Why Pride?

On the night before Pride Cymru 2017, SWGMC Chairman Nick de Figueiredo muses on why marching is still relevant today.

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This weekend Pride Cymru is being celebrated in Cardiff. Tomorrow I March through the city with my friends in South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus, alongside other members of the LGBT+ community and our allies, in a display of pride, visibility and and community. I’m sure it will be a sight to behold, and there may even be a song or two if you catch us at the right time.

But that’s tomorrow. I’m writing this the night before, after a long week and a glass (read: half a bottle) of wine, and the weekend ahead has me thinking.

Because Pride as a concept is a tricky one, isn’t it. On the one hand, the LGBT+ community say that sexuality and gender identity are things we don’t choose – it’s just how we are made, and it’s only a small part of our personalities anyway, and actually there’s a lot more to us, and how about you just stop trying to label us okay! – yet at the same time we will happily parade through the streets together claiming to be proud of ourselves. But if we don’t have any control over these aspects of ourselves, how – and why – are we proud of them?

I’ve taken to the internet for a spot of light googling, and one prominent definition of Pride that I’ve found goes like this:

“A feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of one’s close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.”

To unpick it a little, this definition is two parts achievement and one part admiration. Seems a little smug, doesn’t it? Does this mean Pride is a just big festival of back-slapping and mutual adoration before we all take our shirts off and dance to Kylie? Looking at it in this way, it sort of resembles another definition of Pride I found online: “the quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself or one’s importance.”

Why then, in 2017, are Gay Pride celebrations still a thing? Are they relevant, or are they just an excuse for a big, gay, self-congratulatory love-in?

I think the answer lies in the context. If you know your gay history then you’ll know about the Stonewall Riots, arguably the birthplace of the gay liberation movement. The Riots happened at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, an establishment known to be popular among the poorest and most marginalised people in the gay community including drag queens, trans people, effeminate young men and butch lesbians. When police violently raided the Stonewall Inn in the early hours of 28 June 1969, the riots that followed – and the organised activism that came shortly afterwards – paved the way for the first gay pride marches. These took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago on 28 June 1970, marking the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. One of my favourite gay rights quotes ever is about the Stonewall riots. Sadly I can’t find it now (I have just searched through my entire twitter feed looking) but I think it was something like: “You don’t have gay rights because of what straight-acting white guys did. You have gay rights because of a sissy with a brick.”

So Pride as a movement is a direct response to oppression and marginalisation. But fast-forward to 2017 – by now well reported as being 50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales – and some people claim that Pride’s work is now done. Sure, there was the infamous Section 28 in the UK which prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools between 1988 and 2003, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell which effectively banned LGBT+ people from serving in the US military between 1994 and 2011, but those are now off the statute books and resigned to history, aren’t they? We’ve got equal treatment under the law now – heck, we can even get married – so why do we still need Pride?

I am aware of Stonewall but some of the dates and details above I had to look up to educate myself. I have set out below a list of homophobic and transphobic things that I am aware of – without having to even google ‘homophobia’ – which are happening in the world right now. Although some of the details may be off (as I say, I have not researched these and all of the information below is off the top of my head), the fact that I can call these things to mind so easily – and particularly the homophobic and transphobic rhetoric that I am aware of which surrounds each of them – genuinely worries me.

  • Chechnya, Russia, 2016/2017. Journalists report that gay men are rounded up and put in concentration camps, beaten, and potentially murdered. We don’t know the full details because the media coverage in Russia isn’t what you’d call gay-friendly. What we do know is that, when questioned, the government official in charge of the area in Chechnya where this is happening – the (ostensibly) democratically elected government official – commented that there couldn’t be a problem because there were no gay people in Chechnya. In saying this he failed to acknowledge that certain people living under his jurisdiction even exist, much less that they are being persecuted by the state.
  • Donald Trump’s America, Summer 2017. In (apparently) the “land of the free”, their Commander in Chief attempts to bar trans people from serving their country with a tweet. This was apparently to do with costs, however on closer inspection many have reported that the actual costs of supporting trans soldiers are essentially no problem at all for the US military and even Trump’s generals don’t want to support his trans military ban. Some have claimed that his tweets about the ban were a smokescreen to distract from other things, possibly building on the pre-existing anti-trans rhetoric around the “trans bathroom bills” that keep being pushed in southern states (in response to no documented threats or incidents whatsoever). Either way, a President promoting and reinforcing this sort of anti-trans rhetoric in 2017 is very worrying.
  • Donald Trump’s America, still 2017. White nationalists march through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia (I think), apparently protesting the removal of confederate statues while most definitely carrying swastika flags (yes, actual Nazi flags), chanting racist and anti-semitic chants and fighting, resulting in injuries and at least one death.
  • UK, 2017. After losing an election she didn’t need to call in the first place, Prime Minister Teresa May’s government unashamedly bribes the DUP – a Northern Ireland party with staunchly homophobic, misogynistic and anti-feminist views and policies – with £1.5 billion of public money in return for propping up her now majority-less government.

