Bay Area Choruses Sing Out in Mississippi Against Anti-Gay Bill

Members of The San Francisco Gay Mens Chorus and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir gather on the steps of the Mississippi State Capitol to sing.

Members of The San Francisco Gay Mens Chorus and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir gather on the steps of the Mississippi State Capitol to sing. (Photo: Chloe Veltman/KQED)

Around 200 members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, together with some 50 singers from the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, gathered on the steps of the State Capitol Building in Jackson, MS to sing a message of love and unity on Sunday.


The gesture kicked off a concert and outreach tour of five southern states — Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina — and was intended as a powerful message to state legislators just days before a controversial law, House Bill 1523, takes effect across the state.

Also known as “The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” HB 1523 gives businesses the right to refuse service to LGBTQ people due to religious views or preferences.

“As of this week it will be legal for any business owner in Mississippi to tell your pastor he can’t have lunch in their establishment, to tell me I can’t sleep in their inn, to tell me I can’t buy from their shelves,” said Robert Lowry, pastor of Fondren Presbyterian Church in Jackson. Lowry spoke with passion about the bill during his Sunday morning sermon, at which select Gay Men’s Chorus members sang. Lowry is gay. 

Pastor Robert Lowry of Fondren Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS.
Pastor Robert Lowry of Fondren Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS. (Photo: Chloe Veltman/KQED)

Lowry said this week is a turning point for Mississippi because of the passing of the highly-contested bill, and that the Bay Area singers’ visit sends a powerful message.

“The religious liberty law is really a law for discrimination,” Lowry said in an interview before the service. “It’s important the choir is visiting right now, coming and celebrating and sharing their gifts and  bringing this message of wholeness and peace and community into our community.”

A pair of SF Gay Mens Chorus members arrive at Fondrian Presbyterian Church to participate in the morning service, holding hands.
A pair of SF Gay Men’s Chorus members arrive at Fondrian Presbyterian Church to participate in the morning service, holding hands. (Photo: Chloe Veltma)

Spreading a sense of hope and solidarity to some of the most vulnerable parts of the country’s LGBTQ community is one of the main goals of the Gay Men’s Chorus’s “Lavender Pen” tour. The chorus canceled its 40th anniversary international tour plans a few days after last November’s presidential elections in order to undertake what the organization felt was a more pressing outreach mission at home. 

“We wanted to be more radically inclusive,” said Gay Men’s Chorus staffer and former singer with the group, Peter Zimmerman. (Zimmerman even dyed his hair lavender in honor of the tour’s title.)

SF Gay Mens Chorus staffer Peter Zimmerman died his hair lavender in honor of the "Lavender Pen Tour."
SF Gay Mens Chorus staffer Peter Zimmerman dyed his hair lavender in honor of the “Lavender Pen Tour.” (Photo: Chloe Veltman/KQED)

Zimmerman said his organization expects around 800 people to attend Sunday evening’s concert at Jackson’s Thalia Mara Hall. All proceeds from ticket sales and donations will benefit non-profit, LGBTQ support organizations. These include Project One America, the transgender education and advocacy program of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the AIDS Services Coalition based in Hattiesburg.

The Gay Men’s Chorus has also offered some partner organizations free tickets. These include My Brother’s Keeper, which provides health services to minority and marginalized communities in the region, and is bringing around 150 of its patients to the concert.

“Many of the patients that we serve have never been to a concert or even set foot in Thalia Mara Hall,” said Deja Abdul-Haqq, director of organizational development at My Brother’s Keeper. “So it’s a really exciting opportunity for us.”

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus “Lavender Pen Tour” visits various locations in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina Oct. 8 – 14. More information here

Bay Area Choruses Sing Out in Mississippi Against Anti-Gay Bill 9 October,2017Chloe Veltman

  • Sheryll Thomson

    I wish I could have been there. I congratulate the choruses for their creative activism and cheer them on to do more and more.

    Berkeley

Author

Chloe Veltman

Chloe Veltman covers arts and culture for KQED. Prior to joining the organization, she launched and led the arts bureau at Colorado Public Radio, was the Bay Area’s culture columnist for the New York Times, and was also the founder, host and executive producer of VoiceBox, a national award-winning weekly podcast/radio show and live events series all about the human voice. Chloe is the recipient of numerous prizes, grants and fellowships including both the John S Knight Journalism Fellowship and Humanities Center Fellowship at Stanford University, the Sundance Arts Writing Fellowship and a Library of Congress Research Fellowship. She is the author of the book “On Acting” and a guest lecturer at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She holds a BA in english literature from King’s College, Cambridge, and a Masters in Dramaturgy from the Central School of Speech and Drama/Harvard Institute for Advanced Theater Training.
cveltman@kqed.org
@chloeveltman
www.chloeveltman.com

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