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This article was published 3/1/2012 (3785 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg teenager has won a human rights award for creating a Gay-Straight Alliance group at her school.
Rebekah Enns, 16, who attends Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, was recently awarded the Sybil Shack Human Rights Youth Award.
The award recognizes an individual or group of people aged 25 or under that has promoted respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Manitoba.
It is given annually by the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.
Enns was nominated for the award by Donna Peters-Small, a guidance counsellor at the school.
Enns, who lives in St. Vital and attends Bethel Mennonite Church in Fort Rouge, said she "came out" to her parents at the end of 2010 and this led to the evolution of her coming out in the wider school community during 2011.
After talking with friends, Enns approached the school’s principal, Bob Hummelt, about taking the discussion further and forming a student group.
"Around the time I was coming out, we wished the school had a group like that. When we talked to the principal, he was very interested," said Enns, noting the alliance currently has between 10 and 12 members.
She said the group has so far held three monthly meetings. The sessions provide a discussion forum for subjects surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity for students dealing with their sexuality, and their allies.
"I try to do as much research as possible, as I want to teach people all sides of the story. Even if people don’t necessarily agree with me, I want them to be empowered with as much information as possible," said Enns, who hopes to become a portrait photographer after she graduates in 2013.
"There is lots of disagreement, as people are for and against it, but I don’t want people to jump to conclusions. I really want to help my community move forward and understand and accept each other. Everything I’ve learned from my pastors is about acceptance."
Enns said that while she had "good support" from her parents, brothers and friends when she came out, she knows how difficult the process can be.
"That’s why I wanted the alliance. It can be a very scary experience," she said.
Hummelt said the response to the alliance has been well-received within the school community and noted the significance of the void it fills.
"The alliance is a forum for kids to talk about bullying and mitigate homophobia," said Hummelt, who lives in St. James. "We knew the students would be largely respectful of this kind of dialogue."
Hummelt acknowledged that the subject of homosexuality in the Mennonite community draws different responses.
"There is some polarity on the issue within the Mennonite community in Manitoba," he said.
"While some people are diametrically opposed to this, others on the other side of the spectrum offer full acceptance. Some churches are grappling with the issue right now."
Simon Fuller is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 204-697-7111.