So from a logical point of view it may not make sense to be “proud” of sexuality, gender identity or any of our other inherent characteristics. But we don’t need Pride because of what it is, we need Pride because of what it fights against. Context and circumstances make Pride – as an event but also as an LGBT+ concept – absolutely vital, because the alternative is toxic and deadly. I am 28 years old, and I don’t recall a time in my memory when Pride has been more necessary.

Pride is the antithesis, the cure, the rallying cry. Pride says: “I am here. I am this. I demand acknowledgement. I demand respect”. And yes, some aspects of Pride events can be light-hearted or silly or overtly sexual or camp, but it doesn’t matter whether we’re at Pride to march or to dance – what matters is that we’re there at all. What matters is that Pride – and gay bars, and gay social groups, and gay choirs – exist as a space which is our own, and within which we can express ourselves, be who we are, and be visible. Because Pride isn’t shame. Pride isn’t being alone. Pride isn’t being rejected or murdered just because of who you are or who you love. Pride literally saves people’s lives.

But Pride’s work is not yet over. Disrespect, intolerance and violence are all alive and well. They manifest themselves in homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ableism, classism, and many other outlets that we don’t even have names for. They are happy to create misery, even take lives, whether through violence or through shame. Only pride – big, brash, loud, unashamed pride – can fight back.

So I will march tomorrow because I need Pride, as we all do. We need to be proud of our sexuality, and our LGBT+ community, because the alternative is shame, and shame can kill us.

I hope that one day we do not need Pride. Sadly, I don’t think tomorrow is that day.

 

 

SWGMC 2015: A Bass Note

SWGMC are back from our summer break and already gearing up for our next concert (17 October, since you ask), but rather than spending all of our time looking forwards we thought we’d take this opportunity to look back at how the choir have spent 2015 so far. So here our bass section leader, Stephen Whitehead, talks us through his highlights of SWGMC 2015:

Steven along with his section in a sectional gathering.
Steven along with his section in a sectional gathering.

I’ve been asked to write about what it’s like to sing with SWGMC, in particular in those performances which are not principally ours but where we are invited to perform by others, sometimes for the first time. And events in 2015 have provided the ideal opportunity to do just that. Here goes.

By January 2015, South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus’ programme for the year was set, and included dates for our own Cardiff concerts in June and October, plus a visit to Cornwall in May. The first music for our June ‘Brotherhood’ themed concert had been sent, downloaded and printed ready for learning. Then three invitations, out of the blue and hot off the e-mail press, meant that our public performances would begin earlier than planned. Each would be a ‘first’ and would, in its own way, prove to be truly memorable.

SWGMC at the premier of "Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage"; Ruth Jones and Gareth Thomas paused for a picture with the boys
SWGMC at the premier of “Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage”; Ruth Jones and Gareth Thomas paused for a picture with the boys

In February we were approached by National Theatre Wales. Would we be able to sing in the Sherman Theatre at the press night of Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, a new play which told the story of the career and ‘coming-out’, and resulting media sensation, of Welsh International Rugby player Gareth Thomas. Since he came-out Gareth has become an active campaigner against homophobia in sport, working especially with young people.
A couple of years ago the media reported a number of suicides amongst young people in Bridgend which had a devastating effect on the community, and through a thought-provoking balance of humour, drama and sport, the play skilfully interwove Gareth’s story with that of Bridgend and those suicides.
It showed not only how far we have come as society with regards to LGBT equality as a whole but also, in some respects, how far we have yet to go. It’s a sobering thought that for some in our audiences, these performances may be the only time they knowingly come into contact with openly gay people. The choir foregathered in the bar post curtain where, with a suitably chosen programme and against a percussive accompaniment of tinkling glasses, we entertained an appreciative audience. At times music becomes the way by which we can build bridges.

Pride Film
Pride (2014) highlighted the struggle the Miners and LGBT community faced back in the 1980’s under the Thatcher Government. Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners formed in 1984 and a year later they were joined in solidarity by the Welsh Mining Communities to march in London Pride of 1985.

