COCHRANE— Driven by compassion and a call to end bullying, more than a hundred Cochranites gathered together Tuesday (Oct. 13) in support of a 12-year-old student bullied for wearing rainbow socks.
Grade 7 student Devyn Vanderwater, 12, inspired the Rainbow Sock Walk.
The intention of the walk was to send a clear message that bullying and homophobia in any form are not welcomed in Cochrane.
On Thursday (Oct. 8) Devyn was walking home from school wearing thigh-high rainbow socks. During their walk home, a couple of students from Cochrane High School began to harass her and said “extremely homophobic” remarks.
Devyn's mom Kristina Vanderwater said she felt angry and helpless when Devyn told her about the homophobic bullying they experienced.
“I was just angry at the position she was put in. Being by herself with a bunch of older high school boys putting her in that position,” Vanderwater said.
Devyn’s experience was first posted anonymously on Facebook.
“I originally posted anonymously just in the hopes the parents of the kids would maybe have a talk with their kids over it,” Vanderwater said. “It definitely turned into a lot more and I think it’s great because it's showing that the community as a whole doesn’t want to stand for bullying.”
Devyn's story spread quickly across community groups and soon the idea for the Rainbow Sock Walk was born.
“It was amazing the amount of support that I have gotten,” Devyn said. “The people showing up today has me over the moon— Going to school today and seeing everybody wear rainbow socks it filled me with so much joy.”
After participating in the Rainbow Sock Walk and having more than 100 supporters walking by her side, Devyn said, she will feel safer walking home after the scary experience on Thursday.
Devyn said going forward she hopes community members make a point to be more educated and empathetic to others to ensure someone else does not have to go through what she experienced.
“Just me wearing rainbow socks and assuming that I’m gay is a far stretch,” Devyn said. “It hurt a lot more, but as a community, I would like to see us band together and stop this because it’s 2020 and no one deserves to be treated that away.”
Vanderwater said she appreciated the countless people who stepped up to show support for Devyn.
“I wasn’t expecting this at all,” Vanderwater said. “I hope it gives other kids the confidence to be who they want to be instead of hiding out of fear.”
The walk was incredible, she said, because it adds social pressure and shame to the students that bullied Devyn.
She added the Rainbow Sock Walk was made all the more powerful because it was launched by Cochrane area high school students.
Cochrane High Grade 12 student Cedar Engdahl, 17, helped organize the Rainbow Sock Walk. She was inspired to create the rally after learning of the harassment Devyn faced for wearing rainbow socks.
Engdahl said, she thought it would be awesome if everyone at Cochrane High wore rainbow socks for one day in solidarity with Devyn.
“I was mad especially because the boys were from my school,” Engdahl said.
It was concerning to see bigoted bullying coming from her classmates, and she was even more concerned to see it being passed down to younger students.
“It happened overnight,” Engdahl exclaimed. “It was awesome— It was a big weekend of planning and it was an awesome turnout.”
She added she hopes the boys who bullied Devyn learned from the walk and understand that homophobia and bullying are not welcome in her high school or the Cochrane community.
“I hope it raises awareness that even though we are in a small town there is still harassment,” Engdahl said. “You may not hear about everything but I hope it normalizes that people are different and not everyone is the same and that, that’s OK.”
She hopes people carry forward the positive energy of the walk to help make the community a better place for everyone to live in.
“If you’re positive and you’re inclusive of everyone then I think that will spread throughout the community,” Engdahl said.
Kindred Cochrane Pride Society director at large Brianna Sharpe praised the students for their creative support and message of inclusivity.
Kindred took the lead from youth in the community and was excited to support a walk home that promoted a safer and inclusive community.
Unfortunately, Sharpe said she was not surprised when she learned about the incident.
“I’m grateful for the family's honesty and bravery but I also want to honour all the stories that go on like this where the kiddos can’t speak out,” Sharpe said.
It was amazing to see the community gather together, she said, but it is also a bittersweet experience because it was in response to homophobia faced by a 12-year-old student.
“Cochrane really rose to the occasion— This was all organized in three days,” Sharpe said.
Sharpe encouraged parents to have conversations with their children to normalize being different and to celebrate diversity. She noted this can start with reading books that tell unique stories while taking steps to educate ourselves.
“So many of us grew up with our own biases and we don’t even become aware of them until we are confronted with something like this,” Sharpe said. “It doesn’t have to be like this— Hate is not a necessary part of the human experience. It’s not enough to say love is love... We all need to be making concrete actions every day. Not just about LGBTQ2S+ issues but about anti-racism, about all sorts of different forms of hatred, fear and bigotry that exist in our society."