As They Removed Their Masks, This Choir Left Us in Tears

I recently returned from the GALA Choruses’ tenth quadrennial music festival held in Denver. With over 130 choruses and 6,500 singers from all across the U.S. and overseas, men and women commanded the various stages at the Denver Performance Art Center, the Convention Center and other downtown locations, with amazing shows.

One chorus, The Beijing Queer Choir made its debut at this festival. For this courageous and ground breaking group, joining a welcoming and supportive family of singers was very important. You see, in China, their lives as gay and lesbian people has to remain in the shadows. Family ostracization, lack of community support, and pressure from the government to marry and have children keep their identities concealed when they are performing on stage.

The members did not want to obtain individual visas for fear that “coming out” would led to harassment and imprisonment.  Although being gay is legal, it is not tolerated. Finally, three weeks before the festival in Denver began, the group was given permission to leave China and travel on a group visa, keeping their individual information protected.

Once visas were secured, plane tickets had to be purchased. As you can imagine, the cost of airline tickets this close to departure, was very high. After many conversations with various airlines, and ten days before the start of the festival, tickets were secured.

When performing in China, this eight-year-old choir performs with masks on so they cannot be individually identified. When they stepped on the Denver stage each had a mask on to cover their faces to keep their identities secret while they performed. As the interpreter talked about the great welcome and support they were experiencing in Denver, the singers, one by one, removed their masks. It was a powerful moment for the audience to watch these performers one after another, remove their masks, and reveal, for an audience, their faces, for the first time. And one singer kept their mask on to highlight the fear of retribution gay and lesbian people in Beijing have in “coming out.”

As you can imagine, the audience erupted in howling applause, tears and standing ovation for this chorus armed with courage, purpose, tenacity and commitment.

It was powerful to witness and experience the Beijing Queer Choir as they made their debut in Denver, unmasked.

Leave me a comment on how you have used courage and strength to identify and become who you are.

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