“It’s pretty emotional to think in terms of 30 years ago having started this,” reflected Dr. Gary Keatiing, founder and current artistic director of the Original Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus (FLGMC).
Since the earliest days of the gay rights movement in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, music has played an important role at Pride parades and protests. And, as the AIDS epidemic hit the community in the ‘80s, the sounds of gay men’s choruses soothed mourners and raised awareness.
Choruses celebrated marriage equality and, just a few days ago, were equally saddened by the horrific massacre of 49 men and women reveling at an Orlando nightclub only to be struck down by a crazed shooter.
Keating and his chorus have marked many of these milestones—both happy and sad—with song and on Saturday, June 25 at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale will celebrate their own 30th anniversary.
“When I started the chorus in 1986, it was the first major ‘out’ organization in Florida since Anita Bryant,” recalled Keating, noting the successful efforts of the former beauty queen to thwart gay rights in the 1970s. “We still have many fights to fight, but many have already been fought and won.”
One battle that the LGBT community continues to struggle with is the AIDS crisis. While the tragedy is just a memory for many, gay men’s choruses in major cities gained national prominence at the time.
“I’ve heard of people who were sick, moved to San Francisco and joined their chorus, only for the reason the chorus would be singing at their funerals one day,” Keating said, adding that in the first three years since its founding, his South Florida chorus sang at 41 services.
The FLGMC also served other important personal functions for its musicians:
One of Keating’s singers used a performance as an opportunity to come out to his parents. The vocalist sent tickets to his parents and after the performance met his parents in the lobby, with Keating there for support.
“It really was a testament to the power of the music, the words, the performance,” the conductor said. “We have the power to change the hearts and minds of people.”
Just in the past year, the FLGMC has expanded its program with a youth chorus made up of 14 singers between the ages of 14 and 18. The young LGBT and allied singers performed with the chorus at the March concert and Keating has high hopes to double the number of young people for performances next season.
The anniversary concert program will feature “Living Out Loud,” a major work commissioned five years ago, “a fantastic piece of music that will really speak to the audience,” Keating promised, along with many favorites drawn from the 30 year history of the chorus. The chorus will also be releasing a recording of “Living Out Loud,” on CD and iTunes to mark the occasion.
Keating called the chorus, “a wonderful, safe, nurturing, creating space for men to be able to come together to make music and develop a community. I don’t think we had any idea how long it would last and the impact that would be felt over those year, but it has certainly been felt by me.”
The Original Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus presents its 30th anniversary concert, “Living Out Loud,” at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 25 at All Saints Episcopal Church, 333 Tarpon Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $25 and $40 at TheFLGMC.org.