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Published April 02, 2014, 04:27 PM

Johnson: F-M Gay Men’s Chorus continues legacy of Harvey Milk

The first gay men’s chorus made its debut in San Francisco earlier than planned, when a rehearsal became an impromptu memorial and show of mourning for a murdered LGBT rights icon.

By: Ryan Johnson, INFORUM

The first gay men’s chorus made its debut in San Francisco earlier than planned, when a rehearsal became an impromptu memorial and show of mourning for a murdered LGBT rights icon.

Now, more than 35 years later, the Fargo-Moorhead Gay Men’s Chorus is ready for its first public concert that will serve as a celebration of how far the gay community has come and a reminder that the work isn’t finished.

A group of local singers, many of them longtime members of church choirs in the region, banded together last September, rehearsing often to perfect their harmonies and get ready for this next step.

They’ll sing at their first public concert Sunday at the Fargo Theatre. After an intermission, special guests the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus will perform selections from Andrew Lippa’s composition “I Am Harvey Milk,” and the choruses will do a few songs together.

It’s a fitting first concert for the local men that will connect Fargo-Moorhead’s LGBT community to the first days of the gay men’s chorus movement that started in 1978, when a group formed in San Francisco.

A routine rehearsal for that chorus was scheduled for Nov. 27, 1978, but instead became a full-fledged genesis to a musical civil rights movement when Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, was assassinated by a fellow city supervisor earlier that day.

Thousands gathered at San Francisco City Hall to hear the chorus perform “Thou, Lord, hast been our refuge,” finding the path to healing – and the courage to not back down – even as they said goodbye to a man who died because he stood up for equality.

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus held its first official concert Dec. 20, 1978, drawing a capacity crowd, and launched a national tour in 1981 that brought the group to Minneapolis and eight other cities.

The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus got its start in 1981, and similar groups formed around the world – more than 250 LGBT choruses are now performing.

A lot has changed in the 35 years since more than 100 men in San Francisco gathered together, despite their fear and heavy loss that fateful day, and forged on, together, determined to focus on hope in the future rather than sadness in the recent past.

The Fargo-Moorhead Gay Men’s Chorus didn’t come together under these same tragic circumstances, and while they are trailblazers in the local community, they don’t have to break down many of the same barriers that existed in the America of 1978.

Even in 2014, it takes nothing short of bravery to stand up and be counted as LGBT. Even now, there are too many stories of kids being disowned by their parents or facing discrimination simply because of who they were born to be.

While this small local chorus didn’t have to come together in mourning, these gay and gay-friendly men are finding their own way of continuing the legacy of Milk and the other LGBT rights pioneers.

Together, they can find solidarity, and in front of an audience, they can remind everyone that we’re not all that different.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587

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