Karl Wells celebrates namesake LGBT scholarship, reflects on progress


A former CBC broadcaster who once feared for his reputation in the workplace because of his sexuality is now offering funding to pave the way for upcoming scholars to study LGBT rights.

Career journalist-turned-food critic Karl Wells says he's funding the new Memorial University scholarship to shed "as much light as possible on every topic" relating to the LGBT community.

"I fear ignorance and misinformation," Wells told The St. John's Morning Show.

Nel Jayson Santos, a master of arts student in sociology, is the inaugural recipient of the Karl M. Wells Scholarship in LGBTQ2S+ Studies, an acronym that includes people who identify as homosexual, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited and questioning.

The $2,000 award will be offered annually to students in Memorial University's faculty of humanities and social sciences whose work reflects a commitment to LGBT matters.

'I can't be myself in this workplace.'

Wells said he felt the sting of society's ignorance as a gay man living in a less tolerant time.

"When I was in high school, homosexuality was illegal," he said. "You could actually go to jail just for being gay. Think about that."

Before 1969, Canada's Criminal Code considered "gross indecency" — meaning same-sex relations — an indictable offence worthy of five years' imprisonment.

Wells remembers when gay bars were about the only safe space for a queer man, and one had to be careful frequenting them.

Because his sexuality was "no secret," Wells says there was no escaping the sneering remarks of colleagues.

"Even though I was working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which I thought was a very accepting, tolerant liberal organization, there was homophobia," he said. 

"I just realized, 'I can't be myself in this workplace.'"