ATHERTON — Morgan Aitken-Young, a senior at Sacred Heart Preparatory School, won first place in a small national contest this summer for writing about a big national issue: gay marriage.
And as the daughter of mothers Katherine Aitken and Kim Young, she knows of what she writes.
The 17-year-old Fremont resident placed first in the first annual Young Voices Foundation Short Story Contest, which drew about 600 entries in two categories, one for grades 3-7 and the other for grades 8-12. First-place winners won $250, and one grand-prize winner won $500.
"It's definitely rewarding to have this recognized, because it was hard to write about," Aitken-Young said. "I had no idea what the reaction would be like."
Described by foundation and contest organizer Bobbi Carducci as a brave account of a nontraditional family, Aitken-Young's 1,900-word essay "Unequal" is broken into short chapters that explore how a female character raised by a lesbian couple deals with homophobia from a young age until she is a grandmother.
"She took a rather controversial subject and wrote about it beautifully," Carducci said.
Aitken-Young, the biological daughter of Katherine Aitken, said the essay draws from her experiences in dealing with deliberate homophobic remarks to those made out of ignorance. In it, she reflects on her feelings when asked by childhood friends why she has two moms and when observing a young lesbian couple at a friend's wedding who yearned for the same opportunity to marry.
Aitken-Young's story portrays the nastiness of homophobic profanity, the technical perils of gay adoption and the fear of growing old and seeing nothing change.
Mary Fitzsimons, Aitken-Young's English teacher for two years, said the teen's skills have been obvious from a young age.
"She's a very talented writer, and I'm proud of her," Fitzsimons said.
Carducci said she narrowed the roughly 600 entries down to 40 and sent those off to 10 outside judges. Seven emerged as winners. Carducci said this is the first year she's taken her contest out of the local scene in Round Hill, Va., and made it national.
"We didn't know what we would get," she said. "We're very happy."
The Young Voices Foundation is a nonprofit group focused on inspiring and educating young writers. To read "Unequal" and the other winning entries, or to learn more about the foundation, go to www.youngvoicesfoundation.org.
Reach Banks Albach at firstname.lastname@example.org.