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.

 

 

South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus sweeps the board at World’s Largest Male Voice Choir Festival

The South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus enjoyed a clean sweep at the biennial Cornwall International Male Choral Festival which took place over the May Day Bank Holiday, 2017, at a range of venues across Cornwall.

Competing in the 40 members or less category at the Hall for Cornwall, Truro, on Saturday 29 April 2017, the SWGMC beat other competitors from home and abroad to take the best Small Choir trophy and were later crowned as Festival Champions.

In addition to their singing success, the SWGMC also took the prize for best single piece of music. Assistant Musical Director, Christopher Fossey‘s arrangement of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, brought much praise from the adjudication panel as did the the choir’s competition programme.

The 41 and over category was won by fellow Welsh Choir, The Fron Cysyllte Male Voice Choir making a resounding success for Welsh Choirs at the festival.

Read about us in WalesOnLine.

Return trip to Cornwall

551748_10150921851953622_946004477_nI always look forward to each and every one of our performances, no matter how large or small. The next one is no exception! Today we will be making a return trip to Cornwall to take part in the bi-annual International Male Voice Choir Festival.

Check out their Facebook page and this video introducing what it’s all about!
At around 2:00 minutes you can catch SWGMC in their pink tie splendour.

This will be our second visit to this amazing event and I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the last time we were there.

In 2013 we decided to take the plunge and get involved in what was to be our first male voice choir festival AND singing competition. Needless to say the pressure was on a little bit, but it didn’t curb our enthusiasm at all; in fact, the organisers were very excited about the fact that we were to be their first openly gay male voice choir!

As a late entry into the event we had limited time to prepare, but in true SWGMC fashion we pulled out all the stops and got cracking with some challenging music choices along with a few of our less serious pieces (in particular the Star Wars song based on popular movie themes by John Williams – sung on May the 4th – accompanied on stage by our very own Wookie – the force really was with us!).

947110_10151580041379329_1398164076_nOne great part about the festival is the opportunity to sing at some fairly iconic Cornwall venues. My particular favourite was the amazing Eden Project where we sang to a massed crowd in one of the domes; our voices filled that huge space and seemed to pull in a large crowd of people who thoroughly enjoyed our performance! It was also a brilliant opportunity for us to bond as a choir. It was one of the first real opportunities for us to do so as a group as it was the first time we had spent a whole weekend together! We had a really fun time and probably way too many post performance drinks back at the hotel!

It was also a great opportunity to mingle with other male voice choirs, one of which was staying at the same hotel as us. (Hopefully we didn’t keep them awake too much with our late night singing in the hotel bar!). They were very keen to talk to us about our wide selection of music choices and it was very touching when one of them suggested that we were ‘the future of male voice singing’ (*blush*).

As for the singing competition… well I won’t dwell on it, but needless to say it was an interesting experience and gave us lots of food for thought in terms of our performance and cohesion as a singing group. And of course, I couldn’t let it go without mentioning Tony Bevan’s spectacular debut in the choir and equally spectacular entrance onto the competition stage with a virtual triple salco over one of the floor speakers! (sorry Tony, couldn’t resist).

All in all, our last trip to Cornwall was a resounding success on so many levels. It was above all a fantastic bonding opportunity for us all, away from the rehearsal zone we usually find ourselves in. As we make the final preparations on our coach journey down for the May Bank Holiday this year I’m hoping we have a similar, if not better, experience and I’m sure a future blog will fill you in on all the details!

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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!

All dressed up in Pride…

© Pride Cymru 2014 - Parade Balloons
© Pride Cymru 2014 – Parade Balloons

Cardiff Mardi Gras, Cardiff Pride or Pride Cymru – whatever you call it, the 2014 incarnation has been and gone and the boys at SWGMC certainly celebrated the weekend in style! We captured some amazing moments on camera so come join us on a visual journey through our time at the biggest LGBT+ event that Cardiff – and indeed Wales – has to offer.

