Westgate student wins human rights award

January 4, 2012 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Young Voices Co-editor

When Rebekah Enns, 16, started a gay-straight alliance at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, Winnipeg, in order to support those who, like her, are coming out of the closet, the Grade 11 student never expected to be recognized with a human rights award.

But on Nov. 28 the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Manitoba Human Rights Commission announced that Enns was the recipient of the Sybil Shack Human Rights Youth Award, which recognizes young people under the age of 25 who have promoted respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Manitoba. Eight young people have received this award in the past, but Enns is the first to be recognized for her work to combat homophobia.

As a lesbian, she knows first-hand how difficult it can be to come out at school, let alone at a Christian school. This was why she initiated a gay-straight alliance at Westgate (see “Students advocate for the sexually marginalized,” Oct. 31, page 34).

It was a courageous move for Enns, her guidance counsellor said, as it makes her more likely to receive criticism. “The topic of homosexuality is a controversial one in our community,” said Donna Peters-Small in her nomination papers. “Rebekah knew she was opening herself up to possible criticism and judgment.”

Alliance members meet on a monthly basis to talk about homosexuality, discuss misconceptions and ask questions. It is meant to also be a safe place for those considering coming out, as it can be very frightening.

“When you think your community may think you’re a terrible person, you’re not going to speak up and acknowledge that about yourself,” she told CTV Winnipeg in an online article published on Dec. 9 called “Winnipeg teen recognized for unique human rights work.”

Enns, who attends Bethel Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, hopes to create comfort and understanding within the gay-straight alliance, as well as throughout her school as a whole.

Share this page: Twitter Instagram

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.