In March we received another invitation, this time from Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre. Would we be able to sing at a special screening of ‘PRIDE’ at the Big Pit Mining Museum? The award-winning film charts the events of 1984/85 when a group from London, LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), spearheaded a nationwide campaign to financially support striking miners through voluntary collections. Initially they focussed on Onllwyn in South Wales, and thanks to their efforts the two disparate communities became united in a way that was unprecedented. As most of us had seen the film, some more than once, and knowing how moving, inspiring and uplifting it is we also knew this performance would be extra special. Thankfully we sang our twenty five minute programme prior to the film’s screening, as it would have been difficult singing afterwards. As one of our members commented, ‘Will there ever be a time when we don’t cry at this film?’ The question was not necessarily rhetorical.

London Pride
Subsequently we had the honour to join LGSM and Tredegar Town Band on June 27th at London Pride to commemorate this historic event in the campaign for LGBT equality.

Question: how do you squeeze eighteen choristers, a conductor, vocal coach, accompanist, keyboards, a presenter and all the usual studio equipment into one small BBC radio studio? The secret is to take it in turns to breathe, as we discovered when were asked by BBC Radio 2 to sing ‘live’ on the Jeremy Vine Show from BBC Llandaff in March.

SWGMC join the Jeremy Vine show live in Cardiff
SWGMC join the Jeremy Vine show live in Cardiff

Two numbers leading up to the main news on the hours of the programme? No problem. Would we be able to do something ‘extra’; how about a jingle for the programme? Certainly. You have one? Ah, you want us to invent one!? No problem! Three minutes to go, improvisation kicks in and with moments to spare we have a jingle, it is rehearsed, the BBC like it, and three minutes in we sing it ‘live’; to an anticipated audience of 7 million people. We have sung in concert halls, theatres, churches, even a bio dome at the Eden Project, but to an unseen audience of 7 million people! No pressure!
Those of you who were listening in may have recalled that rather challenging question Jeremy posed from his audience of “Why a gay choir?” – Mark Anderson told us all at the time very much “Why a gay choir?” in his blog.

Fast forward to July now (but not forgetting our Brotherhood concert in June, see previous blog post here). In 1471 there was some hostility in Tewkesbury when the Houses of Lancaster and York fought it out in the Wars of the Roses. Thankfully, when we arrived in 2015 all thoughts of hostility had abated, although the fact that the town was in the middle of a Medieval Festival was a vivid reminder of its past. As a choir we seem to thrive on challenges, and in this case this involved singing a selection of West End and Broadway Musical songs in a new venue (Tewkesbury Methodist Church), with a new orchestra (the brilliant Tewkesbury Camerata, who we’d never even met before) and under the baton of a new conductor, the accomplished maestro Mark Aitchison (who we had met before but not been regularly conducted by).

Shows-Songs-Final-Social-MediaTewkesbury Camerata are an orchestra who meet for the first time on the day of their concerts, rehearse in the afternoon and perform in the evening. We did exactly the same (after, it must be admitted, a piano rehearsal with Mark in Cardiff the Thursday before). Our previous experiences in Cornwall have proved that singing in Methodist Churches (Camborne, St Austell and now Tewkesbury) has a positive effect and this was no exception, as the capacity audience which was packed into the venue that night proved when, two and half hours later, they gave everyone participating that night a standing ovation. All performances are important – they are where we build bridges, establish new connections and invite audiences to share our world and love of music – but they are equally important in how we can raise awareness and funds to support our chosen charity. Of which, this year is Mind Cymru – our boys are running the Cardiff 10K Run in an effort to fundraise for Mind Cymru – Please help us reach our target of £800 for Team SWGMC

e98_EP6d_400x400 Cardiff-10K-code-panel

So far in 2015 we have received four invitations which have led to ‘firsts’ for us (and there are more to come at the time of writing, watch this space) and, as always, we have risen to the occasions. Singing is hard work, the ‘trick’ is to make it look, and sound, as if it’s not. It uses muscles you never knew you had, or had forgotten about. It involves intensive rehearsals, and any ‘deer in the headlight’ moments are combatted by an adrenalin rush. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun and with this choir it pays dividends on so many levels.

Oct 5th 2013 - RWCMD - SWGMC 5th Anniversary
Oct 5th 2013 – RWCMD – SWGMC 5th Anniversary

I’ve been singing for over fifty years, starting as a boy soprano, graduating through male alto and baritone to bass (by-passing tenor but not sure how), and over the years I’ve sung with some fantastic choirs, operatic societies and opera groups. I had the pleasure of joining South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus in 2009 and was invited to become bass section leader in 2012. From the moment we step out on stage to when we take our final bows, no matter what the venue or programme, singing with these guys is really special and there’s nowhere else, at that time, I’d rather be.

