SF Gay Men's Chorus Responds to Trump Election with Red State Tour

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, which has a long history of combining music with political activism, poses outside the headquarters of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, summer 2016.  (Photo: San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus)

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is responding to the news of Trump’s impending presidency by planning an outreach tour through some of the most conservative areas of the United States.

In the summer of 2018, the Chorus plans to visit Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida and possibly additional southern states for a two-week, 40th anniversary “Building Bridges Tour." The ensemble aims to instill hope in members of the LGBTQ community in those places in the wake of the presidential election results, as well as educate people less receptive to gay culture.

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus in performance at Davies Symphony Hall in 2015
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus in performance at Davies Symphony Hall in 2015 (Photo: Gareth Gooch Photography)

"We’re doing this because we’re aware the events of last Tuesday have left many in the LGBTQ community feeling either unsafe or wondering about what their future holds, and if their rights are at stake," says Chris Verdugo, the chorus's executive director. "We in San Francisco and other urban cities are fortunate to have the support of large LGBTQ organizations like GLAAD. These states in the south don't have that kind of support. So it was obvious that we needed to take to our our own backyard and bring a message of hope, equality and perseverance to our brothers and sisters."

Political activism is ingrained of the Gay Men's Chorus' DNA. Last July, the ensemble performed the song “If You Were Gay” from the musical Avenue Q outside the Colorado Springs headquarters of the conservative, christian group Focus on the Family.

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Verdugo, who is no stranger to opposition from anti-gay groups, having encountered a Westboro Baptist Church picket line while on tour in Kansas in 2013 with his former chorus, the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, says the concert at Focus on the Family passed without incident. "It wasn't as if we had an open invitation," Verdugo says. "But it was very peaceful."

Verdugo says he hopes the chorus will be able to use music and storytelling to bridge the gap in divisive communities when on tour in 2018. But he's anticipating potential hostility from people who aren't interested in hearing the chorus' unifying message. He says the chorus will have a solid plan in place to deal with potential assaults. "If we encounter hostility we will combat it with the tools we have," Verdugo says. "We’re here to take a stand and we will take it from a base of love."

Verdugo says roughly 150 singers of the 313-strong choir will join the journey through the south. Verdugo says the chorus will raise the $200,000-plus tour budget through private funders and corporate support.

The project replaces the chorus' previously-planned 2018 tour to Cuba and Mexico. "Those plans are now on hold," Verdugo says. "This is much more important to be in our own backyard and supporting our own brothers and sisters who are American as they go through this."

Verdugo says the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' announcement is already inspiring other LGBTQ musical ensembles around the country to consider undertaking similar outreach programs, though no other group has yet formally announced its intentions.

In conjunction with the announcement of the “Building Bridges Tour," the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus released its performance of the song "There Will Be Light" from the gritty rock musical Next to Normal on YouTube.

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