Moving the Needle with Love

by Thea Kano

We had just boarded the buses following our performance at the Knoxville Pride Festival when we saw several protesters at the festival’s entrance, so we asked the drivers to pull over. Our 100 singers unloaded the buses and crossed four lanes of traffic to get to the other side of the road where the protesters where shouting the hateful remarks also written on their signs. We were in the midst of gathering when one of them approached us. I blew the pitch pipe, yelled “Seasons of Love,” cued the chorus, and we instinctually encircled him while commencing to sing. He shouted louder and louder, so we raised our voices, increasing the dynamics with each musical phrase. As we stood in the blazing heat, encircling the hate in our bright green t-shirts from the March for Equality and Pride, the protester walked within the circle, standing before each of us, looking at each of us one by one, with eyes that emitted fear and loneliness. He continued to shout, and we continued to sing. We next sang “Make Them Hear You,” then “We Shall Overcome,” and finally, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At that point a young woman named Tessa entered our circle, proudly carrying a Pride flag. She held it up high against the protestor’s sign, covering its hateful words. Our singing literally drowned out hate that hot afternoon.

That evening we performed a concert at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church, a venue recommended to us by a pastor at a Unitarian church in the Washington, DC area. She said we should sing there because “they could use your love.” She explained that a few years prior a man entered the church during a youth ministries program and shot nine attendees, killing two, while shouting hateful and disparaging words against the LGBTQ community. This congregation is still reeling from having been violently shrouded in hate that night. Our coming to town and singing for the church members gave this congregation an opportunity to heal. One of its members later said that she wept all the way home following our concert, as our being there helped her to feel the hope and love that was ripped away so violently years ago. Also in our audience that night was social justice activist Candice Carawan, who with her husband made “We Shall Overcome” the protest song it is today. That night she led us, hand in hand, in song, and at once we were shrouded with love, and filled with humble gratitude for this activist’s life-long work.

To read the rest of Thea’s blog post at GALA Choruses website, click HERE.