The New York Yankees revealed the first recipients of the Yankee-Stonewall scholarship on Wednesday at the Stonewall Inn, the historic site where the ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights began in 1969.
The major league baseball team first announced its plan last September, in collaboration with the Stonewall Inn and the New York City Department of Education, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising. In its inaugural year, the Yankees-Stonewall Scholarship Initiative provided $10,000 college scholarships to five high school students from each of the city’s boroughs.
“We at the Yankees are very conscious of our place in New York City. As part of NYC, we always try to recognize our responsibility to give back to the community,” said Randy Levine, president of the Yankees, at the event. “We noticed it was the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and we wanted to do something, not only to just celebrate, but to do something more meaningful by giving back and creating legacy so that this anniversary is remembered, that people learn from it and to create great leaders as a result of it.”
The NYC Department of Education conducted the selection process in conjunction with public schools, who were asked to nominate one graduating senior who demonstrated academic excellence and “a commitment to equality and impactful support for the LGBTQ community.”
On April 10, a Yankees-Stonewall Scholars panel consisting of representatives from the DOE and The Stonewall Inn reviewed approximately 200 applications and narrowed the candidate pool to 26 students. These finalists then met with another panel, including additional representatives from the Office of the Mayor and the NYC Unity Project, for final interviews.
The students selected are Alex Rosado from Manhattan, Francheska Colón from the Bronx, Ashley Farrell from Staten Island, Hugh Goldstein from Queens and an unidentified student from Brooklyn, who wished to remain nameless so as not to be outed as queer.
All of the students are community leaders, with the majority of them leading their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), an organization that brings together members of the LGBTQ community and their allies.
Richard Carranza, chancellor of the NYC Department of Education, was among the speakers to introduce the scholarship recipients. Before doing so, however, he shared a personal story about his twin brother, Reuben, who did not feel comfortable coming out as gay until his late 20s.
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“One year in my 20s, he asked me out to dinner and in a solemn voice, he said, ‘Richard, I’m gay.’ The person closest to me could not be his truest self,” Carranza recalled. “All students should be free to be their truest self and see themselves reflected in the classroom materials.”
He then introduced Rosado, a transgender student who started a GSA at The Clinton School as a freshman and highlights LGBTQ issues for the school’s newspaper. Rosado plans to attend Sarah Lawrence College in the fall and wants to write and publish a first novel by graduation.
“Even with all the scholarships that I got from the college and the need-based aid, I was still short 10 grand for each year,” Rosado told NBC News. “I was really surprised that after all the work I did in high school, I didn’t even get enough scholarships to cover the basic cost of tuition, so because of this [Yankees-Stonewall] scholarship, I’m going to be able to go to this very expensive college.”
Other students, including the nameless recipient, remarked that the scholarship would enable them to freely pursue their goals.
“Looking at the qualifications for the scholarship, I was honored that I would even be nominated,” they told NBC News. “This scholarship is going to help me a lot, especially since I’m trying to move out, so to be able to have the resources to focus on the things I want to focus on with my activism and academics, it means the world to me.”
They plan to attend Hunter College in the fall.
Stacy Lentz, co-owner of the Stonewall Inn and co-founder of the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative (SIGBI) said she was inspired by the young LGBTQ change-makers throughout the selection process.
“I think sometimes we don’t understand how passionate and intelligent this next generation of LGBTQ youth are,” Lentz told NBC News. "They have a language and the knowledge to articulate exactly who they are that we couldn’t have dreamed off when we were younger.”
Lentz says the goals of the applicants ran the whole gamut: some wanted to go to medical school to cure AIDS, some wanted to be counselors to advance mental health access in the LGBTQ community and some wanted to contribute to the arts.
Though many baseball teams, including the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, have implemented LGBTQ Pride nights at their stadiums in recent years, the Yankees notably refrained from participating in the tradition. Last year, it became the only team in Major League Baseball to not host the pride-themed event, which is partly why it’s introduction of the scholarship initiative is noteworthy.
While the team has shied away from public events that support the LGBTQ community, Jason Zillo, the Yankees’ vice president of communications and media relations, told NBC News that the team has championed LGBTQ inclusivity through other efforts. He highlighted the work the team’s general manager, Brian Cashman, and assistant general manager, Jean Afterman, have done with organizations that assist LGBTQ youth, and cited a pregame ceremony acknowledging those killed in the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
The Yankee-Stonewall Scholarship Initiative marks the team's most public commitment to LGBTQ visibility in the sport, and is just one in a lineup of events the Yankees have planned to celebrate the queer community for pride.
“I think the Yankees’ commitment to the LGBTQ community is authentic and it’s real and it’s genuine,” said Lentz. “I think the way they went above and beyond. Not just doing a Pride Night, because everybody does that — it’s so easy. They want to do something more.”
Details about other events celebrating pride and the Stonewall uprising anniversary will be rolled out in the weeks ahead, according to Zillo. Some plans will be revealed on June 25, when the Yankee-Stonewall scholarship recipients will be highlighted at a pregame ceremony before the Yankees’ game with the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I know you will become future leaders that drive equality and diversity,” said Levine, addressing the scholarship recipients. “I know you’re going to be successful because we at the Yankees don’t take anything but championship talent.”
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