Image Creator: Devin Randall
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is starting to rev up in preparation for their latest tour.
The chorus, which is also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is preparing for their Lavender Pen tour this coming fall.
The tour, which is being shared with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, will take them through towns in several red states like Jackson, Birmingham, Knoxville, Greenville, and Charlotte. These will be the main cities where the major concerts will take place.
In addition, they will have smaller and more intimate visits with schools, churches, government buildings and more to spread the message and share the meaning of The Lavender Pen Tour.
But what is that message and meaning? Well, you’d have to look back to both November of last year and to the very origin of the chorus, and we were lucky enough to speak with Tim Seelig and Chris Verdugo, the SFGMC Artistic and Executive Directors respectively, about both topics.
“The day after the election. Wednesday morning, we all woke up in a phase of disbelief,” Verdugo noted while remembering the inception of the tour, “we received an email from our board president saying we should reconsider our touring abroad.”
And as Seelig remembered the email’s content went something along the lines of, “Why are we spending this much money when we are really needed at home?”
Credit: Screenshot Youtube @SFGMCVideo
You see, the chorus had already planned to do a tour in China, but as soon as the Trump administration won they knew their plans had to change.
As Verdugo remembers, “We didn’t know what would happen with a Trump presidency, but we knew that it would cause a lot of strife. We knew that if we were already, even under the Obama administration, still under trouble in the south… we knew that the situation was only going to get worse.”
That’s when the idea for the Lavender Pen tour was born. The tour’s plan is to travel to parts of the American South and to bridge a gap between two different cultures and populaces of the American people.
But why title it the Lavender Pen? Again, we have to look at the chorus’s origins.
In 1977, out politician Harvey Milk sponsored a gay civil rights bill. He worked with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone to make that bill an official law, and when Moscone did sign it in he did it with Milk’s lavender pen.
Then in 1978, a group of gay men gathered to start a chorus. This would eventually become the first choir in the world to openly promote and focus on sexual orientation. But, it wasn’t all smooth sailing at the start.
“A hundred gay men in one room and a fight broke out. Can you imagine?” Seelig, who joined the choir ten years later, reminisced sarcastically, “They were fighting about what to call it and settled on two names. ‘Men About Town’ or ‘San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.’ At the end, SFGMS prevailed.”
But, the San Francisco gay community was soon rocked by Harvey Milk’s death. Then, at the candle light vigil, the chorus had its first performance and sang Holly Near’s “Singing for our lives”
That is why this tour is titled after Harvey Milk’s famous lavender pen, and why his spirit surrounds both the tour and the chorus.
In addition, the chorus cherishes the fact that their two goals are music and mission. As Seelig states, “We are a music organization and also an activist organization.”
So, the chorus may may perform multiple songs from its musical repertoire like “Amazing Grace,” “If You Were Gay” from Broadway show Avenue Q, “Dance with the Storm” by Broadway composer Andrew Lippa, or their new rearrangement of Holly Near’s “Singing For Our Lives.”
But in addition to that, the chorus will work on several community projects and have several conversations with locals and leaders. They will sing at LGBTQ conferences, give seminars about HIV/Prep and trans issues at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and participate in interfaith services.
“We’re having interfaith services, lunch with the people and attendees afterwards, and we’re gonna get to talk a lot about religion,” Tim Seelig explained, “I come from the south and the only way to expect any kind of political change in the South is through the church.”
Chris Verdugo, Ed / Credit: Screenshot Youtube @SFGMCVideo
And when asked which event they were most looking forward to, both directors answered that it would be the march across the bridge in Selma.
Verdugo later elaborated more on how that day will go in more detail:
“On Monday of the tour we’ll leave Jackson for Selma. We’ll meet at the AME church and have a gathering there. There will be some speakers, then we will head down to the park for lunch, and then we will meet the mayor who will address everyone who is there. It will include everyone in Selma, and CEO’s who are flying in. One of them is bringing his three young daughters. It’s so impactful that this will be the intersection of race and LGBT issues.”
These events show the heart behind the Lavender Pen tour and behind the spirit of the chorus. In addition, their true intention is to not only exchange music and conversation with the communities they visit, but it is also to help them.
All proceeds raised from the event will remain in the towns through the several beneficiaries and organizations that are supporting and interacting with the chorus during this tour. This is just another way that the chorus is bridging the gap between music and mission.
“Culture has always been a support for social change,” Chris Verdugo pondered, “It is our artists and musicians who have always pushed the envelope to help our society to see very clearly… Not just music but spoken work, painting, singing, and pop music. I think that’s really important.”
If you wish to support the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, the Lavender Pen tour, and the many organizations associated with the tour, you can click here to go to the SFGMC website and donate.