Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles celebrates 40 years with a show of diversidad Dos Coros Una Voz set to tear down walls and lift people up By JOHN PAUL KING
Most people who live in LA – especially those in the LGBTQ community – are familiar with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. The group, more fondly known as GMCLA, has been a local institution for nearly four decades, a mainstay of the annual arts calendar in the city and a treasured source of entertainment among all their devoted followers. Their annual holiday concert is a must-attend event for thousands of queer Angelenos and their families, every December. Though it’s now a firmly established arts organization, with non-profit status and a list of prominent donors and patrons that reads like a who’s who of local civic leadership, it didn’t start out with such a lofty pedigree. GMCLA grew out of a grassroots movement that started in San Francisco, when a group of men gathered on the steps of City Hall to sing after the 1979 assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Those men formed the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, the first such group in the country. Two months later, 99 other men came together to sing at Plummer Park Auditorium in Los Angeles, and GMCLA was born as well. “It was really the start of the next chapter in the LGBT civil rights movement,” says Jonathan Weedman, who serves as GMCLA’s executive director. “What people didn’t realize then was that in three years our lives would be turned upside down by the AIDS epidemic. The gay chorus movement suddenly had more urgency and more profundity, because they were singing for their lives.” In those dark years, the GMCLA became the voice of the LGBT community in Los Angeles, turning up to sing at memorial services, celebrations and activist events. Its members
would even volunteer on Christmas to sing carols to the men languishing in the AIDS wards at hospitals – a tradition that continues to this day, though such wards are, thankfully, a thing of the past and the holiday cheer is now directed toward all patients. “They took on a central role throughout that crisis,” Weedman says, “and they’ve continued to play it ever since. Through the fight for marriage equality, the fight to be included in military service – the chorus has always been there, for 40 years.” More recently, though GMCLA has continued to stand at the forefront of issues affecting the community, hard-won progress in the fight for equality has allowed for an atmosphere in which their status as an activist organization may have faded a bit from public memory. Now, as they launch their 40th anniversary season, the group is returning to the spirit of activism, which marked its beginnings with “Dos Coros Una Voz!” It will be an extravagant joint concert presentation in collaboration with Mexico City’s own Gay Men’s Chorus – Coro Gay Ciudad de México – on October 13. A massive, logistically challenging undertaking, this event is the culmination of nearly two years of planning. Weedman explains, “Five days after the 2016 presidential election, I was hired as executive director of GMCLA, and I realized that our work suddenly had become 10 times more important than it was before. The challenges presented to us by this new administration would require a return to our activist roots. We would have to be a voice for resistance, for change, for social justice – all the things that our community has always stood for.” A few months later, Weedman and his husband were planning a trip to Mexico City.
“I thought, ‘Gee, I wonder if there’s they have a Gay Men’s Chorus there?’ It turns out there was, of course. We met their founder and their leadership, we went to a rehearsal, and I decided I would invite them to come up a year later. When I came back to LA, we got to work on the programming – we arranged for the venue, we made plans for the content and the messaging of the show. One year later, we went back down there, took them all out to dinner – the entire chorus, 65 guys – and I told them, ‘One year ago I said you were all coming to LA – and you are.’” “For me, it’s probably the most important and proud thing I’ve done in my life,” Weedman says. “Ever.” The concert will take place at Glendale’s Alex Theatre, the performance space that GMCLA has called home for the past few years. It’s a collaboration that will commemorate and celebrate the rich traditions and history shared by both the United States and Mexico. During the concert, the two choruses will also be joined onstage by Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, the world’s first LGBTQ Mariachi Band. Together, GMCLA and Coro Gay Ciudad de México will perform a wide array of beloved Mexican and Mexican-American music, paying tribute to artists such as Juan Gabriel, Gloria Trevi, Selena and Los Lobos. There will also be other cultural components and celebrations throughout the week of this exchange, including a concert on Oct. 12 at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles, where together the two choruses will sing for students in appreciation of the city’s diverse communities. “At a time in this country when we are facing so much negativity surrounding our relationship with our southern neighbors,” says Weedman, “we wanted to make a
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Losangelesblade.com, Volume 2, Issue 31, October 5, 2018