Rehearsing for an upcoming performance, Calgary musician Pam Rocker starts strumming a familiar tune on her ukulele.
But her version of the Johnny Cash classic Ring of Fire quickly heads in a new direction.
“I’ve heard there’s a place for me where I will burn for eternity,” are Rocker’s new lyrics to start the song. The first chorus kicks off with the line: “I fell into a gay lake of fire.”
“It’s inspired by the idea that a lot of LGBTQ folks are told they’re going to hell.”
Rocker reworked the song to perform at a benefit concert for the Calgary Rainbow Railroad Station.
Run out of the Centre for Newcomers, the organization offers support for refugees who’ve come to Canada to escape persecution because of their sexual orientation.
“I was attacked on the streets numerous times,” refugee Boban Stojanovic said. “My apartment was attacked by neo-Nazis.”
Stojanovic came to Calgary two years ago from Serbia.
“Being one of the few LGBT activists in my country, I didn’t feel safe there.”
He’s now helping run the Rainbow Railroad Station, arranging things like food and shelter for newly-arrived refugees, along with much-needed emotional support.
“They bring a lot of trauma from their previous life in their own country,” Stojanovic said. “Sometimes it’s very, very hard.”
The benefit concert starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 9 at Knox Presbyterian Church in southwest Calgary.
The church’s musical director, Jim Picken, helped organize the event.
“It’s hard for refugees from that community to get support,” Picken said. “Let’s do it.”
“A lot of the time they’re coming here without families, without any other sort of support,” Rocker said. “And so I feel that as a member of the community, it’s really important to care.”