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St. Louis area students receive scholarships for supporting LGBTQ equality, social justice

Olivia Stevens pauses for a photo with her brother Alex at her high school graduation May 2017.

A scholarship founded in 2015 to support rural Missouri LGBTQ youth has announced its 2017 scholarship recipients.

The Missouri Courage Scholarship is being awarded to 11 students this year, including six from the St. Louis area. Four of the six are sponsored by Pride St. Charles.

“These kids are absolutely amazing,” said Genevieve Steidtmann, co-chair of the Missouri Courage Scholarship. “It’s heartbreaking to try to narrow it down. But we did.”

“You hear just these heart wrenching stories of people discovering kind of who they are. I mean we’re talking about high school kids. Lots of them really respond to seeing other people bullied, and that gave them the strength to say, hey, you know, this isn’t right,” Steidtmann said. “So they stood up for other people and realized they could be their authentic selves.”

Steidtmann said Missouri Courage Scholarship received more than 180 applications from students in 50 Missouri counties this year, and has awarded more than $25,000 in scholarships so far. The average scholarship is $1,000.

Scholarship founder Jacob Wilson, a native of Dent County, started the organization two years ago after he learned Dent County officials had voted to lower flags to half-mast to protest the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Steidtmann said students are awarded scholarships based on the courage they’ve demonstrated and their work to promote LGBTQ equality or other social justice issues. She said they also look at students’ plans for the future.

Missouri Courage Scholar Award recipient Olivia Stevens, for example, wants to become a psychiatrist and research gender identity.

Stevens, who graduated from Hancock High School in south St. Louis County, said she’s still in the process of defining her orientation and gender identity.

“It’s been kind of a rocky road. Like, dealing with a bunch of compulsory heterosexuality, a bunch of different internalizations and biases. But I do feel like I’m a lot more secure in my identity, in who I am,” said Stevens, who identifies as gay. “While my parents are really loving and supportive, they didn’t quite realize the environment they were creating. So for the longest time I thought that boys were the only option.”

Stevens is attending Saint Louis University in the fall and plans to study biochemistry. She also hopes to start a support group for survivors of conversion therapy.

The Missouri Courage Scholarship organization also gave 20 blind applications from students from St. Charles County, Franklin County, Warren County and Lincoln County to Pride St. Charles, where a committee selected four recipients.

Pride St. Charles President Beth Finder said the applications were inspiring to read.

“Some of them were like, oh my gosh I wish I could award you more money! In others it was sort of heartbreaking,” Finder said. “As the mother of a gay son, it was a very touching moment. My husband and I have always been very supportive of my son, but some of these people that applied did not have that.”

Jasmine Gallegos graduated from Troy Buchanan High School in 2017. She received a Pride St. Charles Award.
Credit Provided
Jasmine Gallegos graduated from Troy Buchanan High School this year. She received a Pride St. Charles Award.

Troy Buchanan High School graduate Jasmine Gallegos is one of the Pride St. Charles scholarship recipients.

Gallegos organized a day of respect for her Lincoln County high school, working with several different school clubs.

“It shouldn’t really matter who you are, where you come from, what you stand for. We’re all human and we all deserve respect,” Gallegos said.

She will be attending Colorado State University in the fall and plans to become a veterinarian. Gallegos said she also wants to be involved in more social justice projects in the future, and has a special interest in fighting racism.

“I do come from a Hispanic family, so I know firsthand how mean some people can be. And I think that regardless of your race, sexual orientation, or anything like that, no one should hold that against you,” Gallegos said.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille