Dowling Senior Says School Won’t Let LGBT Organization Present Scholarship

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- A local graduating high school student says his scholarship won't be properly acknowledged by his school because it deals with his sexuality.

Dowling Catholic senior Liam Jameson says a scholarship he earned worth $40,000 won't be recognized at the school's senior awards ceremony Thursday afternoon.

Jameson is gay, and just years ago, he says he fought to overcome suicidal thoughts in an environment where he felt "lost and alone."

The teenager says he was able to overcome those destructive feelings when he chose to lead by example and help other LGBT students feel safe and welcome.

Jameson was one of four students who organized a walkout at Dowling last spring after an openly-gay substitute teacher had a full-time job offer retracted by the Catholic school because his sexuality did not align with the church's teachings. This effort, along with Jameson's leadership in starting a Gay-Straight Alliance group at the school, formally dubbed, "One Dowling Family", earned him the 2016 Matthew Shepard Scholarship from the Eychaner Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to encouraging tolerance and non-discrimination in the LGBT community.

But Rich Eychaner, founder of the Eychaner Foundation, says Dowling has repeatedly changed its policies since learning Jameson would receive this year's award. The policies were changed in a way so that his group could not present the student with the scholarship at the annual senior awards ceremony.

Eychaner wrote a letter to Dowling school officials.

"They keep sending us written things, and then come back and reinterpret the things they've sent us to reinterpret the things they've sent us," Eychaner said. "So, it's been confusing."

Two years ago, another Dowling senior earned the Matthew Shepard Scholarship, and Eychaner says his foundation was allowed to deliver a brief, pre-approved script at the ceremony to explain who Shepard was, and why this scholarship is awarded.

He says the school is being inconsistent with what it allowed two years ago, compared to now. Additionally, Eychaner says other Catholic schools across the state are allowing the foundation to deliver the scholarship at their ceremonies, including Xavier Catholic High School in Cedar Rapids.

"Part of our mission of presenting in school is to provide hope to kids in the audience who don't even know how to talk about it yet, but know LGBT kids are valued, are important, and are recognized publicly," Eychaner said. "That's a tremendous message of hope. It's a message we think Dowling should be excited to deliver, and instead, they're delivering this message that their gay and lesbian kids aren't valued, and that's tragic."

But Dowling officers say the change in policy is meant to speed up the awards ceremony in that no outside scholarship groups are allowed to present the award to students at the ceremony. Rather, all seniors are allowed to list two scholarships they wish to be recognized for and those will be listed on the screen when the student's name is called.

"The student's picture and name appear on the screen followed by a screen with their two their two scholarships and they are announced.  This is the same for all seniors who have received a scholarship," wrote, Matt Meendering, principal at Dowling.

But Jameson says the school has maintained a policy that any outside scholarship funded by Dowling alumni is allowed to be presented by those alumni, and his qualifies. However, he says the school continues to change its policy and rhetoric to prevent the details of his scholarship from being announced. An

An online petition Jameson started calls on Dowling to allow his award to be presented by the Eychaner Foundation. It has received over 6,500 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

"The whole point of the scholarship is to show students who may be LGBT and may not be out, or may be in the closet, that somebody out there cares for them and loves them," Jameson said.

Both Jameson and Eychaner don't expect Dowling to change its mind, but they do hope this story sparks a desire to have more of a dialogue surrounding LGBT issues at Dowling.

WATCH: Dowling Students Stage Walkout in Protest of Not Hiring Gay Teacher

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