First Friday Breakfast Club Scholars
Lilli Duncan (Iowa City West High School)
Lilli Duncan is an intelligent and confident graduate of Iowa City West High School who identifies as queer. Lilli was a member of the Colors club, her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance all thru high school, and in her senior year was co-leader. One outstanding accomplishment Lilli lead was to ensure that any teacher who displayed a “Safe Zone” sticker in their classroom actually had taken the training that supported that designation. It turned out most had not, but by working with the school board, Lilli and the Colors group ensured that many teachers were trained and could be clearly identified as true Safe Zone advocates. Lilli plans to focus her future studies on Psychology, and to be a leader in addressing LGBTQ mental health issues. We are proud to support her goals!
Isabelle Hase (West Burlington High School)
Isabelle Hase graduated from West Burlington High. She plans to attend the University of Iowa for college with a long-term goal of becoming a pediatrician. Isabelle is this year’s “activist ally” on our list of 2020 scholarship recipients. She helped start the Gay-Straight Alliance at West Burlington and is an officer of the club. Isabelle’s stories of addressing homophobia in her school and in her family tells us that she will be supportive of the LGBTQ community for many years to come! Thank you and congratulations Isabelle!
Skylar Manna (Valley High School, West Des Moines)
Skylar Manna attended Valley High School in West Des Moines and will be attending Iowa State University in the fall. Skylar’s focus is on identity, particularly for transgender students. As a member of the Spectrum group at Valley, she participated in trainings with teachers about gender identity and using correct pronouns of choice with their students. She also was among the group of students removed from the state capitol building earlier this year for using the bathrooms in line with their gender identity. Skylar is a true student activist with an interest in mental health issues affecting the LGBTQ community. Keep up the great work Skylar!
Payson Rea (Kee High School)
Payson Rea lives in Lansing, and graduated from Kee High School in Northeast Iowa with a graduating class of 37 students. And he has lived as an openly gay person for several years. Payson experienced many extreme challenges and difficulties related to his sexuality while growing up, only to finally realize that his self-acceptance is what truly mattered. In his junior year he formulated a plan, and this past year started “Haven”, an LGBTQ support organization focused on one-on-one interactions at Kee High School, for other kids on the journey of self-acceptance in a rural, conservative area of Iowa. Payson demonstrates courage and resiliency that we find incredibly admirable. Congratulations Payson!
Brenton Renaud (Ankeny Centennial High School)
Benton Renaud is a graduate of Ankeny Centennial High School. The primary word that defines Benton is Leader. His high school experiences include creation of a Diversity Day at his high school, focused on highlighting all marginalized communities. He has been a member of the Iowa Safe Schools Student Leadership Council for 2 years, and was the keynote speaker at that organization’s annual fundraising event. He has been recognized locally, state-wide and nationally for his leadership skills. Yet his stories of coming out to each of his parents demonstrate that regardless of accomplishments, self-acceptance and “family” acceptance can still be one of the greatest achievements. We see amazing things in your future Benton!
Eli Steenhoek (Colfax-Mingo High School)
Eli Steenhoek is a graduate of Colfax-Mingo High School, and plans to attend the University of Iowa for an advanced degree focused on mental health. As an 8th grader, Eli helped a high school friend create their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) group. At first this group had to be underground, but after a presentation and discussion in front of the district school board, the GSA group became official. He lives with Pride, exemplified by telling his coming out story for speech competition, first in a district and state competitions, then in front of the generally conservative community of Colfax. Eli demonstrates courage and poise, and we see him going far!
Isis Walle (Knoxville High School)
Isis Walle is defined by her perseverance and determination. She is a graduate of Knoxville High School. In her sophomore year, Isis and a friend worked at creating the school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance. Teacher supporters were identified, but no one would sign on as the organization sponsor until Isis reached out to Iowa Safe Schools for help. In the beginning, the group and its members experienced homophobia and vandalism – today it is a thriving part of the school culture. Having experienced conversion therapy and other challenges as a result of her identity, Isis continues to move forward. Keep going Isis, we proudly support you!!
