By Courtney Devores, The Charlotte Observer
Last November, the leaders of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus were planning an international tour that would include Mexico, Cuba and France to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the country’s oldest gay men’s chorus.
“Then the election happened,” says SFGMC executive director Chris Verdugo. “The next afternoon, our board president reached out to the leadership team and proposed this idea.”
The idea? Taking the chorus to parts of the country where the LGBTQ community arguably needed the most support. The Lavender Pen Tour concentrates on cities and small towns in Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, while raising much-needed funds for local LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations. It closes with a performance on Saturday at Ovens Auditorium.
SFGMC’s beneficiaries and partners in Charlotte include Time Out Youth, Transcend Charlotte, Charlotte’s Gay Men’s Chorus, RAIN and local chapters of One Voice and PFlag.
“Mississippi’s House Bill 1523 is the most discriminatory law. It just went into effect yesterday, and here we are in Jackson,” says Verdugo, whose chorus opened there last Sunday. “Tennessee, as of May 2016, defunded the Pride Center on the University of Tennessee campus. There was a dean of diversity inclusion who was let go.
“We educated ourselves on the different things going on in the South and chose communities where we could make an impact and choose beneficiaries to work with and – as corny as it may sound – bring some love and hope to these communities.”
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Two hundred members of the 300-member SFGMC will perform alongside the 50-member Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir during the swing through the South.
The concert will include anthems that speak to the LGBTQ fight for equality, sacred music and show tunes. The group will also host an Interfaith Service at First United Methodist Church on Tryon Street Saturday, with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir performing during the Sunday service at Myers Park Baptist on Sunday.
Many of the tour’s performances take place in churches. Verdugo, who grew up Southern Baptist in Miami, notes that only one – a Methodist church in Knoxville – refused to have them.
“The leaders of the church wanted us to be there and hold our service, but the senior pastor did not,” he says. “The important part of this is that his rejection of us prompted the leaders to take a more active position in the church and open up a dialogue about LGBT people in their church.”
That dialogue is part of the tour’s mission.
“Religion and faith are at the intersection of every conversation you have in the South. That’s why we’re holding interfaith services at Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist churches, and on the UT campus,” he says. “Doing community sings is important. It provides those who are attending – as well as the singers – a chance to deal with stuff that they’ve gone through because of religion and their relationship with religion. I’m a man of faith, but religion is at the root of some of this injustice and we want to talk about and sing about it.”
And music, he says, is the most powerful way to bring people together.
“Music is one of the greatest equalizers,” Verdugo says. “You can go to a concert, a theater show, and sit next to someone that may not share your beliefs but you can agree on what’s awesome, or not. You can agree on art that entertains and hopefully inspires you.”
SAN FRANCISCO GAY MEN’S CHORUS: THE LAVENDER PEN TOUR
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com.