By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – St. Jean Baptiste Park was the setting for an emotionally-charged candle light vigil Dec. 16. About 50 adults and youth attended the anti-bullying vigil organized by Morinville Community High School Student Travis Loseth and his family and friends.
As participants stood shoulder to shoulder with their candles around the park’s gazebo, each had the opportunity to hear personal stories on bullying and its effects on youth and adults alike, information made all the more poignant by the reading out of the names and ages of the many North America youth who, since 2010, had taken their lives due to bullying.
“We are here tonight to show our support to anyone who has or is being bullied,” Travis Loseth said in his introductory remarks Dec. 16. “We all know bullying is wrong, and by gathering here in these great numbers we are letting everyone who is a victim of bullying know that there are friends, family, teachers, coworkers and community who are going to stand up and do something about it.”
Over the course of the event, it was explained that bullying consists of three components: aggressive and negative actions towards an individual, a pattern of behaviour repeated over time, and an imbalance of power and strength. Additionally, it was explained bullying can take on many forms, including negative comments and name calling, social exclusion and isolation, physical violence towards a person, lies and false rumours spread about a person, items damaged by bullying students, and cyber bullying via cell phone or Internet.
Although Loseth has not personally experienced bullying, he indicated friends and family had in the past. One of those friends, Brittany Hope, shared her touching personal story of bullying and how close she came to taking the route of the many youth whose names had been read earlier in the evening. Hope, who had lived in Ontario before moving to Alberta, explained how she was bullied by students at her school and yet felt so attached to them she was unwilling to leave them behind to travel west.
“I cried because I couldn’t leave my friends behind,” she said, adding she told her parents she wanted to live with her aunt so as to be with them. “We ended up leaving and one day, sitting in my new house here, I sat down and I realized I never had friends to lose – that I didn’t leave anyone behind because no one ever cared about me, and no one ever loved me.”
Hope said she experienced severe depression until half way through Grade 9 when she began loving herself. “I finally had real friends,” she said. “The only reason I’m still here today is because I have amazing friends like Travis [Loseth] and Victoria [Dean] and Savannah [Lincez] and everyone else that’s supported me in the last five years since I’ve been here. I honestly owe my life to every single one of them. I wake up in the morning now and I Say, ‘I get to see my friends today.’ I know that they are actually friends and that they will support me in every single moment of my life because I finally know what love is.”
Hope’s story was not the only emotional tale told during the vigil. Loseth’s mother, Valerie, told the story of how her son came out to her and her husband a year ago. Mrs. Loseth said, like any mother, she was worried about how her son’s friends and teachers at Morinville Community High School would deal with the news he was gay. “I was worried he was going to be bullied because he was gay,” Mrs. Loseth explained. “Well, let me tell you, he has been shown such wonderful support by all. The evening of and the days after he came out, his Facebook page was flooded by over 50 to 60 messages of support from students at school. Fellow students telling him they were proud of him, and saying they thought he was brave and strong, and telling him they were there for him if he needed a friend.”
Mrs. Loseth said it is because of the positive support from teachers and students at the school that he son is comfortable with himself. “He has so much passion for what he believes that he wanted to organize tonight’s event because he knows that not everyone is treated equally,” she said, adding she and her husband could not be prouder of him.
The vigil included Travis Loseth and friends doing the dance routine they and fellow MCHS students performed for a Government of Alberta anti-bullying video a few weeks ago. A closing prayer by Morinville Christian Fellowship’s Youth Minister Pastor Peter Visscher ended the evening.