By AMANDA KIMBLE
STEPHENVILLE (July 12, 2016) – Almost 50 dead. More than 50 injured. Resounding gunfire from the mid-June attack on patrons of Pulse nightclub in Orlando was felt across the nation.
Hoping to silence the discord and bring the community together for a unity and entertainment, Tarleton State University Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), allies, local musicians and sponsors are banding together for the We Are Pulse Orlando Benefit Concert. The event will be held 7-10 p.m. this Friday, July 15, at Stephenville City Park.
The idea to combat violence with music came to Torri Carroll, member and former GSA president, after a sleepless night contemplating the mass shooting. Carroll says brothers and sisters in the LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) community were not all that was lost that night.
“We lost a sense of safety in a location that should be ours – a gay club. To have that sense of safety stripped away was very jarring.”
Expressing her emotions on Snapchat, Carroll says friends began offering support, saying they would lend a hand to an organized outreach effort. Tarleton’s counseling center and Office of Diversity and Inclusion was also willing to help.
“So I said, ‘let’s put something together,’ ”says Carroll.
Much like the Pulse victims were brought together, Carroll decided raising money for victims and their families through a benefit concert would be a fitting tribute.
“Music is what brought those people (Pulse victims and survivors) together,” adds Carroll, saying she hopes to see the local community – including all Stephenville and Erath County residents – recreate the same feeling. “I hope to see everyone come out as a sign of solidarity.”
The idea of a united community is what Tarleton State University Office of Diversity and Inclusion works to foster.
Lora Helvie-Mason, director of diversity and inclusion since 2012, says the university’s initiative to support all students and led to the formation of Tarleton Ally program.
Allies are individuals who provide a safe space, respectfully listen to and support LGBT people.
The program includes more than 100 faculty and staff members across campus who are identified by a placard outside of their office or residence.
“The ally program is an outlet for students who feel they do not have someone to turn to,” Carroll says. “Sometimes we get slurs thrown our way, but we know we have someone to stand up and fight for us, someone who has gone through ally training and understands how to connect to the (LBGT) community. We are blessed to have so many people – so many types of people – helping out.”
Up to four levels of ally training is available. The first level provides general information and introduction on the program and LBGTQ (queer/questioning) + (Plus) community, according to Helvie-Mason.
She says the second step addresses the “coming out” process in which individuals inform their families, friends and others of their sexual identity and/or orientation. The third and fourth steps address transgender policy and special topics, which change annually depending on needs and issues.
The allies aren’t only on-campus advocates. Carroll says a number of the have volunteered their time to Friday’s event and participate in other big events organized by GSA and other related causes and organizations.
In addition to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, We are Pulse Orlando Benefit Concert is being sponsored by Mikel Shane Prather, a Tarleton alum and composer and Scott’s Flowers on the Square.
The musical lineup includes are singer/songwriters Jon Young, Billy Hartman, Kerri Lick, Seth Cantu
Kelton Hicks, Josh Harville and Cami Maki, who have each offered to donate their talent to the fund-raising effort.
Carroll says GSA is seeking additional corporate sponsors and more entertainers are also invited to donate their talents.
Funds will be raised through ticket and concession sales and an art auction featuring donated works from local artists.
Pre-sale tickets are $7 and available at Scott’s Flowers on the Square or the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which is located in the Thompson Student Center at Tarleton State University.
GSA will send all proceeds from the event to Equality Florida, which Carroll says is a trustworthy and transparent organization that is guarantees 100 percent of the money they collect for the cause will be delivered to families of Pulse victims and survivors of the incident.
Finally, Carroll says GSA is a place where Tarleton students can find others who understand the challenges they are facing.
“It’s about making friends, advocating across campus and fighting change things for the better,” Carol says. “We are here to offer support to student who need it, some who are not out to their family and friends, we GSA is the one place where they can always be themselves.”
To support Friday’s benefit concert, contact Carroll at 512-734-6565.