Yankees-Stonewall Scholars Honored During Pre-Game Ceremony

Scholarship recipients Ryan Heesemann, Christine Cabusay, and Sakura Benzan on the field ahead of the Yankees-Athletics game on June 18.
Yankees

The five recipients of the Yankees’ third annual scholarship initiative were announced at Yankee Stadium on June 18 prior to the team’s game against the Athletics.

The Yankees-Stonewall program awards $10,000 scholarships to five students — one in every borough — who have excelled academically and made a difference in the LGBTQ community. The recipients were acknowledged during a ceremony in the stadium’s Monument Park, where the Yankees installed a plaque in 2019 to commemorate Stonewall 50. Photos were also taken on the field.

The winners of this year’s scholarships are Vivian “V” Sakura Benzan of the Bronx, Christine Cabusay of Staten Island, Ryan Heesemann of Queens, Skye Mayo of Manhattan, and Daniil Tagaev of Brooklyn. The students were notified during a Zoom call earlier this month that they were awarded the scholarship opportunity.

Scholarship recipients Christine Cabusay, Ryan Heesemann, and Sakura Benzan with Yankees manager Aaron Boone during pre-game.Yankees

“This is honestly one of the biggest honors,” Benzan said during the Zoom call. “I wasn’t even expecting this at all. I’m so happy and fortunate to be able to receive this opportunity.”

Many of the students expressed shock and excitement upon learning that they would be receiving the scholarship.

“Is this even real?” Mayo asked. “I am just so happy. I have no words.” Tagaev echoed those words, saying, “I’m just speechless completely.”

Cabusay explained that she was “happy and grateful” and Heeseman said the honor was especially satisfying given that he does not always get noticed for his work.

The Yankees-Stonewall scholarship program launched in 2019 after the Yankees faced pressure to join the growing list of Major League Baseball teams in hosting a Pride night. Instead of a regular Pride night, though, the team opted to launch the scholarship initiative that would be unveiled during pre-game festivities every year.

The New York City Department of Education facilitates the selection process and reviews applicants from across the city, while the Yankees, the Stonewall Inn, the mayor’s office, Major League Baseball, Pride Live, and Athlete Ally provide input.

Billy Bean, MLB’s out gay vice president and special assistant to the commissioner, spoke with the students during the Zoom call ahead of the game and joined them in attendance during the pre-game ceremony.

“It has been such a privilege to support the Yankees Stonewall Scholarship Initiative,” Bean said. “The Yankees are providing this amazing group of young adults an opportunity to continue their education and realize their potential. I’m truly inspired by the courage and talent of today’s recipients. They are tomorrow’s influencers, and I can’t wait to see it.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, Stonewall Inn co-owners Kurt Kelly and Stacy Lentz, assistant general manager Jean Afterman, senior vice president of corporate/community relations Brian Smith, and New York City Department of Education officials appeared on the Zoom event to congratulate the students. Eric Vaughan, the Department of Education’s manager of LGBTQ programs, also helped to lead that effort.

The Yankees logo was dressed up with rainbows ahead of the team’s June 18 matchup against the Athletics.Yankees

In a written statement, Cashman predicted that the students would go on to make a mark on the LGBTQ community as they continue to grow.

“These young leaders represent the future of the LGBTQ community, and they deserve every opportunity to pursue both their personal aspirations and their dreams to create a more inclusive world,” Cashman said. “The Yankees’ respect for the LGBTQ community is deep and enduring, and our Yankee Stadium home will always be a place of tolerance and acceptance. We look forward to recognizing the contributions of LGBTQ individuals for years to come and growing the ranks of future Yankees-Stonewall scholars, whose impact — even at their young age — cannot be understated.”

City Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter commended the annual scholarship program, saying “there is no better way to celebrate Pride Month than by honoring five incredible young people for their contributions to their school communities and their commitment to creating inclusive spaces for LGBTQ youth.”

“I am deeply grateful to the New York Yankees and the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative for spending the time to get to know these students and for providing them with scholarships that set them up for bright futures as they continue fighting for justice in every part of their lives,” Porter said.

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