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Human rights award helps motivate community to get involved

This article is one in a series highlighting the Employment Equity Award, the Human Rights Initiative Award and the Accessibility Award. Nominations are now open for all three awards. More information and links to application forms.

By Wanda Praamsma, Communications Officer

When Mark Leonard (Artsci’16) was researching universities, and Queen’s particularly, he looked for information on resources and groups for the queer community. At Queen’s, he found EQuIP, the Alma Mater Society’s Education on Queer Issues Project, and heard about Queerientation, a series of events held at the beginning of the school year that is meant to be a gateway for incoming students into the queer community at Queen’s.

Shannon Watson and Mark Leonard are co-chairs of the Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP), which won the Human Rights Initiative Award in 2011. Photo: Colin Tomchick

“I knew I wanted to come out in university so I began researching in high school. When I got to Queen’s, I sought out EQuIP and Queerientation and went to all the events,” says Mr. Leonard, a second-year student in mathematical physics who is now an EQuIP co-chair. “Being a part of this community has been so valuable for me and given me the opportunity to develop leadership skills, leading discussions in our weekly meetings.”

EQuIP’s significant contributions to building a community for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer students on campus have not gone unnoticed. In 2011, the group and Queerientation received the university’s Human Rights Initiative Award, given each year in recognition of initiatives that have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of equality and human rights at Queen’s. Nominations are now open for this year’s award.

“This award, along with the Employment Equity Award and the Accessibility Award, give us the opportunity to seek out the very important work of people across campus who help ensure that Queen’s is an equitable and inclusive place to work and study,” says Irène Bujara, Director, Human Rights and Equity Offices. “This work often goes unrecognized, and so each year it is a great honour to present these awards to our outstanding community members.”

The Human Rights Initiative Award is open to all types of initiatives and in the past has been awarded to such groups as the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre for the Aboriginal Symposium, the Health and Human Rights Conference Team from the Queen’s School of Medicine, and Accessibility Queen’s for their Accessibility Awareness Week.

EQuIP co-chair Shannon Watson (Artsci’15) says awards such as the Human Rights Initiative Award are hugely important for EQuIP, because it puts their efforts out into the world.

“It really helps people get motivated about the group, spurring them to get involved with the various initiatives on campus and think about the issues,” says Ms. Watson. “And that’s what we want at EQuIP – our work centres on education and advocacy, with weekly discussions to talk about various issues, such as coming out, labels and rights movements. We rely on the ripple effect, of knowledge flowing out into the community, and an award such as this really helps.”

Nominations are open until Jan. 17, 2014 for the Human Rights Initiative Award. Application forms are available online.