Ella Daft is a root beer aficionado, greets strangers with hugs, is intelligent and articulate, and could very well become the face of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered rights movement in Iowa — and she hasn’t even graduated high school.
Daft graduates from Newton Senior High School on May 24, but she can already use the phrase “Google me.” A quick search shows more than 100 results, including a Facebook “Like” page, a page on anti-bullying created by the state of Iowa and, most recently, for being awarded a Gold Iowa Matthew Shepard Scholarship worth $40,000.
“I was selected as one of three … it can be applied to my books and tuition, but not room and board,” Daft said. “To be eligible for the scholarship, you have to identify as LGBT and you have to have made efforts to stop bullying, prevent homophobia, spread education, and youth advocacy is a big part of it.”
The scholarship is named after Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was murdered in Wyoming, reportedly because of his sexual orientation. The award is funded through the Eychaner Foundation.
Daft has received several other scholarships but acknowledges that this one is her “big one.” As the scholarship can only be applied to the state schools of Iowa, Daft plans to attend the University of Northern Iowa.
“I’m hoping to dual major in political science and public relations,” Daft said. “I’m hoping to minor in several subjects, but I’ll probably have to limit it to just two. I know I want to minor in Spanish. I’ve got a lot of DMACC credits stored up in that. I would either like to minor in journalism or women’s issues.”
Coming out of the closest is tough enough, but doing it in high school and later becoming a LGBT spokesperson takes an incredible amount of bravery. Daft shared her experiences coming out.
“I attended Pella Christian my freshman year,” Daft said. “My counselor started putting the pieces together. (I) was becoming depressed during certain chapels and was leaving some answers blank on Bible exams. He pulled me into his office one day and asked me if I was gay.
“I naturally started crying and bawling,” Daft continued. “A few days later, he gave me a sheet of paper and told me to find a different school.”
Daft said she had to wait until the semester ended before leaving the school and said was told to remain in the closet.
“All my peers and teachers knew I was being kicked out, but they didn’t know why,” Daft said. “It was very hard to lie to my teachers, who I looked up to, and to my peers, who I had tried to form some bond with.”
“It was really hard when they would say disgusting and sometimes violent things towards the LGBT community without realizing I was part of that,” Daft said. “That was really hard for me.”
Daft ended up at NHS and used that experience as fuel to fire her fight against intolerance.
“I think that’s why I work so hard in the work that I do,” Daft said. “That was a really rough time for me. If I can do any amount of work to make it so that other teens and young people don’t have to feel the way that I did, then it’s a successful day.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.