Emmet Cummings (Center Point-Urbana High School)
Emmet identifies as a bi-sexual transgender man, and has had that self-awareness since before high school. For the past three years, he has been the student manager for the varsity football team, with a glowing referral from the football coach, stating “Emmet is well respected by our coaching staff, teammates and fans…and will be missed here at CPU.” From the football coach! But Emmet’s defining achievement came after his junior year in high school. He had already been nominated by his local American legion chapter to attend Boys State, an annual gathering of young men interested in the workings of local, state and national government. However, Emmet was initially denied participation from the state level American Legion office. Through discussion, and private and public pressure (including front page press coverage) Emmet prevailed and became one of the first two openly transgender men to participate in Boys State.
Jaden Deal (Norwalk High School)
Jaden’s motivation to address LGBTQ rights started in middle school when he came out. Through life experiences like being denied the right to donate blood, or being labeled the “gay friend” by others, Jaden became extremely aware of the range of specific and subtle stigma against LGBTQ individuals. He chose to combat the bullies through empathy, and led creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance at Norwalk High School. Jaden partnered with Iowa Safe Schools to distribute “Safe Space” stickers among the teaching staff. He also worked at the Iowa statehouse for Student Day at the Capitol, setting the agenda for the day and communicating with hundreds of his peer students about advocacy and fighting the good fight. In addition, Jaden was a 2-time All-State musician on the trumpet, a Joppa volunteer, and band camp leader. He plans to attend Harvard University, eventually becoming a lawyer and a public example for LGBTQ youth.
Kevin Drahos (Linn-Mar High School)
As a high school sophomore, Kevin came to understand that he is gay, and felt safe in sharing this news with a “friend.” The news would spread very quickly beyond his familiar circle and Kevin felt exposed, humiliated, and betrayed, to the point of wishing he had not come out. But Kevin had the support of his family, embraced his new-found self, and discovered a love for serving others. He became Linn-Mar’s first openly gay class president and student council president. He got involved in the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council and with YMCA Camp Wapsie, where he has become a mentor for kids. This semester Kevin was a page in the Iowa Legislature, advocating for LGBTQ rights and mental health resources for youth, including mandated suicide prevention training for teachers. He also drafted a bill to ban the use of Gay/Trans panic defense in Iowa courts, championed by our own Claire Celsi and Zach Wahls.
Tyler Juffernbruch (Indianola High School)
Tyler is this year’s G. David Hurd and Trudy Holman Hurd scholarship recipient. In his early years, Tyler was often bullied and knew that he liked boys. After his sophomore year, Tyler participated in the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards camp, and there began his coming out process, with support and love from counselors, family, and friends. After his junior year, he participated in the same camp as a counselor, sharing his coming out process and other challenges in his life. The response he received encouraged Tyler to keep moving forward telling his story, through public policy advocacy, with a goal of improving the lives of many. Tyler is part of the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council, and this year authored proposed legislation to include LGBTQ relationship information in health classes. He also helped in drafting legislation to eliminate conversion therapy. Tyler will attend Stanford University.
Hayden Lightle (North Scott High School)
Hayden realized during his sophomore year in high school that a crucial element missing from his educational experience was a safe space for LGBTQ youth and their allies. Through determination and astute communication, he approached the Dean of Students, who came around and was convinced of the need for a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). Even after the club was established with Hayden as its leader, there was resistance, but Hayden persisted and the GSA was fully accepted and embraced. So much so that the school district recognized the value of the GSA, and now there is a similar organization in the junior high school. Outside of school, Hayden has volunteered weekly in an Alzheimers care facility, and annually with the Special Olympics. Hayden is this year’s Kevin Rogers Memorial Scholarship recipient, and plans to attend Iowa State as a member of their prestigious Fashion Merchandising program.
Madison Mason (Perry High School)
Madison understands that homophobia is derived from a fear of differences. After an experience of being harassed, physically accosted, and labeled a faggot after leaving a pride festival, her resolve to bridge differences came forward. In her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), Madison shared the importance of welcoming everyone, not just the LGBTQ population. Her focus was on the alliance element, and she has shared lessons about teen homophobia, suicide prevention, and mental illness stigma. She has created the tradition of a Day of Silence at Perry High School honoring LGBTQ individuals, and opposed a group of students intent on creating an anti-GSA club. In her government class, Madison presented and defended the case for an extension of the equal protection clause to cover transgender rights. She volunteers her time with the Optimist Club and the Trevor Project.
