Over the last six months, a movement has been underway in the South Bay to generate acceptance and provide safe spaces for LGBTQ musicians and fans.
San Jose’s Think and Die Thinking Collective, which was founded in 2012, has organized to help marginalized musicians advocate for themselves. Bean Kaloni Tupou, a founding member of Think and Die, explains that the typical bar show in San Jose can be a hostile environment for LGBTQ communities.
In February of this year, members of the Collective met with the owner of the all-ages club at San Jose Rock Shop and neighboring Back Bar to discuss a controversial sign posted outside of the bar. In a picture posted on the bar’s Facebook page, a handwritten message on a Back Bar sign reads, “Ladies... If you want a man to leave you alone at a bar, don’t tell him you have a boyfriend. They don’t care. Tell him you have a penis. Your [sic] welcome.”
This prompted San Jose musician Richard Gutierrez to write an open letter to San Jose Rock Shop and Back Bar on Facebook. Acknowledging the “trans / non gender-conforming folks who contribute to the San Jose music scene and have supported the Rock Shop since its inception,” Gutierrez stated, “what you are implying with that ‘joke’ is something very transphobic, hurtful and creating a dangerous space.”
Gutierrez continued, “I realize not everyone is well-versed in these issues and a lot of information about these topics have been suppressed throughout the years and allowed for stigmas to grow. I myself was never taught about these issues until much later.”
Gutierrez ended the letter with a call to action: “I hope you take this opportunity to learn and maybe step up as a great example to the community of making a mistake and truly owning it and attempting to better yourself and bring some light to this [...] subject.”
Owner David Nevin quickly apologized, and wrote on Back Bar’s Facebook page: “Scroll down to see what I posted last night. It was thoughtless. I sincerely apologize for doing that without considering what it might mean to everyone. I almost just took the post down but am not sure if it’s better to leave up so that others can understand as well. I understand if this impacts friendships, but want to express that the nature of the post and where it was coming from was never intend[ed] to target or hurt anyone. We’ve been blessed for years to be able to work with and serve everyone of every walk. I wish I could take it back, but not know what it meant might be best to understand... although painfully public. Again, I am sincerely sorry for the post.”
On Feb. 9, Nevin met with four members of the Collective, including Richard Gutierrez, Mander Farrell, Bean Kaloni Tupou and Shannon Taylor Bortner. These musicians introduced Advocates for Youth’s definition of a safe space: “A place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability; a place where the rules guard each person’s self-respect and dignity and strongly encourage everyone to respect others.”
“A safe space looks different to everyone. There are so many different identities that you can’t decide for everyone, all you can do is facilitate,” said Kaloni Tupou at a San Jose Rock Shop show she organized nearly a month later.
Also at the show, Gutierrez said, “It felt good to have that conversation with Dave, who was open to how he was unaware of certain ideas. I thought it was admirable.”
The incident wasn't the first time the collective had been made aware of insensitivity to the LGBTQ community at an area venue. In September last year, at a now-defunct San Jose rock club, musician Mander Farrell was allegedly accosted by the club owner for using the "wrong" bathroom. After an argument ensued, Farrell's band Bascom opted not to play their scheduled set that night.
Anders Ericsson, drummer for the band Rex Goliath, who performed at the show, witnessed the argument. “The most salient emotion from that night," Ericsson said later, "was a feeling of schism and alienation from our musical community.”
The incident motivated Ericsson and others to join the search for safer spaces in San Jose’s music scene. “Opening a discussion with venues and bands felt like the first step,” Ericsson said.
On its Tumblr page, the Collective wrote, “We want to reduce harm in the community spaces of San Jose instead of having to break ties time and time again.” As a relatively small community, San Jose musicians and coordinators have much to gain from honest dialogues.
As Kaloni Tupou and Gutierrez performed as Try the Pie, at San Jose Rock Shop, they asked the audience to draw in closer. One crowd member who joined in was Rex Halafihi, who wore a backpack with a “trans-inclusive feminist” patch.
Halafihi, who moved to San Jose three months ago and is looking to start a band, has already felt like a part the community.
“This place," Halafihi said, "is our little hub and home."
To learn more about the Think and Die Thinking Collective, visit their Tumblr page.