Rob Trinh has experienced homophobia, violence and discrimination many times in his life but never thought to speak out about it until he buried his murdered cousin last summer.
Trinh’s first cousin, Phil Truong, was an innocent victim caught in deadly gunfire outside a Victoria nightclub in July 2008. According to Trinh, a 22-year-old man allegedly paid a 16-year-old student to shoot one of Phil’s friends. Truong stepped in to protect his friend and was gunned down. A third-year student at the University of Victoria, Truong was only 20 years old.
“It was shocking. It was unreal,” says Trinh of the murder that stunned the community. “At first, I wanted revenge. I wanted people to pay. Now, I’m over the revenge part and want something amazing to come out of it.”
Over the past year, Trinh has channeled his energies into preventing violence through an anti-bullying campaign in schools, and establishing a foundation in his cousin’s honour that will support kids in sports and education. The campaign, called Stop the Silence: Have a Voice Against Violence, began at Spectrum Community School, Trinh’s and Truong’s alma mater.
Trinh’s presentation addresses current teen issues, including homophobia and violence, combining multimedia resources as well as Trinh’s own personal experiences.
The goal of the campaign is to nip violence in the bud. It reaches out to youth, encouraging them to care for others and to speak up when they witness bullying, as well as inspiring them to become role models themselves.
The response so far has been incredible, says Trinh, and what began in just one school will now spread across School District 61 in Victoria this fall. Trinh is also in talks with the Victoria police to promote the program and is speaking to school districts in Beverly Hills to do the same. (As a model, actor and dancer, Trinh has connections in Los Angeles).
“Rob’s presentation was a wonderful example of leadership, maturity and caring,” says Sharoyne Gaiptman, Spectrum’s vice principal, who also taught Trinh in Grades 11 and 12. “His message touched all the participants. He made it entertaining and personal, which clearly hit everyone’s emotional, sensitive and moral compasses.”
Trinh attributes a large part of the campaign’s success to his ability to connect with the students. Growing up in Victoria, Trinh says he was taunted as a teen for being gay and subjected to violence at home, so he knows firsthand some of the issues that teens face. His message has resonated deeply with many of the students who’ve seen his presentation because they also knew Truong. Trinh hopes it’s a message that students will pass on.
“You need to get others to talk about it because that’s how people will listen,” he says. “People are more likely to listen to people they know. I hope everyone hears it, feels it and passes it on.”
To honour his cousin’s memory, Trinh and his brother Tony founded the Play 4 Phil Foundation, a registered charity that sponsors children to attend sports camps, and eventually aims to offer educational scholarships. So far, the foundation has raised nearly $2,000 used to send 12 kids to camp at Passion Sports on Vancouver Island.
Trinh says he won’t let anything get in the way of his speaking out against violence and bullying, and hopes that teens won’t either.
“I hope students think twice about not being silent about bullying and violence. I want them to think twice about their actions and behaviours.”