Joseph (Joey) Morisset
, a senior at Bourne High School, is the 2020 First Place winner of a $2,000 Anne Toran Scholarship, awarded annually by PFLAG Cape Cod to a graduating high school senior from the Cape, for their demonstrated support and advocacy of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning) community.
“We chose Joey as this year’s scholarship recipient because of the personal courage he has demonstrated, not only in coming out as gay, but in advocating for members of the LGBTQ community often in hostile or unfriendly situations,” noted Joe Lima, president of PFLAG Cape Cod.
Joey’s journey in accepting his orientation and becoming an advocate for others in the LGBTQ Community began the summer of his junior year of high school. In the summer of 2019, he attended the Massachusetts Boys State Leadership Conference at Stonehill College. Sponsored by the American Legion, the goal of the Conference is to teach democratic values and acquaint participants with the workings of democracy. Kids spend a week focused on understanding the mechanics of government, forming political parties, crafting platforms, and electing representatives to serve in mock government functions.
For Joey, the experience was eye-opening, introducing him first-hand to the prejudice many people harbor for people who identify as LGBTQ+. “I was surrounded by ignorance and hate toward the LGBTQ community,” he says. As he and other conference attendees worked at developing positions on current political issues, he witnessed people trying to justify “hateful political stances, such as Russia’s oppression of gay people.” Others sought to support legislation to limit the rights of LGBTQ people to adopt or to use the bathroom of their choice, he says. In this environment, “I felt scared to stand up for what I believed in,” he says.
But then Joey began to find his voice. “It was hard at first, but I began speaking up for the LGBTQ community [in these discussions] calling out ignorance, combatting misconceptions, and showing people the importance of empathy,” with others unlike themselves.
As the week progressed, Joey started to feel his forceful support of LGBTQ people was having an impact on others. “As I spoke for the LGBTQ+ community in rooms full of peers who disagreed with me, people began admitting that I was a creating a change of heart.”
Joey says he drew inspiration and courage to speak up -- for himself and others who identify as LGBTQ+ -- by modeling himself after the character of Kurt Hummel in the popular TV show, Glee
. In Glee
, Kurt is a gay character, singer, and performer with a flair for fashion who struggles with his sexuality before finally accepting himself for who he is.
Joey, himself an actor and performer, says what he most admires about “Kurt” is his ability to be himself and to fight for others. “Whenever I feel anxious about being a gay teen in high school, [Kurt] inspires me with his strength and bravery to be who I am.” Like Kurt, “I understand what it feels like to be bullied and harassed for simply being who I am.”
After finding the courage and strength to speak out on LGBTQ issues through his experience at Boys State, Joey decided to become a stronger, more open advocate of the LGBTQ+ community when he returned for his senior year at Bourne High School. He joined the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance and became the school’s first-ever male cheerleader! He also auditioned for, and accepted, the openly gay role of Harry Bright in his school’s production of Mamma Mia
“My town is rather small and conservative, and knowing I’d be playing a character that normalizes the LGBTQ+ community scared me, but I did not back down,” he says. “Just like Kurt in Glee
, I made the stage my platform to open up discussion on inclusivity and acceptance.”
Joey “is a remarkably fearless, charming, and compassionate young man,” according to Elizabeth Sylvia, Faculty Advisor to Bourne’s GSA Club. “He’s the perfect recipient for a PFLAG scholarship because he has been such a guiding member of the Bourne High School community. I truly think of him as a person who ‘leads with love,’ a quality we need so much in these troubling, divided times.”
In the fall, Joey (he/him/his) plans to attend UMass-Boston where he intends to major in Psychology.
, a senior at Nauset Regional High School, is the 2020 Second Place winner of a $1,000 Anne Toran Scholarship. The scholarship, awarded annually by PFLAG Cape Cod, recognizes the significant work that high school seniors have undertaken in support and advocacy of people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning.
“Throughout her high school career, Shannon has demonstrated a deep commitment to learning about and supporting members of the LGBTQ community,” notes Joe Lima, president of PFLAG Cape Cod. “During her senior year at Nauset Regional High School, she has served as President of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and as Treasurer of the school’s Human Rights Academy. In both roles, she made significant contributions to helping advance the interests and concerns of the school’s LGBTQ population.”
“Throughout my high school career, I have learned so much about queer history and become exponentially more involved in the LGBTQ+ community,” notes Shannon, who identifies as queer/pansexual.
That wasn’t always the case. As a high school freshman, Shannon was closeted about her queer identity. But, thanks to a senior whom she looked up to, she attended her first GSA meeting and discovered the group’s purpose: to provide community, safety, support, and acceptance to people who identify as LGBTQ+. Soon thereafter she became deeply involved in the club’s work, and in activities and outreach efforts that both educated her about queer history, and provided her the opportunity to learn about the unique challenges and needs of the LGBTQ community.
“Every year our club attends a SAGE dinner (for LGBT seniors) and I get to meet other LGBTQ+ Cape Codders,” she says. “The age spectrum [at these dinners] is wide and I have loved learning about what it was like to be a gay individual as far back as the 1950s.”
At one event, Shannon met an LGBT senior who’d been present at the Stonewall protests which erupted in New York City in 1969 after an early morning police raid on the Stonewall Inn in the city’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. The conversation made a big impression on Shannon, who went on to write a major queer history research paper about Stonewall during her junior year.
Through involvement in her school’s GSA club, Shannon has also become aware of the significant suicide rates among members of the LGBTQ+ community, and become an increasingly vocal advocate on issues impacting members of the LGBTQ+ community. In 2018, as a member of her school’s Human Rights Academy, she took part in a phone bank and public forum at her school, intended to educate members of the community about a ballot question, on the November ballot that year, which would have rolled back human rights protections for transgender persons. The forum, which attracted a crowd and generated significant controversy, gave Shannon an opportunity to voice support for the rights of transgender people. “I overcame my anxiety and addressed the crowd, explaining the crucial need of the protection act,” she says.
Shannon “is deeply committed to environmental concerns, human rights, and civil rights causes,” according to Lisa Brown, who serves as Faculty Advisor to Nauset’s Human Rights Academy. “Besides being of excellent character and a gifted communicator, she is a voice of reason and sees many sides to a story.”
Those sentiments are echoed by Karen Brandes Novacon, one of Shannon’s English teachers at Nauset: “Shannon is a leader in both the Gay/Straight Alliance and Human Rights Academy, two groups on campus that are working hard to make all students safe and accepted. The issues that these groups tackle are areas of great concern for Shannon,” and have made her “a leader on our campus when it comes to issues of human rights and equality …”
In the fall, Shannon (she/her/hers) plans to attend U-Mass Boston and major in psychology.
Written by Rick Koonce, Board Member PFLAG Cape Cod