Cade Pahl (Roosevelt High School)
Cade is a wrestler, growing up in a family of wrestlers. He also knew from a very early age that he is gay, and in the hyper-masculine world of wrestling, that added another level of struggle for Cade. He had been called hurtful names by peers, adults, and coaches through almost ten years of wrestling. Finally, in 2016 Cade came out as gay in a YouTube video, to find that his family, friends and school community were with him all the way. The other wrestlers at Roosevelt High School were supportive, and he finally felt like a part of that family as well. The rest of the wrestling community was not as warm, Cade continued to be identified as “the gay wrestler” and it became even more important for him to prove that gay people can, in his words, kick ass. Being an athlete at heart, Cade hopes to work in the field of physiology or physical therapy. Cade is this year’s Polk County Board of Supervisors scholarship recipient.
Miguel Solis (West Liberty High School)
Miguel came out as gay in eighth grade, and since then has felt the importance of being a role model for those who feel they are not accepted. Miguel and his older sister re-energized the West Liberty Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), and he has been the president the past three years! He has grown membership from four when he started, to almost 20. While opening lines of communication has been important, Miguel can be most proud of leading the effort to establish gender neutral bathrooms for transgender kids to access at the school. He also has led establishment of an annual day of silence to educate about the impacts of bullying, he has opened the GSA to middle school attendees, and promoted staff and administration expression of LGBTQ support throughout the school building. Miguel’s long-term goal is to make the entire educational system more accepting of anyone who feels like they are not being heard.
Dorothy Anderson (Dubuque Hempstead High School)
In a first for the FFBC scholarship program, we have a set of twin recipients! Dottie stood out for her insistence on communication and connection among people, especially when it comes to understanding not only what it means to be LGBTQ, but also the entire spectrum of gender identity. In her junior year, she co-led her Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Dubuque Hempstead High School. Dottie took the discussions beyond posters and public messaging to invite members to share their challenges, discuss their gender identity experiences and feel safe in the GSA space. Dottie fiercely defies ignorance, and as her teacher stated, “She will not tolerate the intolerant.” Dottie plans to study biomedical engineering at the University of Iowa, and to continue sharing her story with the world.
Marcella Anderson (Dubuque Hempstead High School)
Marcy Anderson stood out as a student focused on the issues and realities of gender fluidity. As she stated in her application, early in life Marcy was not sure what she was, she just knew she was not “a girl” in the traditional binary gender identification. From that early awareness, Marcy joined the Gay-Straight Alliance at Dubuque Hempstead to represent and support the genderqueer community. Her advocacy was delivered through a range of speeches, presentations, and poetry in classroom ad public settings during her high school years. Marcy hopes to communicate about gender fluidity, using her words, in a “calm and digestible way.” Her teachers see her as socially aware, hard-working, dedicated and organized. We see her as amazing! Marcy plans to attend Iowa State University for a degree in software engineering with long-term plans in the field of astronomy.
Mercedee Doty (Ft. Madison High School)
Mercedee is from Ft. Madison and a graduate of Ft. Madison High School. She and her friend started the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), and this year, Mercedee served as the president of the club with 25 members! The GSA has become an integral part of the Ft. Madison school community, promoting messaging against bullying, and acceptance of LGBTQ kids as equals. This young leader is dedicated to reducing bullying and to calling out the bullies. She insisted that school administration acknowledge LGBTQ targeting and take action, and makes it a point to address issues with individuals by asking, “What if it was you?” on the receiving end of marginalizing comments. Mercedee will attend Capri College with the goal of becoming an esthetician, and eventually a movie makeup artist. Her long-term dream is to have a home, a wife, a cat and a dog and a couple of kids playing in the yard, in a space that truly is their own.
