It’s hard for Karissa Killian to pinpoint why she is so passionate about gay-rights issues.
She attributes it to growing up in a conservative state.
Her passion eventually led the now-18-year-old to create a gay-straight alliance club at Cyprus High in Magna. She volunteered to start the GSA after seeing a flier about it at a queer prom.
She created bylaws and a constitution and recruited members for the club, which started in 2010.
"I wanted to do it so that I could have a safe space and create a safe space for others so that everyone can feel accepted and have a place to go," said Killian, who describes herself as an ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community.
Her work has led to a $1,000 Equity Leadership Scholarship recently awarded by Equality Utah Foundation and Community Foundation of Utah.
In its second year, the scholarship is awarded to students committed to equality who are pursuing post-secondary education. They must earn a 3.0 GPA and attend school in Utah.
The scholarship is about "growing that next generation of leaders who share a commitment to equality for people who are [LGBT], and keeping that voice strong and alive here in the state," said Fraser Nelson, executive director of Community Foundation, which manages the scholarship program, from donations and applications to selecting recipients.
Two other students, out of about 20 applicants, were also given scholarships: Jackson Carter, a student at Weber State University in Ogden; and George Zamantakis, a freshman at the University of Utah.
Carter is volunteer coordinator with Ogden OUTreach, a resource center for the LGBT community. He wants to support new GSAs when he becomes a teacher.
"If these types of programs could show just one student that they have the support of the faculty and staff at their school, I will do everything [in] my power to start and maintain them," Carter wrote in his application essay.
Zamantakis started a GSA last year while at Carbon High School in Price. In his essay, Zamantakis said he is developing an anti-bullying assembly that he wants to present at schools.
"I refuse to allow future generations to feel the pain of discrimination," he wrote.
Killian, too, was worried about bullying at Cyprus — not that anything in particular happened — but she knows about the high rates of suicide among LGBT youth.
"I just want everyone to have an avenue in case they need it," she said.
Killian, who is attending Westminster College in the fall, plans to join its version of a GSA. She thinks she’ll eventually get involved in advocating for gay marriage.
"I’m excited to keep getting involved and make a difference," she said.
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