Raising Our Voices Against Hate

August 28, 2017
Washington, DC

Since January, and even well before that, we have witnessed a near constant assault on virtually every group that can be referred to as ‘other.’ We have heard hateful rhetoric about women, people with disabilities, immigrants, people of color, queer youth, transgender people, people of different faiths, especially those of Jewish and Muslim religions, and sexual minorities. Even as I write this letter, President Trump is seeking to exclude trans people from serving in the military and to deny currently-serving trans military personnel the medical treatment they require and deserve. Seemingly the only people who are safe are those who share in that hate of the ‘other.’ Even in DC and the surrounding areas, there are increased reports of hate crimes and attacks. These messages of hate have many paralyzed with fear and anger, wondering what we can do.

What this hate has not done and will not do is diminish our voice. Earlier this year, GMCW took strategic steps to align our mission with what we have been doing for nearly four decades – singing for equality, inclusion, justice, and dignity of all people. We believe in a world where everyone is treated with respect and as equals.

As we enter into our 37th season, GMCW reaffirms our pledge to raise our voice to extinguish the hate that is tearing our United States apart. We will celebrate the diverse tapestry of our great nation instead of shredding that tapestry. We will uplift and inspire queer youth rather than allowing them to be the victims of bullying. We will bring people together through the power of performance instead of isolating groups of people with fear. And as we recall the success of our Southern Equality Tour, and plan our next one, we will take our message and music beyond the beltway to comfort, encourage, and inspire a broader activist audience.

Whether you’ve been with us since our inception or are learning about us for the first time, no matter who you are, where you come from, or what you believe, we welcome you to join us as we Make America Gay Again. We offer you the opportunity to make your voice heard by performing with us, volunteering with us, donating to us, and attending our full season of varied and fascinating concerts and events.

With each voice that is added, our power grows. Thank you for being a part.

Love always wins,
Justin and Thea

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.

GMCW surrounds protesters with song

On June 17, 2017, while in Knoxville, TN to perform at Knoxville Pride as part of their Southern Equality Tour, GMCW encountered a group of anti-LGBTQ protesters outside the Knoxville Coliseum where the Knoxville Pride events were taking place. GMCW had finished performing and were on the tour buses about to head back to the hotel. Artistic Director Thea Kano and Executive Director Justin Fyala made a split-second decision. They stopped the buses, got the members to cross four lanes of traffic and then did what they do best: they raised their voiced in song, effectively drowning out the protesters.

The footage from the protest has been viewed over 5 million times on various news outlets and social media platforms, and the story has been picked up all over the US and even overseas with both UK and Ireland news outlets writing about the story. The story has also been tweeted by celebrities like Cher, Audra McDonald and Debra Messing.

GMCW never backs down when an opportunity to share our mission of equality and justice for all presents itself,” he said. “In my mind, we had no choice… We also did it to empower the people attending Knoxville Pride to raise their voices and as a way of thanking them for the powerful work they are doing on the front lines,” says Justin.

Below is a sample of media postings and articles about the Knoxville protest:

Huffington Post

Towleroad

NewNowNext (Logo)

USA Today

Fox 5 News

Washingtonian

Pink News (UK)

The Irish Times (Dublin)

The Guardian (Australia)

To view the video of GMCW singing and surrounding the protesters, click HERE.

Dispatches from the road

by Justin Fyala

1600 miles. 100 singers. 8 concerts. 6 states. 4 days. 2 buses. 1 voice.

I dropped off my dog Daphne. I picked up coffee. I made my way to our departure point. As I turned the corner, I saw a singer walking, no, sashaying toward the bus. I stopped in my tracks and my eyes welled with tears. To me, the vision represents how vital it is for The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. (GMCW) to head out on our Southern Equality Tour.

You see, “sashaying” is an action one only feels truly comfortable doing when freedom and equality are present. It is a symbol of comfort, of being in a place and time where one can be themselves. In the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., it’s a regular occurrence. GMCW is bringing our voice of equality to the South to change hearts and minds, not only about sashaying, but about the larger issue of respecting people for who they are, as they come.

