Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Rebekah Bruesehoff. During the third annual Global Volunteer Month, we celebrate the power of people who tackle society’s greatest challenges, and build stronger, more vibrant communities through volunteerism and everyday actions, like Rebekah. Read her story and join the Global Volunteer Month celebration.
Content Warning: Points of Light is proud to share the following uplifting and inspiring story. However, we acknowledge that a small portion below may be difficult for some readers. We encourage you to please care for your own wellbeing above all.
In 2018, Rebekah Bruesehoff of New Jersey stood in front of her state’s legislature, testifying in support of a bill requiring schools to teach the accomplishments and contributions that LGBTQ+ people have made throughout history.
Passionately speaking in front of these legislators, however, wasn’t a seasoned politician or a lobbyist. She wasn’t even an adult. Rebekah was then just a young 11-year-old, simply telling her story as a transgender girl so that she and others like her could feel more accepted and see themselves reflected in their classrooms and communities.
With the help of her testimony, the bill passed, allowing LGBTQ+ students in New Jersey to see examples of people like themselves represented in their schoolbooks and lessons.
Rebekah, now 15, is a teenager who is busy with schoolwork, field hockey and musical theater. Despite her packed schedule, her advocacy for LGBTQ+ inclusivity, especially for transgender youth, has only intensified. She is proving every day that age isn’t a barrier when it comes to making a difference.
While people assumed she was a boy at birth, Rebekah always knew herself to be a girl. When she socially transitioned at the age of eight with her new name and pronouns, she said everything just clicked.
“I went out into the world as Rebekah, and I was just so much happier. I was me,” Rebekah said.
While her parents showered her with an overwhelming amount of support and love, Rebekah quickly learned that she was an exception to an often harsh reality for many transgender and nonbinary youth. More than half seriously considered attempting suicide last year, according to The Trevor Project, often due to a lack of acceptance from their own families and surrounding communities. LGBTQ+ youth who had access to spaces that affirmed their gender identity reported lower rates of attempting suicide.
So, when Rebekah was offered the opportunity to speak at a rally in 2017 for transgender students’ rights, she jumped at the chance to show support and normalize the conversation.
“Every transgender kid deserves the support I get, and that’s why I’m here,” Rebekah told the crowd of over 200 people at the rally. “To any transgender kids out there: I hope your school supports you, but if it doesn’t, we will fight for you. Keep being yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. There’s nothing wrong with being transgender. It’s just who you are.”
Since that speech, Rebekah has shared her story with tens of thousands, if not millions more. In 2018, she spoke alongside her mom, Jamie, in front of a crowd of more than 30,000 at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Youth Gathering, bringing the audience to a standing ovation at the end of her inspiring speech. She has published opinion pieces in the Philadelphia Inquirer and has had numerous media appearances. In 2019, she even became a superhero as part of Marvel’s Hero Project streaming on Disney+.
In addition to her public speaking and political activism, Rebekah, being an avid reader, launched the Mighty Rebekah Book Drive in 2019 to get books featuring LGBTQ+ characters and stories into homes, classrooms, libraries and faith spaces across the country.
“Most folks in the United States of America say they’ve never met a transgender or nonbinary young person. And yet so much of what they read, see and hear is just false and ridiculously negative,” said Jennifer Grosshandler, founder of The Gender Cool Project. “Rebekah is solving that challenge by stepping up and being available on the largest possible platform so that people simply get the chance to know who she is as an extraordinary, talented, funny person.”
While LGBTQ+ rights shouldn’t be a divisive topic, they too often are, which means both Rebekah and her mom Jamie have seen how scary things can get. But even when times are hard, Jamie said Rebekah sees the good in the world around her, a trait that inspires Jamie every day.
“We learn from Rebekah in her willingness to stand up for other people to make herself vulnerable in the hopes of making the world better for kids that don’t have families like hers,” Jamie said.
As a ninth grader, Rebekah has already accomplished so much, but she still has a long and bright future ahead of her. One thing Rebekah sure about is that she wants to continue using her voice to fight for LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
“I recognize the amazing advocates who came before me, but I also think about the kids who will come after me,” Rebekah said. “I want a future where everyone can be accepted and celebrated in their own identities, and everyone can have a seat at the table.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Rebekah? Find local volunteer opportunities.
If you or a young person from the LGBTQ+ community who you know may be considering suicide, contact The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text 678678 to talk to a trained crisis counselor. It’s anonymous, free and available 24/7.
This post was written by Alicia Lee. Points of Light collaborates with voices from various writers to help tell inspirational stories of leadership, volunteerism and civic engagement. We recognize that there are many ways to be civically engaged, as outlined in Points of Light’s Civic Circle, and we are grateful to our writers for helping us illustrate the impact of how everyday actions can change the world.