*** SWGMC says a huge thanks to Steven Whitehead on the blog he’s given us, recounting a very fruitful and enjoyable year we’ve all had! ***

Wales and London, a glorious Brotherhood

11425219_786979201417093_4758403475791285004_oSo after months of preparation, another concert date is proudly ticked off on the SWGMC calendar. This time it was a particularly manly affair (although isn’t it always!?) as the boys of South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus took to a stage bedecked with power tools and sports gear for ‘Brotherhood – a Celebration of Masculinity’.

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If you came to see us we hope you enjoyed yourselves as much as we did, and I’m sure you’ll agree that a huge level of credit is due to all involved, especially Andy Bulleyment and the SWGMC music team for their amazing work once again in putting together a fun, engaging and enjoyable concert.

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But enough about us. We were also thrilled to welcome to the Gate our guest choir for the evening, the amazing Barberfellas, for their debut performance in Wales. Affectionately known as the Barbies, they are an off-shoot of our London-based friends the Pink Singers (who, if you’ve ever seen them in concert, you’ll know are utterly fabulous!). As well as their stellar performances both the Pink Singers and the Barberfellas run a few websites and blogs of their own, and so – not content with just hearing them sing – we’ve also persuaded them to do a guest blog for us giving their experience of last weekend, as well as a brief history of the Barberfellas and their place in the barbershop tradition. Enjoy!

“The Glory of Wales – London’s Barberfellas join SWGMC for “a Celebration of Masculinity”
By Mark Winter

Barbershop singing with a twist! – that’s what we gave the good folk of Cardiff at the Gate Arts and Community Centre on 6 June 2015. We’d braved the M4 in our canary-yellow minibus as guests of our friends at the South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus for a celebration of all things manly.

Performing in both halves of the show, we shared our unique take on traditional barbershop singing with some classic a capella, close harmony pieces – Under the Boardwalk, The Glory of Love and Over the Rainbow.

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Barbershop singing is one of the oldest macho singing pursuits and sprung up in last half of the 19th century where American barbershops often served as community centres, where most men would gather; they would harmonise while waiting their turn, vocalising in spirituals, folk songs and popular songs.

Things have moved on since then and female as well as mixed barbershop singing is gaining popularity, although in national and international competitions male, female and mixed groups don’t compete against each other.

The Barberfellas are here to challenge those stereotypes by presenting the barbershop sound and look, but with a twist. We are probably the only LGBT mixed group that exists anywhere in the world. And we’re certainly the only one in heels!

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Our second set of the evening brought a touch of masculine glamour to the proceedings as we donned our stilettos and popped our corks to the sassy strip-tease sounds of Big Spender, U2’s pensive lullaby MLK (written to honour Martin Luther King) and an exclusive arrangement, written just for the Barberfellas, as a homage to every boy’s favourite – the diminutive Miss Minogue.

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Thank you to everyone who came to the show and enjoyed our performance and we hope to be singing again for you soon!

Barberfellas: making heels manly again.

So, SWGMC say a huge thank you to Mark for his lovely contribution to our blog, and thank you again to all of the Barberfellas for joining us on stage! It was a pleasure to sing with you and we’re already looking forward to the next time we can share a stage – even though most of us will never be able to pull off heels as well as you did!

SWGMC Cabaret Evening 2015

Nick
Liaison Officer 2014-2016 – Nick de Figueiredo

Hi everyone

I’m Nick, the Chorus Liaison Officer for South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus’. One of my roles is to organise social events for the Chorus.

We’re quite a social bunch in SWGMC and like to get together for a few drinks now and then. We’re also quite a talented bunch (if we do say so ourselves), but some of our talents can be difficult to showcase in our regular concerts. So we thought about what we could do to combine our social side with our affinity for showing off (oops, sorry, that should have been “performing”!), and we came up with an idea.

This idea culminated in our inaugural SWGMC Cabaret Evening, held in Koko Gorillaz bar in Cardiff in November 2013. This event – a combined social and talent showcase, by members, for members – gave our guys a safe environment to try some new things, be a little bit different, and have a laugh together. That stage saw all sorts of things from singing to mock game shows, and from comedy to clowns playing trombones (as you do). If you came to our Love Concert in May 2014 you will probably remember young Michael’s excellent “Stalker” song, which he first performed at the Cabaret evening and it went down so well that we decided to put it in a show.