It’s a terrible thing to not be able to walk in the manner most comfortable to oneself. It’s worse to worry each day over losing one’s job because of your core identity. Worst of all is living in fear of one’s life. We head to the South to raise our voice and essential funds for local Queer centers, churches, and organizations. To ease some of the fear and anxiety many individuals feel about not only their rights, but about being their true and open selves. To offer support to those who feel lost.

We arrived at Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, N.C. for our first performance, an institution with a longstanding guiding principle of inclusiveness. Without time for a warm-up, we entered the space singing “Seasons of Love” (you know, that song from Rent). The audience immediately showed their warmth and love, not even allowing us to get through the door before bursting into applause. It was a sweetly surreal moment – we’re really doing this; this is really happening. After the performance, as we quickly made our way back to the bus, words such as phenomenal, wonderful, beautiful, awesome, and thank you rang in our ears.

We continued to Columbia, S.C.’s Reformation Lutheran Church. The church’s tagline is “all are invited and welcomed.” The church, led by Pastor Tim Bupp, goes beyond welcoming those who come through its doors and actively invites those of any community to join. The performance was a benefit for the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center. Ms. Hancock, who many consider the mother of South Carolina Pride was present, beaming that our organizations would work together in such a way. But the collaborative nature of the evening didn’t end there – we were lucky enough to be joined by one of the newest GALA choruses, Midlands Men’s Chorus (MMC). In an email the following morning, MMC Artistic Director Gerald Gurss wrote, “MMC is on fire after last night. So thankful to share the evening with you!” The feeling was more than mutual and we went to bed that night with our own warm fire of justice in our hearts.

To read the rest of Justin’s blog, click HERE.

MD Theatre Guide review of And the Tony Goes To

“This performance, in addition to being incredibly entertaining and very high caliber musically, also took the audience on a journey that the LGBTQ community has lived. It was the perfect balance of celebration and remembrance, enjoyable and thought-provoking.”

Theater critic Kristin Franco of MD Theatre Guide gave a rave review to GMCW’s production of And the Tony Goes To… Kristin writes, “Thea Kano, Artistic Director of the Chorus and conductor of the live musicians of the show is to be commended. She put together an amazing group of performers and paired them with an impressive and varied program.”

To read the full review, click HERE.

Rave review for And the Tony Goes To…

“But with And the Tony Goes To… the Chorus may have raised its own bar. Because kicking off DC Pride Week was as thrilling and moving a musical tribute to the LGBTQ movement as anyone could wish for.” – John Stoltenberg, DC Metro Theater Arts

Theater critic John Stoltenberg gave a rave review to GMCW’s production of And the Tony Goes To… , which ran June 3-4 at the Lincoln Theatre. The concert traced the LGBTQ movement as seen through the Broadway musical and celebrated the contributions of LGBTQ artists to the world of theater.

“The concept (credited to the late visionary director John Moran) was dubbed ‘a musical history of gay Broadway,’ a tagline that barely begins to say what was so extraordinary about the event. Introducing the program, Artistic Director Theo Kano (wearing a shimmering gold sheath) explained (I’m paraphrasing) that the concert would illuminate the two-way influence of musical theater on the movement and of the movement on musical theater. And wow, did that brilliant idea make for some uplifting singing and stirring storytelling.”

To read the full review, click HERE.

Broadway Unbound

Metro Weekly editor Randy Shulman interviewed members of the creative team for GMCW’s Pride concert And the Tony Goes To… to discuss the concert’s song choices, how they reflect LGBTQ history, and the concert’s celebration of the LGBTQ community in one massive event. Randy spoke with stage director Frank Shutts, GMCW Artistic Director Thea Kano, and GMCW singing members Tom Boeke and Bill Cutter, who helped with song choices and writing the script for the concert.

“The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington belting out Broadway showstoppers is a time-honored tradition for the storied 36-year-old troupe. And yet, their annual Spring Pride Concert contains a clever thematic twist that provides the evening a timely bit of freshness, while infusing it with a deeper, underlying meaning: the selections are from shows that contained LGBTQ content and were showered with Tony Awards (not to mention a good drenching of nominations).”

To read the full article, click HERE.

And the Tony Goes To… will be presented June 3 &4 at the Lincoln Theatre. For more information or tickets, click HERE.

