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Loudoun native wins scholarship, funding for LGBT initiative

Potomac Falls graduate Ryan Wells, 19, is one of three winners of the inaugural Live Proud on Campus scholarship. Courtesy Photo
When Sterling resident Ryan Wells started at Elon University, he had no idea he would become a leader of a sexual health initiative on campus – much less that he would win money for it.

From August to September, AT&T asked college students around the country to submit their idea for an on-campus LGBT advocacy initiative for the chance to win project funding, a scholarship and a mentorship program with the Human Rights Campaign.

The Potomac Falls High School graduate has become one of three winners of the first-ever Live Proud on Campus scholarship, winning a $10,000 scholarship, a $2,500 grant to go toward his project proposal and a free trip to Washington D.C. to meet with an HRC mentor.

When Wells saw a tweet about the project, he had just two days before submission deadline. “As soon as I saw it, I was texting friends to see who had a camera I could borrow,” he said.

The Elon student chose to focus his project on LGBTQ sexual health and proposed a program to educate LGBTQ students and allies. Already a part of a peer educational group that talks to students about substance abuse, physical and mental well-being and sexual health, Wells saw firsthand how little many of his fellow students knew about sexual health and well-being.

Wells said that while in Loudoun he received a more substantive sexual education than some of his peers at Elon, but sexual health education could still stand to be more inclusive and informative.

“Telling people not to have sex isn’t efficient,” Wells said. “At the end of the day, is it really better to tell people not to have it and leave them with no resources?”

Wells envisions his program as being truly comprehensive and inclusive of all LGBTQ identities so that queer and straight students alike can have the most information to make a values-based decision.

Although the program would initially target students, Wells hopes it will become a resource to the entire Elon community and even utilized in high schools. He plans to cover issues of consent, safe sex tools and trans inclusivity.

Only 12 states require sexual orientation be discussed in sex education classes, and of those 12, only four require gender identity be discussed, and three require schools only to share negative information about sexual orientation.

“That group is vulnerable because they’re not taught about in the classroom,” Wells said.

Wells said in presenting a truly inclusive program, he also hopes sex ed teachers will learn more about other people’s experiences so that they can feel comfortable talking about LGBTQ sexual health issues in classes.

“It’s the responsibility of teachers to step out of their comfort zone and educate themselves to help those students who don’t live like everyone else,” Wells said.

Wells visited D.C. along with the two other winners of the scholarship Oct. 28 to attend the HRC National Dinner and met with his mentor to who will help establish his program in spring 2018.

“We’re furthering our commitment to the LGBT community and to a more inclusive world,” AT&T Assistant Vice President of Diversity Marketing Leonardo Torréss said. “Live Proud on Campus supports the next generation of LGBT community leaders. What the winners take away from this experience will ultimately benefit us all.”

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