An Australian equality advocate, Yen Eriksen, has been named winner of the Australian Human Rights Commission 2015 Young People’s Human Rights Medal.
The 23-year-old is a founding member of the ACT Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTIQ) Ministerial Advisory Council and a passionate campaigner against social oppression.
Eriksen told Australian news station, 666 ABC Canberra she was committed to giving a voice to people who experienced all kinds of oppression, including racial and gender discrimination.
Working at Canberra community radio station 2XX, Eriksen is involved in a program for Canberra’s gay and lesbian community called Friday Night Lip Service.
The radio program that I’m involved in is a queer women’s program, where we’ve made a really big effort to bring in a huge diversity of voices. When you’re working to address equality, inequality or experiences of oppression, you can see that the things that drive inequality are huge social forces. Most days it feels like you can’t make a difference, but working at a grassroots and individual level is a way to keep grounded and remind yourself of why activism is really important.”
Eriksen said her experiences growing up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne as the daughter of migrant parents had inspired her mission to promote equality.
Coming out as queer at a very young age has definitely shaped my experience too. All of my experiences have informed the sorts of reasons I do community work and volunteering.”
Eriksen added she had grown used to being treated as “different”.
I look pretty queer so I wear it on my body a bit, so there isn’t a moment in which people are surprised when I tell them. If you present in a way that’s a bit non-normative — with a short haircut and in masculine dress — people get surprised when they have an interaction with me and it’s wholly positive and I’m friendly and genuine. People prepare themselves to be put off by people who present with a little bit of a subversive look.”
Eriksen was one of five finalists from around Australia selected for the 2015 Young People’s Human Rights Medal.
She added she was just one of many people around the country working hard to respond to social injustice.
If it wasn’t for community advocates, social workers, youth workers and people who dedicate their free time to supporting people, I think a lot of injustice would go unnoticed. It’s not just about identifying injustice, it’s about responding to it and having an ongoing response. In the end, the thing that really counts is whether things really change for people.”