It can be really tough to confront homophobia from someone higher than you in the social hierarchy of a high school.
Tough, but worth it.
"It can be difficult in many situations, especially if someone is cooler than you," Sophie Hershfield, a Grade 10 student at Gray Academy of Jewish Education, said Thursday.
But confront she did, as did so many of her peers, so often and so successfully that the Gay Straight Alliance at Gray has won a major human rights award.
The Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the Manitoba Human Rights Commission announced Thursday the recipients Thursday of the 2013 Human Rights Awards. The awards are given out every year in celebration of International Human Rights Day.
Also receiving awards, at a Dec. 10 ceremony, will be University of Manitoba family social sciences Prof. Joan Durrant; Betty Hopkins, chairwoman of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF); the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities (MLPD); and University of Winnipeg Students Association president Megan Fultz.
"I've been in the GSA since the first meeting," Gray Grade 12 student Raphael Hoult said. "A large number of my friends are gay, and I wanted to support them."
Hoult said in the two years the GSA has operated, "The amount of homophobic language in the school has dropped exponentially."
Bullying has dropped significantly, Hershfield said.
The GSA meets regularly and is open to anyone in the school.
Vice-principal Lori Binder said Gray Academy is a pluralistic community-based school. At conferences, the school has been cited for being a faith-based school with a positive approach to forming GSAs.
"We are a safe space for all students," she said.
The recently-enacted anti-bullying Bill 18 contains a controversial provision that at any school receiving public funding at which a student comes forward asking to start a GSA, the school must accommodate that student.
Only Gray and Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, among independent faith-based schools, appear to have taken public positions supporting Gay Straight Alliances.
Teacher Andrew Kaplan said Gray Academy is "a beacon of hope, a buffer against religious fundamentalism."
"We are strong examples of what other schools can do," Binder said.