Concert advocates communal bond
A woman’s subtle homophobic comment inspired musician Pat Humphries to create a song that set an atmosphere of encouragement for yesterday’s Tyler Clementi Foundation benefit concert.
“A woman said ‘I don’t have a problem with you being a lesbian, but what do I tell my children?’” Humphries said.
Struggling to find a way to interpret the comment, Humphries channeled her feelings into her song “People Love,” which uses music to transform that moment of homophobia into a light-hearted message about vulnerable sexual identities and the call to love.
As way to call the University community to love all of its members, the Rutgers Protestant Campus Ministries, the Tyler Clementi Foundation, the Center for Social Justice and LGBT Communities, Canterbury House and The Episcopal Campus Ministry, among others, collaborated to sponsor the concert, said Rev. Patty Fox, chaplain of the Rutgers Protestant Campus Ministries.
The Tyler Clementi Foundation, created by Tyler Clementi’s parents and brother, addresses issues of bullying. Fox said she commends the bravery of his family.
Clementi was a University student who committed suicide in 2010 after his roommate used a webcam to view Clementi kissing another man, and shared it with his friends.
“It takes tremendous courage to turn a tragedy into a teaching moment, and this is a very strong teaching moment for us to be part of,” Fox said.
Fox reached out to Emma’s Revolution, the activist musical duo comprised of Humphries and her partner Sandy O as a means for the ministry to become involved in service opportunities and reach out to the community, she said.
“Let’s make this a special concert,” she said. “Let’s do this with a special emphasis on the work of the Tyler Clementi Foundation.
As progressive artists, Sandy O said she and Humphries give people a way to connect with one another and address issues that affect everyone, such as war, the environment and human rights.
“When something tragic happens, some people just want to pull away and say ‘oh, that has nothing to do with me,’” Sandy O said. “It’s all about community, and the only way that these campuses are going to become safer … is when people feel like it’s up to each of us to do our part.”
Humphries said their band has no specific agenda, as their music brings people together on different issues, and acknowledges that any group can work together to fight through oppression.
“It’s not necessary for us all to be in our separate corners around these issues, and we have a lot to bring to one another’s struggles,” he said. “We have a lot to bring to one another’s celebrations.”
Although the concert addressed serious social issues, Humphries said her work aims to understand the importance of celebration, just like the band’s namesake Emma Goldman, a fierce defender of the right to free speech, the rights of women and the rights of workers.
One day when Goldman was dancing, a colleague said her actions were inconsistent with her image as an activist and scholar
“She said ‘everyone has the right to freedom of expression, to beautiful radiant things,’ but it went down through history as her having said ‘if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution’
Sandy O said Emma’s Revolution shows are always upbeat and humorous.
“It’s a great fit for the Tyler Clementi Foundation because of Tyler’s love of music,” she said. “I think I feel good about bringing some more music back for him.”
The concert also served as a way for the Protestant Campus Ministries to gain exposure, Fox said. Four students who work on staff as peer ministers have been discussing ways to let the University know that not all Christian organizations are homophobic.
“In fact, we have sort of unofficially dubbed ourselves ‘the radically inclusive Christian community,’” she said. “Because that’s really what needs to be made known to the campus — that there’s a place.”
In this sense, the ministry opens its doors as a place for students to discuss doubts, ask questions, talk about experiences and figure out a purpose in the world — especially since many, like Tyler Clementi, do not feel like they have a safe space, Fox said.
“I think that was one of the most excruciating things about Tyler’s story is that on this huge campus with psychological services, and counseling and chaplains, there was no one that he knew he could talk to, apparently, and that’s not acceptable,” she said.
Sandy O said the group unique tries to turn bystanders into upstanders.
“In a situation with a bully, there’s a bully, there’s a victim, and there’s the bystander,” she said. “They said that there’s often somebody there, someone who doesn’t know how to take action.”