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Arts and Culture

Syracuse Gay & Lesbian Chorus celebrates 25 years, remembers struggles

Tom Magnarelli
The Syracuse Gay and Lesbian Chorus at their first rehearsal of the 2016 season.

The Syracuse Gay and Lesbian Chorus is celebrating its 25th anniversary with performances that will feature some its favorite songs over the years. The chorus has faced opposition and prejudice throughout their history and this anniversary is an opportunity to remind audiences how far the group has come.

It is the first rehearsal of the new season and the chorus is warming up their vocals. E. Michael Whitmore, the chairman of the chorus said there are between 30-50 members of the chorus in any given year.   

“When the chorus started back in 1991, it was one of the few places where gays and lesbians could actually get together and meet other people without having to go to a bar or something like that,” Whitmore said. “It was a very small community. Over the years it's changed out there. It's not so much as the necessity to get together and just meet other people. For us it's just singing now so we can focus on the singing part and actually get better.”

It started with a performance of the Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus at the Everson Museum in Syracuse in 1991. During intermission there was talk that if they can do it Rochester, why not Syracuse? There was a sign-up sheet in the lobby for the Syracuse Men’s Chorus. One woman crossed out "men’s" and wrote "men’s and women’s."

Deborah Hardy, one of the founding members, said in the beginning, some members did not want their last name printed in the programs.

“When we first got going, it was still dangerous to be a gay or lesbian person in public,” Hardy said.

The chorus received hateful phone messages. She described a disturbing incident at one concert at H.W. Smith Elementary School in Syracuse.

“We got picketed and people actually invaded the auditorium, which was terrifying,” Hardy said.

Now Hardy said, things have changed. The chorus sang during LGBT Day at the state fair last year.

“We were out there in the parade and not a single person said anything in the way of heckling us or throwing epithets at us," Hardy said. "I was amazed.”

Some have suggested that maybe a gay and lesbian chorus is not needed because of the rights the community has achieved such as marriage equality. But Hardy reminds them that discrimination against gays still exists in many places across the country.

The chorus will hold a spring concert in May at the Pebble Hill Presbyterian Church.