CLINTON — A gay rights organization and the Diocese of Davenport have reached a compromise on the presentation of a scholarship to an openly gay Catholic high school student in Clinton.
Keaton Fuller, a senior at Prince of Peace Catholic Academy and College Preparatory, has been named one of eight recipients of the Matthew Shepard Scholarship, which is awarded to gay Iowa high school students by the Des Moines-based Eychaner Foundation. Shepard was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in October 1998 in Wyoming.
Fuller, 18, was informed last month that despite assurances from the school that a representative of the foundation would be allowed to present him with his $40,000 scholarship during the May 20 graduation ceremony, the Diocese of Davenport had decided not to allow the representative to make the presentation. The diocese cited concerns that the speaker would contradict the teachings of the Catholic church.
Fuller went public with his opposition to the decision, and his story received national media attention.
The foundation announced Friday that an agreement had been reached that will allow a representative of the diocese to read a pre-approved statement from the Eychaner Foundation during the ceremony, and a representative of the foundation will present Fuller with an eagle statue as a token of his award, but the representative will not speak during the ceremony.
Diocese spokesman Deacon David Montgomery said talks between the diocese and the foundation began after a f
face-to-face meeting last week between Fuller’s parents and Bishop Martin Amos.
In a news release, Amos congratulated Fuller on his scholarship and commended the foundation for its work in combating bullying.
“Principles of mutual respect and careful listening exhibited by all parties allowed a solution to emerge,” Amos said. “We have many things we agree upon and have also agreed to accept the fact that we also have some things we disagree about. But that shouldn’t prevent all of us from celebrating Keaton Fuller’s success over 13 years in Catholic schools and our mutual hope for his success in college and beyond.”
Rich Eychaner, founder of the Eychaner foundation, called the compromise “an eloquent way to resolve the dispute and respect the sensitivities on both sides.”
Eychaner said it never was his group’s intent to have a dispute with the church or create a problem for the school and he was “tremendously pleased” that an agreement had been reached.
“I’m ecstatic about all of this,” Fuller said after school Friday. “I am just really, really pleased to know that we were able to reach a compromise and that enough people cared about the issue to get it this far. It’s incredible.”
Fuller, who plans to study cinema at the University of Iowa, said he has been receiving supportive messages from all over the country and even one from Germany, and the school has been taking calls and getting letters from supporters all week, too.
His mother, Pat Fuller, a former counselor and teacher at Prince of Peace, said she is grateful for the kindness shown to her son during this time, especially by the other students in his graduating class.
“I think I’ve been able to help get a message of equality out there to everybody and to help pave the way for future gay students, not just at Prince of Peace, but anywhere, who might struggle,” Keaton Fuller said, “and let them know its OK to be who they are.”