Abbie Eastman (Ames High School)
Abbie comes from Nevada and attended high school in Ames. Abbie was a member of the Ames High School Youth Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which fights homophobia by addressing all discrimination. She also was leader of Spectrum, the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Abbie created opportunities for interaction with the local Planned Parenthood chapter to access information about safe sex practices in the LGBT community. She led a contingent of Ames High students at the annual Iowa Safe Schools conference and was a member of the School Improvement Advisory Committee which allowed for direct communication with the school board regarding LGBTQ student safety. Abbie plans to attend the University of Iowa to study political science and international relations. This past year she was the teacher’s assistant in AP Government and Politics class at Ames High, so we know she’s off to a great start in her future career.
Logan Eaton (Mt. Ayr High School)
Logan began her application essay with the simple sentence, “When I was younger I always knew I was different.” In time, inspired by media and cultural events, Logan came to understand that she was transgender. And at the end of her junior year in high school, with the support of her parents, the administration team at Mt. Ayr High School, and Iowa Safe Schools, Logan came out as a transgender female at an all-school assembly. She announced that she would be returning for her senior year as a female and has had an amazing final year of high school! In this past year, Logan has learned that she “has to advocate to be who she is.” We have dubbed this scholarship the unofficial community award for the year, and Logan is this year’s recipient of the G. David Hurd and Trudy Holman Hurd Scholarship. The courage and determination Logan and her family demonstrated could not be denied. In a school with a senior class of 47 students, not only was Logan accepted, she was elected to the homecoming court! While there will always be bullies, the broader community of Mt. Ayr has accepted Logan for who she is! Logan will attend NW Missouri State University with intentions of becoming a lawyer.
Lane Kunzie (Wayne Community High School)
Lane grew up in Corydon, a small conservative town in southern Iowa. He knew he was gay in first grade but also understood that people historically have not come out in towns like his. After going through some difficult times, including abuse, Lane found writing, and in his sophomore year, the courage and inner strength to come out as gay. In the process, he confronted and revealed his abuser, rightly challenged discrimination by authorities at his school, and started the Gay-Straight Alliance. Not only was Lane accepted by family and friends, he was voted Homecoming King last fall. He has written five books, three published, and he was #1 in his class. We also just learned that he is the recipient of a World Food Prize summer internship and will be leaving for Malaysia in a week! Lane is this year’s recipient of the Jim and Roxanne Conlin sponsored scholarship. He plans to attend Iowa State University and study biology and global systems. While his story is truly inspirational, the thing that impressed us most about Lane is that he is simply someone who wants to live where he lives, as the full person he is. Lane is living that life, as he stated in his essay, “I have shown many people that being yourself will reward you with the best life.”
Hannah Mitchell (Johnston High School)
Hannah has identified as bi-sexual since her sophomore year in high school. That year after experiencing a difficult bullying incident involving her and a transgender friend, Hannah became a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community in the Johnston Community school system. She worked with the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance to educate the nursing staff in the district about transgender medical needs. Also, Hannah assisted in introducing LGBTQ history into civil rights curriculum. On personal level, she continued to share her experiences as a bi-sexual individual, knowing that more people become aware of issues faced by a community, once they know someone in that community. Hannah will attend the University of Iowa, with a goal of working in the psychology field. She also intends to remain politically active, focusing on LGBTQ adverse issues such as conversion therapy and religious freedom legislation.
Bailey VandeKamp (Knoxville High School)
Bailey was a standout student at Knoxville High School. Her activism was motivated early on by seeing the fear many have felt about being labeled as “gay,” leading to ridicule and ostracism. She believes it is her responsibility to be as “out as possible” for those who are not or feel they cannot be open about their sexuality. Bailey understands that the most important element of any person’s journey may be that first moment of self-acceptance and understanding. Bailey came out her freshman year in high school and helped change the environment at Knoxville High School without the “safety net” of a Gay-Straight Alliance. She simply was true to herself and became a safe space for many in her school experiencing the uncertainties of self-acceptance along the LGBTQ spectrum. In college, Bailey plans to study economics and computer science.
- Jacob Cash
- Grayson Davis
- Julia DiGiacomo
- Connor Johnson
- Chrisitsine Nguyen
- Krystal O’Morrow
- Dakota Trenkamp
- Eliijah Willig
- Benjamin Christianson
- Liam Jameson
- Kaden Jones
- Ryan McDaniel
- Parker Miles
- Philip Runia
- Elliot Smith