This is the 3rd year SWGMC have taken part in the Pride Cymru Parade through the streets of Cardiff. This year we kicked off the weekend on Churchill Way at a starting line bedecked with ballooned banners in all six colours of the Pride rainbow. Pride means many things to many people and the atmosphere was full of it that morning. As well as being an expression of how you feel about yourself, these days Pride is a bastion of hope, happiness and community in a world often too full of hate. SWGMC are proud that Cardiff has its own parade and we love being part of the huge trek through Queen Street and beyond!

SWGMC Start of Pride Cymru Parade

We assembled at 11.30am all dressed up in pride and pink and ready to march our way through town. Plenty of sunshine and rainbow flags greeted us from up and down the high street as the shops got thoroughly involved in the spirit of the day. The fellow marchers brought a loud and proud festival of sound and the drummers had the parade and the crowd dancing along to the rainbow beat, although some of the boys were too busy following a certain mascot – a Nando’s cockerel! You can imagine the captions on those photos (!).

Nando's Mascot with SWGMC Walking through the streets of Cardiff alongside us were the usual Pride participants, drag queens and the Eagle crew among them, but also delegations from companies including Asda and Nando’s, troupes of incredible street dancers and musicians, some amazing fancy dress costumes and a whole host of fantastic organisations like THT, Stonewall Cymru and LGCM, all walking in pride with families, friends and the like.

 

 

 

 

A fabulous and happy time was had by all and we think the below picture sums it up wonderfully!
stonewall family pride photo

We R family! #balchder #pride @StonewallCymru @PrideCymru pic.twitter.com/X8WnRe92O0

— Andrew White (@AndrewGwyn) August 16, 2014
© Twitter – Andrew Gwyn – Stonewall

 

 

 

 

 

As the parade drew to a close some of our boys went for a food stop, while others dashed for a selfie with the MINION (“it’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!”)!
SWGMC after parade lunchMinion Mascot in Pride Parade

With the first half of the day now over and the great response from the crowd still ringing in our ears we were primed and ready to sing out for the crowds of Cooper’s Field. Before we took to the Cabaret Stage for our main event we visited some of the stalls and shopped around the pride goods area, which included checking out the new sports area in the middle of the field, the Gaydar silent disco tent and even new stall additions such as the Cardiff Gay Men’s Book Club (where our very own Rev. John Webber was getting thoroughly involved!).

With a few drinks for ‘dutch courage’ under our belts we were ready to perform at our best, and our wonderful conductress Vicky Guise and supremely talented Pianist Christopher Fossey led us in a rousing show which the crowd seemed to enjoy! Hopefully we’ll have inspired some of them to join as well!

The end of our set drew the chorus’ day at Cooper’s Field to a close, but the boys weren’t done yet and we all continued to enjoy a great Pride with our friends and families, including some cracking late-night dancing with some of the other acts including the wonderful La Voix (the ladies loved her!).

As Saturday ended and the people of Cardiff crawled into bed, the boys of the SWGMC – being the professionals that we are – were all very reserved and weren’t in any danger of facing Sunday with a hangover (!). Even so, it was lucky we weren’t due to sing until late on Sunday evening, so by the time we’d nursed our sore heads (ahem) and enjoyed a long lie-in we donned our glad rags once again in preparation for singing at the Kings for a mini Stonewall Cymru Fundraiser, singing in the line-up alongside the fabulous La Voix and a host of other talented performers.
Cooper's Field Pride Cymru Performance
Pride Cymru - Cardiff 2014It was something of a tight space inside the Kings following a last minute stage switch (it decided to rain on our parade minutes before we were due to sing outside. – classic Welsh weather at its finest) but we didn’t let that dampen out spirits and to our delight the audience were amazing. We sang for the crowds as volunteers shook their buckets and raised money for Stonewall Cymru, and after our performance and a few more drinks we left the Kings and bid adieu to a great Pride Weekend!
 
Onwards and upwards, we now enter our next season of 2014 and are busy preparing for our Halloween Spectacular – “A Nightmare on Keppoch Street!” We hope to see you all there!