LGBTQ chorus belts out message of love and equality

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LGBTQ chorus belts out message of love and equality

The members of the 2018-2019 GenOUT chorus pose wearing their concert attire.

The members of the 2018-2019 GenOUT chorus pose wearing their concert attire.

Photo courtesy Paul Heins

The members of the 2018-2019 GenOUT chorus pose wearing their concert attire.

Photo courtesy Paul Heins

Photo courtesy Paul Heins

The members of the 2018-2019 GenOUT chorus pose wearing their concert attire.

By Holly Adams, Walt Whitman High School

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The spotlight glowed on a group of teenagers wearing all black — black slacks, black button-down shirts, black shoes. The only color came from their matching vibrant, rainbow neckties, perfectly coordinated with the colors of the LGBTQ pride flag. Family, friends and community members locked their eyes on the stage in anticipation of the first performance of the night, and all 26 members of GenOUT, a D.C. based LGBTQ youth choir, looked back and began to sing. 

The members harmonized to inspirational lines like “you are a special work of art” and “become who you were meant to be” in front of a captivated audience at the September 21 “Silence the Violence” concert where local vocal groups raised awareness for gun violence. The passionate voices of GenOUT finished with the song “Give Us Hope,” belting the powerful lyric, “we are the future.”

The messages from the performance represent the chorus’ mission: to give LGBTQ youth and their allies a voice and to connect that voice to the community. GenOUT is the youth branch of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, a chorus founded in 1981 with more than 250 members. GenOUT is a nondiscriminatory ensemble that doesn’t require an audition, and chorus members hail from 20 different schools in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Whitman junior Brennan Connell, a member of GenOUT for four years, describes the chorus’ mission as carrying a “torch” passed down from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington to the younger generation of the LGBTQ community. 

“We have an opportunity to do something to educate both adults and younger people about our community,” Connell said. “That’s something that adults can’t always do.”

GenOUT has annual performances with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington but also performs throughout the year in various neighborhoods of D.C. to spread their message to more communities. These concerts include special performances at the Washington National Cathedral annually, the Lincoln Theatre three times a year, the Kennedy Center in 2015 and 2016, and even the White House, where GenOUT performed for former President Barack Obama three times in June 2016. 

Since the ensemble emphasizes inclusivity, any LGBTQ or allied youth ages 13 to 18 — “regardless of how they look, where they come from, their gender identity or their gender expression” — are welcome, no matter how much singing experience they have, director Paul Heins said.

“Anyone who loves to sing and who is committed to using their voice to further the cause of social justice is welcome to join,” Heins said. 

Members of GenOUT look forward to seeing each other every Saturday morning for rehearsals to socialize in this judgement-free space. Members describe practices as silly, yet productive as they all work hard to learn their music for upcoming performances. Sometimes Heins mimes walking down stairs or plays short interludes on the piano to keep members entertained. Heins gives the group order, but within that order members are able to have some “fun and chaotic friendships,” said Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School junior Ella Trevelyan, who is a member of GenOUT.

Before joining the chorus, all members must take a pledge to always advocate for each other and never tolerate bullying. 

It’s important for communities to see the faces and hear the voices of marginalized youth, Heins said. He has seen the positive impacts that GenOUT has had on its members, their families and their community. According to a June 2019 report by the FBI, hate crimes in America are still on the rise, and roughly one-fifth are committed based on gender identity or sexual orientation. In domestic and international climates that do not always accept such differences, youth need the opportunity to express themselves, Heins said.

“I love the kids most of all,” Heins said.  “They are wonderful people. They give me a lot of ideas to think about, and they give me hope for the coming years. They make really great music and really make a difference in the community.” 

Yolanda Richards, a cousin of a GenOUT member, feels “warm” when she hears GenOUT perform, she said. 

 “It just brings tears to my eyes, how wonderful these kids are and how they’re promoting love regardless of where you come from, what you look like or who you love,” Richards said. “It’s just awesome.”

David Chavez was in the audience at the “Silence the Violence” concert and said he admired the bravery of GenOUT members to share themselves through something as vulnerable as art. He thinks LGBTQ youth ensembles are important because, as an adolescent, it can be difficult feeling like you are the only one who is dealing with something, he said.

“For other young people to see themselves in a group performing and saying ‘we’re here and we’re not ashamed of who we are,’ is one of the best ways to break that feeling of being alone,” Chavez said.

 GenOUT’s goal is to spread positivity to their audiences through powerful lyrics; during their final song “We Can Be Kind” in their September concert members sing, “and maybe we’ll find true peace of mind, if we always remember, we can be kind.”

GenOUT is that supportive and kind community LGBTQ youth need, Trevelyan said. Members wear name tags to every practice with their preferred pronoun, eliminating any awkwardness and creating a safe space.

“This is just such as unique space,” Trevelyan said. “There is literally nowhere else that I have been where it’s just queer youth coming together for a common cause: to sing together.”

This story was originally published on The Black & White on November 21, 2019.