TIPTON, Iowa (KWQC) - Seventeen-year-old Jake Stallman of Tipton, Iowa will receive the Spirit of Matthew Award from the Matthew Shepard Foundation this weekend for overcoming bullying and embracing who he is.
Jake says he was bullied in school after announcing he was gay in the seventh grade.
Over the years, he says the bullying escalated from teasing to a death threat. Looking for a way to cope with it all, Stallman turned to the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
It's an organization that aims to support gay people across the country and now the organization is presenting an award to Stallman for overcoming the bullies and embracing who he is.
It took stepping out of his comfort zone for 17-year-old Jake Stallman to become the first male cheerleader in Tipton High School history.
"It was one of the hardest choices I had to make," Stallman said. "I didn't want to be like put back into bullying."
Jake says years of bullying for being gay left him with no self-esteem and at times no will to live. As he became more angry and withdrawn his mom says she was looking for a way to help.
"What can I do? How can I fix this? How can I make him happy? How can I make him accepted?" wondered Tania McAtee, Jake's mom. "And there's just no big band aid you can put on your kid to make them feel better."
In her search for answers to all her questions, Jake's mom discovered the Matthew Shepard Foundation website. She reached out to the founders of the gay community support site who in turn invited Jake to blog for the foundation.
Since starting his blog in January, Jake says he's found the support he needed to overcome years of bullying and the confidence to try out for the cheer team.
"I have seen him grow as an individual," said Michelle Ellerhoff, Jake's Cheer Coach. "I've seen his confidence level increase."
And as his confidence continues to climb sky-high, Jake says he hopes to help others' do the same.
"I feel like I became a warrior, a fighter. And I think I became a fighter because there are kids out there who are struggling right now," said Stallman. "And if I'm not strong, who's going to be strong for them?"
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