Although it's been nearly a decade since my partner and I combined our singing voices with those of others in Indychoruses, the umbrella organization for the Indianapolis Men's and Women's Choruses, I continue to have a special place in my heart for those days, beginning in the early 1990's, when the Indianapolis and surrounding area LGBT community first considered them a talented and visible source of pride. I was personally privileged to serve as the organization's treasurer for nearly a decade, and a term as its president.
So it was with a great deal of pride and satisfaction that I share with Bilerico-Indiana readers the news that Indychoruses was recently recognized and honored at the annual Lambda Legal dinner in Indianapolis last weekend. They deserve every accolade for a lead role in building bridges of understanding through music.
I remember well my first encounter with the Indianapolis Men's Chrorus. While I had missed, to my continuing regret, its June 1992 inaugural major concert at the Madame Walker Theatre, I was in the crowd on Monument Circle a few days later when the chorus members were scheduled to sing at the opening of another milestone event in the Indianapolis LGBT community: the first Pride Day, held on the south steps of that very public and well-known landmark.
You could feel the tension as the opening ceremonies began. For in those days, displays of blatant and very nasty homophobia were much more in evidence in Indianapolis. A southside fundamentalist pastor by the name of Greg Dixon Sr. spewed forth in his pulpit, the media, and elsewhere with words that might today make Fred Phelps blush. What can only be described as "Christian" goon squads carrying anti-gay signs and yelling language Jesus would surely condemned were everywhere.
As founding IMC director Michael Hayden assembled the group (some of them wondering if they hadn't made a huge mistake in daring to proclaim who they were in such a public assembly) those elements grew more vocal, and started to charge the steps where the program was to be conducted. Law enforcement personnel mostly kept them at bay, but the potential for a bad and perhaps bloody scene was clearly present. As I looked on, the members looked to him for what to do. His reply: we're here to sing... so let's do it.
Suddenly a rich blend of first and second tenors, baritones and basses began to fill the Circle: "Oh say can you see... by the dawn's early light..." The noise and heckling suddenly began to disappear.
"And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air..." Those who had wrapped their religion in Old Glory were hearing those "sissies", "faggots", and "moral degenerates" demonstrating that the ugly protesters held no monopoly when it came to expressing their love of country. The yellers and hecklers just didn't know what to make of it.
"...o're the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave". By now, the rowdy bunch had slithered away, lost in the growing cheers of other onlookers, gay, straight, black, white, capable of carrying a tune or not. I looked around me and there were tears, and some of them were mine. At that point I resolved to join those singers. Even as I type these words, I get chills just thinking of that day some 16 years ago in Downtown Indianapolis.
I felt a similar moment a few years later when the women of the Indianapolis Women's Chorus made their first public appearance.
So for Lambda Legal to honor both choruses at a spot downtown not all that far away from Monument Circle was entirely appropriate. Like all volunteer organizations, Indychoruses has faced its challenges. The world of 2008 differs from that of 1992, and the precise role to be played by the many groups within GALA, the national organization of gay and lesbian choruses, within our community is the subject of continuing discussion. Some of my initial colleagues onstage have passed, and I now see familiar faces above tuxes and red ribbons that remind me well that melodic voices in their 20's and 30's have given way to those almost a generation older.
But they still build bridges of understanding... and there is no question as to where those bridges lead to. Congratulations on a job well done, fellow singers. You are truly a valued part of our community, and Lambda Legal deserves kudos for its own public recognition of your talents and dedication to our cause.