It’s been an interesting 24-hours since news broke that the Dent County Commission in Southeast Missouri voted to fly flags at its Courthouse and Judicial Building at “below half-staff” -– in “mourning” over last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
The rebuke of the vote in news reports and on social media was swift and varied -– leading to today’s announcement that the commission will meet to rescind their decision “out of respect for veterans and those currently serving in the military.”
The controversy has also inspired one Dent County LGBT native to create a $1,000 “Courage Scholarship” to be granted to a graduating high school senior who “has demonstrated or shows great potential to work for change in their community that advances the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and other groups that have historically faced discrimination and been pushed to society’s margins.”
Jacob Wilson, a 2004 graduate of Salem High School, thought of the idea of a scholarship for Dent County teens after reading the news reports last night.
“The vote was disheartening, especially having witnessed so much progress across the country,” said Wilson. “And while I’m glad the commission is rescinding their decision, not one of the three officials seem to realize the harm their actions have on young LGBT people who live in their communities.”
“They apologized for offending veterans but have offered no apologies for their act of discrimination,” Wilson continued. “Rather than sit back and be angry, I decided it was time to take action and help LGBT kids back home because I’ve been in their shoes. For me, it is important to increase visibility of LGBT issues in my hometown of Salem so that LGBT youth receive positive messages of acceptance and love and to know that there is a network in the community and across the country that has their backs, even if local leaders don’t. And the Courage Scholarship will do just that.”
Wilson has been living in Washington, D.C. for the past four years having worked in the LGBT resource centers at George Washington and American Universities and is in the process of moving to Tucson where he’ll be a PhD student in Higher Education at the University of Arizona.
“The Courage Scholarship, to me, is a great way to promote the importance of education while sending a message to the entire Salem community that discrimination and hate are not acceptable,” he said.
While the idea is in its infancy, Wilson has already reached out to Missouri LGBT organizations to help run the scholarship, which will be crowd funded. A link can be found here.
In addition to supporting LGBT students, Wilson also knows the importance of empowering straight allies. To that end, he is in contact with his former school district to develop and deliver LGBT Safe Zone Training.
“If the school district accepts, I will be happy to train teachers, administrators, and students alike in hopes that, together, we can create a safer environment where LGBT students can both learn and be engaged members of their campus community,” said Wilson.