SWGMC Caberet
The stage was set…

Such was the success of the first Cabaret event that we decided to do it all again. Fast-forward to last night (21 February 2015) and we took over the upstairs room of Buffalo Bar in Cardiff for a second round of SWGMC Cabaret fun. If you follow our twitter account (@SWGMC) you may have already seen my incessant tweeting about this, but here’s a recap in case you missed it.

I hosted the evening alongside our illustrious chairman Nick McNeill, and resplendent in our tuxedos we ushered the Chorus through an evening absolutely dripping with talent, creativity and fun. I tell you what, last year was good but this year our guys definitely raised the bar – so much so that even the bar staff were telling us how much fun they were having!

Once Nick and my opening number was out of the way (a duet of Me And My Shadow, since you ask) the Bass section took to the stage for a storming performance of Cell Block Tango with an SWGMC twist. Michael followed with a sequel to the now legendary Stalker, a not-at-all bitter ditty entitled “Let’s Be Friends”. Continuing on this theme (should we be worried!?), Tony B accompanied Mark A as he serenaded us about keeping his love (although apparently none of his exes) alive. The prop knife was the icing on this particular cake of a performance!

Dr Churchill was next at the piano and treated us to some extracts from his previously unperformed composition repertoire (complete with the odd sing-along verse). Then Scott and Dan took to the stage for a pop-mashup extravaganza before Nick McNeill slowed things down a little with an excellent rendition of one of his favourites, “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. Rounding off Act One were the Lost Barrinitos (i.e. the Baritone section) performing a mashup of La Bamba and Twist and Shout bedecked in ponchos, sombreros and moustaches (the sombreros in particular spent the rest of the evening being nicked by the other members for photo opportunities but I made sure I kept hold of mine!).

The Lost Barrinitos
The Lost Barrinitos

After a 20 minute break (and a well earned drink for Nick and me!) the Second Tenor section opened Act Two with a lovely performance of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose”.

10996164_10153126966994329_75321648598710875_nFollowing the Second Tenors was Owen with a beautifully touching ballad, his own Ode to our Nigel (long standing Chorus member and star of the Baritone front row), and to Nigel’s laugh. Chris – our resident pianist and arranger of a significant proportion of our repertoire – was next up and treated us to a stunning performance adorned with a rather fetching feather boa.

Nick O was next up to host a very special edition of This Is Your Life, based around the long and distinguished life of his friend Gareth. They were joined on stage by a caveman, a delightful lady from the Valleys and leader of the Labour party Ed Miliband (which was unexpected), all of whom delighted and entertained the crowd (and Gareth) with their tall tales and on-stage antics. Although this was certainly a tough act to follow, the next performer – Missy Jackie Lation – showed no signs of nerves as she took to the stage, cocktail in had, to perform the very appropriate and hilarious “I’ll Drink To That”.

10363749_10153046420383555_8836083740546966284_nThe penultimate act of the evening were Jonny and Mark T (the “Tenor Ladies”), who did a sterling job of representing the First Tenor section with their rendition of “Like A Virgin”, which had the crowd singing along with gusto. Finally, the music team – consisting of accompanist Chris Fossey, musical director Andy Bulleyment and special guest star David H – rounded off the evening with a special performance in their own unique style. Then we all went and got drunk (after I’d changed out of my tux and safely stowed my sombrero, obviously).

The evening was certainly a resounding success and the level of quality in the acts was astonishing. I was so proud of everyone who performed (I’m a soppy git like that) and it was an honour to introduce each and every one of them and see the brilliant reaction from the rest of the boys. I thoroughly enjoyed hosting it and I’ve already got a few ideas for when we do it all again next year (there have been calls to do it every month but I think having to organise that every month would give me a heart attack!).

1512415_10153126901489329_3050116695876270117_nAlthough the reason many of us joined SWGMC in the first place was for the music, it’s the social element of the Chorus and the friends we’ve made here that keep us coming back. Although the Cabaret evening has been a particular highlight for me, and will hopefully be something that we can do every year, all of the other socials are important too. Whether it’s a bowling trip followed by a meal out together or a speedboat ride around Cardiff Bay, a fund-raising walk-and-sing up a local mountain or simply our weekly visits to the pub after rehearsal, every social contributes to the Chorus and makes being a member of SWGMC something really special.

If you like the sound of life as a member of SWGMC and have any questions about joining then please get in touch with us at , @SWGMC on twitter or find us on Facebook. If you’re interested then it would be great to hear from you – who knows, maybe next year you’ll be up on that Cabaret stage too!