Iowa's Matthew Shepard Scholars


Bryant Tapper

Dallas Center-Grimes High School

Liza has succeeded in life despite a full plate of challenges that would derail a lesser person. Being physically disabled/disadvantaged, she has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Type 3, which causes her tissues to be weak and fragile. Along with an assortment of other ailments, at times she must resort to a wheelchair when facing long walks or standing for too long. Despite her physical challenges, and being pansexual in a small high school, she has maintained a 3.55 GPA. Watching a NOVA episode about neuroscience and the brain, and learning about Engineering Design in class, she was hooked on combining the two to become a Neuroscience Engineer. She has been accepted into the biomedical engineering program at the University of Iowa. Her goal is to do research to improve brain health and knowledge.

As she began dating, Liza determined she was pansexual and soon found the GSA, joining the "small but mighty club." Reacting to homophobic speech in class, she helped organize a protest, met with the principal, and negotiated a visit from Iowa Safe Schools to educate her classmates and the student council. As president of the GSA, she has fostered community acceptance of the DCG GSA. She looks forward to participating in STEM LGBT+ clubs during College.

Zach Macvilay

Lincoln High School

Zach came out to his parents in the 7th grade, although they did not fully understand at the time. Growing up in a hard-working, extended family which immigrated from Laos, he has had the privilege of caring for his area grandmother while others are away. He cherishes their time together. When he got to Lincoln High School, there was one gender neutral bathroom and the GSA was inactive. Zach recruited new members and raised money to allow students to attend the Governor's conference for free. there are now gender neutral bathrooms on each floor for trans students to use and plenty of buttons, T-shirts and accessories for students to show their support.

"Speaking about social injustices to wearing makeup to break out of traditional male molds" challenged Zach, but he persevered with help from amazing friends mentors and teachers. "Now I'm not afraid to embrace my feminine side. Breaking our society's norms and the way people see gender and sexuality." Zach is now GSA president, and as one teacher wrote, "He has SO much influence on our school and has truly impacted the lives of our 2500 students."

Zach wants to "utilize my knowledge of STEM and apply it to activism; whether it relates to LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, or immigrant rights. I want to advocate for marginalized groups." He will attend Iowa State University to major in political science.

John Rickabaugh

East High School

"I heard rumors spreading around that I might be gay. I did not want people to know that I was different so I joined a sport. My thought was if I did more masculine things I could change people's minds. I joined Swimming, Track, Cross Country, weight lifting in efforts to build this false image to appeal to my peers. By my sophomore year I was well known in my school."

"That did make me happy, but they liked the fake me. I was suicidal for a month or two of my sophomore year until I met a boy. We started dating and he helped me come out to our closest friends. By the beginning of my junior year in high school everyone knew that I was gay and they could care less."

Besides competing on multiple sports teams, John was chosen team captain this year of the swim team. He is also an officer in East High's Gay Straight Alliance and on Iowa Safe Schools Student Leadership Team.

Overall, "I had it pretty good coming (from a) progressive family. On the other hand, I have many Hispanic, Asian , and African friends that could never be gay in their family without being abused, disowned or killed."

John will go to the University of Iowa to study science and pursue a medical career.

Landon Santel

Washington High School

With a mother who is Director of Out Patient Services at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Landon has been fascinated with medicine from an early age. He played with first aid kits, and always volunteered to help when other kids had scrapes or cuts. His dream is to become a nurse anesthetist (CRNA, DNAP). He will attend Luther College in Deborah, which has a ling standing connection with Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

But first he had to navigate the hostile parochial school system he was attending. Coming out in the 8th and 9th grades, he faced a very dark period and thought of suicide. Many family discussions followed, as his parents worked to understand. Landon wrote letters to other parochial schools that discriminated against LGBTQ students and teachers, and was heartened when another student at his school received a Matthew Shepard Scholarship in 2016. Unfortunately that award led the diocese to ban the scholarships at their school, and their LGBTQ students from receiving financial aid.

He tried to start a Gat Straight Alliance, but was encouraged to make it an Amnesty International Chapter instead. Whenever the chapter touched on LGBTQ issues, and despite numerous meetings with administrators, archdiocesan leaders and priests, "their unfair actions and policies are still being neglected." 

Senior year, Landon transferred to a public school, where he feels more empowered and safe, and able to pursue important issues. His mental health improved dramatically, and his journey was covered in depth by his new high school newspaper. "Having seen a fellow classmate be recognized at school, I know this scholarship helps promote LGBTQ rights. I would be ecstatic to have the same honor."

Patricia Snyder

Southeast Valley High School

Patti lives in a rural district southeast of Ft. Dodge, in Lehigh, Iowa, in one of the largest geographical yet smallest population districts. That rural background led her to be dismissive of LGBTQ kids, before she discovered her own identity. Since coming out and being very open about her relationships, se helped start a Gay- Straight Alliance and noticed a number of other students being more open about their own lives.

She has written a number of papers on LGBTQ issues, and is particularly concerned about attacks on trans women of color. She is concerned about instances of people minimizing multi sexual orientations, including toward pansexual, bisexual and polysexual people. Patti identifies as gender queer.

Planning on attending Rochester Community and Technical College to study music technology for an AA degree, she may moe on to the University of Minnesota to pursue a Bachelor's degree. She intends to be very active in LGBTQ groups on campus, and wants to be a role model to rural youth. Following graduation, Patti wants to work in the music industry, especially with LGBTQ musicians.

Bailey VandeKamp

Knoxville High School

Bailey started coming out as a lesbian her freshman and sophomore year, and afterward came out to her parents and family. While finding a majority of classmates that made it "very difficult to attend school." She feels privileged to be accepted in a loving and supportive home.

Facing stigmatization from other students, Bailey tries to stay positive and help others who may be struggling with their sexuality. "Helping other LBGTQ folk throughout high school has helped me to grow in so many ways, become a better leader, and most importantly, help peers that are struggling with themselves or what others think."

Bailey has made music throughout her high school career in concert/marching band, jazz band, chamber choir and musical theatre. As part of a  Division 1 ensemble, she had the thrill of performing in New York City and singing with Simon Estes. She also served as senior sound designer at her high school musical.

She has over 150 service hours during high school and has worked at a CPA firm during tax season. She intends to go to Grinnell College and major in computer science and economics followed by an advanced degree in computer or software engineering.

Maverick Winther

Woodbine High School

Maverick grew up on a farm raising cattle and winning blue ribbons at county and state fairs. He is multi-talented, serving as student body Vice President, running Track and Cross Country, and competing in Basketball, Swim Team, Show Choir, Drama Club and Key Club. His smile lights up the stage in his performances, and he is determined to show that LGBTQ people "are just as normal as regular people." 

Maverick set up a box in the lunch room where students struggling with their sexuality can ask questions. All they have to do is fill out a slip, which he picks up daily, and writes back to the student or places a note in their locker. And then follows up as appropriate. He feels employment discrimination is major problem, especially for LGBTQ people of color and trans people. This doesn't make sense to him, as he feels gay people will over perform, "as we have worked the hardest to accept ourselves, have the community accept us, and worked through other forms of discrimination."

Maverick came out to his shocked parents sophomore year, and survived three weeks of silence before they came to his room and told him they accepted and loved him. " That truly was the best feeling." He will attend the University of Iowa, where he will major in Business with an emphasis in marketing. He intends to be the first member of his family to finish a four-year degree. Following graduation and success in business, he hopes to set up a scholarship for LGBTQ students in Woodbine, to help them attend college.

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