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Scholarship brings enlightenment

First Karl M. Wells Scholarship in LGBTQ2S+ Studies awarded

Student Life

By Terri Coles

Sociology graduate student Nel Jayson Santos is the first recipient of the Karl M. Wells Scholarship in LGBTQ2S+ Studies

The $2,000 scholarship was created through a gift from broadcaster and writer, Karl Wells, (BA, B.Ed.’76). 

The creation of the annual scholarship is the culmination of a long-held goal, Mr. Wells says.  

“When I found out that Memorial had no such scholarship and that there were few, if any, LGBTQ2S+ studies scholarships in Eastern Canada, I was very eager to do it,” he said. 

The scholarship will be awarded annually to a full-time student in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences who is pursuing academic work in LGBTQ2S+ studies or who is actively involved in the community. 

‘You kept quiet’

Mr. Wells’ five-decade, award-winning career includes time in radio, television and print media.

He also worked as an actor, producer and author. He currently hosts Point2Point on Rogers tv in St. John’s. 

As a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, Mr. Wells has seen a lot of social change. However, he also sees the work still to be done.

“When I started university, Pierre Trudeau had just made homosexuality legal,” he said. “But it took a long time for people’s thinking to change.” 

Memorial was still a conservative campus in 1970, Mr. Wells says. As a student, he did not know anybody who was out as a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

“You kept quiet about your sexuality, apart from close friends.” 

Steps forward and backward 

By the mid-1970s, there were a few gay-friendly bars in St. John’s—that’s where Mr. Wells met Larry Kelly, his husband of 41 years.

Broadcaster and writer Karl Wells, wearing a jacket and black shirt, looks at the camera and smiles.
Karl Wells
Photo: Submitted

But members of the LGBTQ2S+ community also faced violence, and some people felt emboldened in their discrimination during the 1980s AIDS crisis.

Mr. Wells credits the advocacy work of Sara Sexton, the mother of late comedian Tommy Sexton, for changing attitudes. 

Over time, there were “slow, gradual, positive changes,” he says.

But LGBTQ2S+ people in Newfoundland and Labrador continued to face discrimination from their own government, he points out, which did not recognize sexual orientation as a right until 1997. 

“As a gay man I remember having hatred directed toward me in the 1990s, when the Newfoundland and Labrador government of the day had been foolishly insisting discrimination based on sexual orientation simply did not exist in this province,” said Mr. Wells, who by this time was working as a broadcaster. 

The work continues 

Although positive change continues, says Mr. Wells, there are still people in the province who discriminate against LGBTQ2S+ folks.

It’s something he recently saw himself when he posted a wedding photo to Facebook to celebrate his anniversary. 

“With learning comes enlightenment, with scholarship greater enlightenment.” — Karl Wells

He hopes the Karl M. Wells Scholarship in LGBTQ2S+ Studies will help foster academic interest in this area of study. It’s one he believes is important for every university to invest in.  

Academic work in this area includes not just recent LGBTQ2S+ history, he says. It also includes study, critical thinking and analysis in areas like gender identity, transgender rights, discrimination, abuse and violence toward the community.  

“With learning comes enlightenment, with scholarship greater enlightenment.” 

A lack of literature 

Scholarship recipient Mr. Santos is an international student in the master of arts program in sociology, under the supervision of Dr. Ailsa Craig.

A man holds a rainbow sign with a heart in front of a large Pride sign, also in rainbow.
Nel Jayso Santos is the first recipient of the Karl M. Wells Scholarship in LGBTQ2S+ Studies.
Photo: Submitted

The focus of his research is monosexism in the LGBTQ2S+ community. Monosexism is discriminatory views and negative attitudes toward non-monosexual people—bisexual or two-spirited people, for example.  

“I believe that there’s still a lack of literature about non-monosexual experiences,” Mr. Santos said.

For his major research project, he will look at existing literature and hopes to provide a guide for future research on monosexism.  

Mr. Santos identifies as LGBTQ2S+ and hopes his research can help reduce the stigma that non-monosexual people still face, within and outside of their community. 

“I believe that the gender and sexual orientation of someone belongs to them and no one else, so they shouldn’t be constrained or limited towards different binary or non-binary identities. They themselves can decide what they want.” 

The scholarship will help him with his expenses and ongoing volunteer work while he completes his major research project. When he finishes his graduate work, he plans to focus on gaining more work experience before applying for a PhD program a couple of years down the road. 

Mr. Santos says he is thankful for the work Mr. Wells has done to support their community over the years, and for this gift in particular. He is currently studying remotely from Vancouver, but hopes to one day thank Mr. Wells in person.

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