Two years ago, 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Clementi was gay, and his actions were prompted by an incident that had occurred just days before, after his roommate secretly filmed an intimate encounter he’d had with another man and streamed it live for other Rutgers students to watch.
The incident was among those that raised awareness of bullying in our schools, particularly that which targets LGBT students. But there’s still more work to be done to prevent bullying, and Erase Hate Tampa Bay was formed last year to educate the community on the importance of accepting people who are different.
The group holds its first-ever family-friendly Erase the Hate Festival this Sunday at Curtis Hixon Park. Lots of fun activities are planned for the kids — a giant slide, crafts, bungee jumps, a rock-climbing wall and more — all to spread the group’s important message.
At the heart of the free event is music. Local bands Halcyon, Buster Blues and others warm up the stage for nationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile. “It’s a really good cause and something I want to be a part of,” she said in a recent interview with CL. “Division, compartmentalizing [music and people], labeling things — it’s all one of the strangest human conditions.”
The festival nearly didn’t happen. A storm hit Tampa Bay on the weekend originally slated for the event in April, forcing organizers to cancel and cross their fingers that rescheduling was a possibility. Even though they had to contend with Carlile's national tour as well as the popularity of Curtis Hixon Park, which now tends to book well in advance, the organization was able to set the new fall date.
“It’s funny how the rescheduled date couldn’t be at a more pivotal time,” said Carlile, referring to the upcoming election, which occurs just days after the festival. “It couldn’t be more poignant. It couldn’t be a better time to have an inclusive message, and there couldn’t be a better time to have it conveyed in the South.”
The openly gay musician married her partner in Massachusetts this September. Though she tended to keep her personal life private earlier in her career, with gay marriage such a hot-button issue she’s recognized the importance of being a role model for younger fans.
“I hope to see marriage equality in my lifetime, starting at the state level,” she said. With gay marriage on the ballot in her home state of Washington, she’s performed at marriage equality rallies and fundraisers there. “I’m not just funding the fight; I’m getting involved in it. We need to give our government the message that we don’t want DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being solely between a man and a woman].”
Erase the Hate’s message of inclusiveness is in line with that of Carlile’s own group, Looking Out Foundation, which she formed in 2008 with bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth. Through music, the foundation supports humanitarian outreach efforts on local levels and beyond, helping raise funds for groups that aid the arts, women, public health, the hungry, the homeless and more. “We’re all about civil rights and social awareness,” she said. “The three of us are ever-changing, ever-evolving activists.” So it’s perfect that they’re able to fund any project they’re passionate about.
Carlile’s current tour follows the release of her fourth LP, Bear Creek. Much like past albums, the music embraces several different genres, from folk and twangy Americana to rock ’n’ roll. The album emerged from a wave of creativity, she said. “I wasn’t even thinking about sitting down and writing new songs. But it seemed like every day I came up with a new one.”
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