GMCW announces Southern Equality Tour

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC (GMCW) is pleased to announce that this summer, June 2017, following Pride week in DC, GMCW will embark on its first-ever bus tour of the South titled Southern Equality Tour, traveling to states that have discriminatory laws against the LGBTQ community. GMCW will take its message of equality, dignity, and justice to six states over four days. They will partner with local churches, LGBTQ centers, and Pride celebrations to raise awareness and much-needed funds, so these organizations can continue to do the vital work that they do. GMCW’s Southern Equality Tour will bring people together and start conversations while spreading a message of equality through song.

Cities to be visited on the tour include Raleigh, NC; Columbia, SC; Atlanta, GA; Birmingham, AL; Knoxville, TN; and Roanoke, VA.

Among the many tour venues, GMCW will sing at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church in Knoxville, and at UUC Birmingham in Alabama, where they will be joined by the Steel City Men’s Chorus. They will collaborate with the Midlands Men’s Chorus at Reformation Lutheran Church in Columbia, South Carolina to benefit the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center, and raise their voices with the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus at the Georgia State Capitol at the invitation of the office of Representative Karla Drenner, the first ever openly gay member of the Georgia General Assembly. GMCW will also appear at Knoxville Pride, side by side with the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus, and will give a benefit concert at the Diversity Center of Roanoke, Virginia.

The tour is incredibly timely and relevant, considering the religious freedom executive order recently signed by the president. GMCW is taking this tour because the news of our being in town can make the difference for that bullied gay kid, or the student who is afraid to come out to his family. They are also taking this tour to stand up to those who are trying to move the clock back on the equality movement.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Executive Director Justin Fyala or Artistic Director Thea Kano, contact Director of Marketing Craig Cipollini at ccipollini@gmcw.org.

Gay Men’s Chorus announces L.O.V.E.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC (GMCW) is pleased to announce they will join with members of other GALA choruses from around the country to form a festival chorus titled L.O.V.E. – League of Voices for Equality. L.O.V.E. is a vocal music project at the Equality March for Unity and Pride on Sunday, June 11, 2017 on the National Mall. The mission of L.O.V.E. is to bring singers together to raise their collective voice in the fight for equality and justice for all people. The Equality March is scheduled for 10:00am until 2:00pm, and L.O.V.E. will be singing throughout the March. Please note this is not an official performance at the March. L.O.V.E. will be singing throughout the day at various times and locations. GMCW will then make its way to the Capital Pride Festival on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Hundreds of singers are expected to be a part of this project. Some of the GALA choruses that will be joining GMCW are members of:

Alexandria Harmonizers
Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte
Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus
New York City Gay Men’s Chorus Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus
Steel City Men’s Chorus
Triad Pride Men’s and Women’s Choruses

Moving the Needle

May 24, 2017 by Thea Kano

Less than one week after the National Equality March for Pride and Unity, 100 members of GMCW and our staff will board buses and head out on our first Southern Equality Tour. In the four days we are on the road we’ll travel through six states (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia), singing at churches and LGBTQ Centers along the way.

Among our many tour venues, we will sing at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church, a congregation still reeling from a shooting there several years ago when a man opened fire because of the church’s social liberalism. In Birmingham, Alabama, the Steel City Men’s Chorus will join us at the UUC Birmingham, which has a deep Civil Rights struggle connection—its congregation was deeply involved in and effected by the Civil Rights movement, and they continue to be social justice leaders. We will collaborate with the Midlands Men’s Chorus at Reformation Lutheran Church in Columbia, South Carolina to benefit the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center, and we will raise our voices with the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus at the Georgia State Capitol at the invitation of the office of Representative Karla Drenner, the first ever openly gay member of the Georgia General Assembly. We will appear at Knoxville Pride, side by side with the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus, and will give a benefit concert at the Diversity Center of Roanoke, Virginia.

We are going to these locations to give our support, and encourage and thank folks for their social justice work. There will also be opportunities to sing in public parks and plazas. Here is where we might face opposition, perhaps even hearing hateful words. We will carry our GMCW banner proudly, wearing the GMCW logo on our shirts, and we will raise our voices for equality with confidence, knowing that love always wins.

To read the rest of the article, click HERE.