The SF Gay Men’s Chorus Toured the Deep South. Now They’re Singing About it
On Thursday March 29th, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus will present Bridges at Davies Symphony Hall, a performance which the chorus says “features an evening of songs that look at the past, celebrate the present, and builds the bridge for a better future.”
Chorus Artistic Director Dr. Timothy Seelig explained how this show came to be.
“Two days after the election in 2016, we decided to go to the South to encourage our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” Seelig said. “We chose the two states with the most discriminatory laws on the books – Mississippi and North Carolina. We filled in Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina. The truth of the South is the way to the legislature is through the church, so we sang in lots of churches! Our goal was to empower the people and organizations through the South – just as our patron saint, Harvey Milk, did here in San Francisco. So, we decided to name the tour after the lavender pen Harvey gave Mayor Moscone to sign the first gay civil rights bill.”
Seelig added that there were concerns about backlash as the Chorus prepared to embark on their Lavender Pen Tour.
“Six buses full of gays does create attention, that’s for sure,” he said. “One of the most fun moments was on “drag karaoke” on the bus day. While the karaoke was great fun, it was even more fun stopping for a restroom break at the Alabama/Tennessee information center truck stop.”
Though all their performances took place without any mishaps, Seelig did note that not everyone was happy to see the Chorus in town. “Nothing bad happened,” he assures us. “But we were met with protests along the way. One of our concert venues, the First Baptist Church of Greenville, S.C. had to do a bomb sweep between our tech rehearsal and performance due to ‘chatter’ on the air waves. But, thankfully, we were all safe.”
The purpose of the Lavender Pen Tour, according to Seelig, was to uplift the LGBTQ community in the South. “It was to start conversations along the way,” he said. “We opened many doors that the community had been unable to reach. The music truly built bridges all the way. One of the really unintended goals of the trip was how it changed us. Sitting in the Brown AME Chapel in Selma where Dr. Martin Luther King planned and launched the civil rights movement was incredible. Going from there to reenact the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge was amazing.”
And now the chorus brings the Lavender Pen Tour home. “We hope to literally take our audience back to our tour through video, spoken word, music and, of course, guest artists,” Seelig said. “All three choirs from the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir organization. We are also welcoming singer/songwriter/activist Holly Near. Holly sang with the chorus on the City Hall steps at Harvey Milk’s candle light vigil in November, 1978. She was to go with us on tour, but her home was burned in the Santa Rosa fires the week of our tour.”
Seelig wants the audience at Bridges to experience the Lavender Pen Tour firsthand. “It is important for our audience to experience just a little of what we did on this momentous tour celebrating our 40th season,” he said. “We know the audience will be amazed at the experiences we had and that we will share. I think the audience will be proud of us and proud to have been a part of helping us make this journey. I also think the audience is going to go away so very impressed with the wonderful people in the south. And, of course, they will laugh and cry along with us at the stories, images and music.”
Tickets for Bridges can be purchased here.