doesn’t count as pro-life.

    • Brian Kneeland May 3, 2016 / 11:33 am

      It all depends on the stance of the bishop – most are not accepting the teaching of Pope Francis to protect LGBT persons’ dignity.

  2. Barry Blackburn May 3, 2016 / 10:46 am

    Yes, CONGRATULATIONS to Liam. I will sign this petition!

  3. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM May 3, 2016 / 12:56 pm

    Is Dowling Catholic High School private or diocesan?

    • newwaysministryblog May 3, 2016 / 1:04 pm

      From their website, it looks like they are an independent school run by a lay board. Dowling started as a school sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of the BVM, but it doesn’t look like this community is connected to the school anymore. The website does not say that it is sponsored by the diocese either.

  4. Jane Paris May 3, 2016 / 12:57 pm

    This is not an accurate story. I have always relied on New Ways to be fair and accurate but this does not give a true picture.
    Dowling wrote a letter in support of Liam to help him get the scholarship. It is my understanding that Dowling staff and students have been very supportive of Liam and his award. The issue is that the scholarship corporation wants to come to the assembly to personally hand out the awards. No colleges or other universities or companies are allowed to do so either including the military. Every student gets recognized via video board with the scholarships that they have chosen to have posted.

    • newwaysministryblog May 3, 2016 / 1:18 pm

      Thanks for your comment. We have revised the blog post to include the text of the full statement that Dowling Catholic H.S. issued in regard to this controversy. The statement does not mention that the school administration wrote a letter in support of Jameson, and we did not see any news report which mentioned that they did so. Eychaner Foundation’s statement indicates that they are disputing the school’s policy that the administration can decide not to allow a scholarship to be announced. If the school administration is going to allow the Matthew Shepard scholarship to be announced, it should issue a statement saying so. If you know of such a statement that we missed, please send it to us and we will update this story. We strive to be fair and accurate, especially being able to announce some good news that a Catholic institution is doing in regard to LGBT issues. Thanks for your interest and support.

    • Will May 4, 2016 / 3:25 am

      I have searched around the web to try to find the facts of this case. I’m sure the truth is complex and that many are trying to do their best. But something is still very wrong.

      1. Dowling have recently changed their rules, more than once, for this presentation in order to prevent the Eychaner Foundation from being mentioned, apparently after a similar situation in 2014.

      2. Dowling fired a teacher for being openly gay

      3. When Jameson set up an LGBT safe-space club the school did agree, but insisted that a Catholic priest be involved and appointed one who had tweeted anti-trans statements. (er… a small group of vulnerable LGBTQ youngsters in a threatening environment and what they really need to make them safer is ….er… a Catholic priest?)

      It sounds like Dowling has been struggling with this issue and the somewhat contradictory actions suggest that some in the administration are sympathetic and trying to keep up with modern lay Catholic sensibilities, while at the same time watching over their shoulder for finger wagging from the bishops and Catholic heirarchy.

      Yet again cloth-eared Catholic authority figures are missing the point.

  5. Glenn Slocum May 3, 2016 / 2:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Bob. This is just another example of the problem in the Catholic Church leadership, which chooses anti-Christian policies and don’t even realize it. You are doing the right thing by shining the spotlight on such things.

    Best wishes from Accra,

    Glenn Slocum

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