A lot has changed since the creation of the rainbow choir GALS (Gay and Lesbian Singers) in 1992.
In the 30 years that followed, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was banned, same-sex marriage legalized, legal sex reassignment laws changed, “X” sex descriptors became an option on neo passports. -zealanders, and now conversion therapy has been banned.
GALS was formed when famed choreographer Michael Parmenter needed singers for his extravagant performance at the first Hero Party in 1992, a precursor to today’s Pride Festival and a way to commemorate heroes fighting AIDS . The Big Gay Out was founded as part of the Hero festival in 2000.
Kerry Stevens, who joined the choir in 2001 and later became its president, said that although GALS performed in subsequent Hero Parties, the 1992 performance “was truly something anyone who was there would never forget. “.
* Gay and lesbian singers are welcome
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Original member Rob Calder remembers “sitting there like little backing angels singing our rendition of Let the river flow”.
The singers enjoyed it so much that they continued to meet to rehearse and a few years later the choir was formalized with a constitution.
Stevens said that “in the late 1980s many different gay groups formed and GALS and TAMS [Team Auckland Masters Swimmers] remain the two strongest groups.
Although the choir has gone through difficult times because of ethnic differences, power struggles, gay versus lesbian attitudes and gender binary assumptions, Stevens said that with a constitution to formally address these issues, “love singing won the day”.
“[GALS] helped a lot of people in their struggles with sexuality,” Stevens said.
It was a safe space to sing together and share queer humor, he said.
Grace Shelley joined GALS as “one of the first things I did on my journey to coming out”.
“I was a little scared when I arrived that someone was asking for my gay card…to prove I’m queer, but that was never part of the conversation until I decided to bring it up .”
Music director Nicholas Forbes, who has been with the choir since 2016, said the choir is dedicated to ‘caring for people [and] caring about people with diverse backgrounds… you don’t have to be an amazing singer to be part of GALS.
“Music is kind of the mechanism by which we come together, but the reason for coming together is to be together in community.”
As an LGBTQIA+ choir, it participates in community events such as Pride Month and World AIDS Day. The choir performs frequently at Herne Bay House, a hospice for people with AIDS.
Calder, who has also volunteered for OUTLine and the NZ Aids Foundation, said: “I can’t stress enough how good it is to belong – how it fulfills so many needs in his social life.”
Over the years, the choir fluctuated in size from a dozen members up to 70.
“Initially, the people who ran the choir were enthusiastic amateurs [who] does a terrific job,” Calder said. Over time, “choral conductors have become more and more professional musicians… and I think we are much better [at singing together now]”.
He spoke fondly of choir directors, including Ross Stevens and Margaret Robertson. “[Margaret’s] the skill with people was phenomenal. She made you feel like you were okay even though you didn’t think you were.
The choir has toured to Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Cologne, Amsterdam, Chicago and Dublin. “It’s quite amazing to go somewhere else and be with people you feel immediately comfortable with.”
For music director Forbes, inclusivity was important when choosing music for the choir.
“We try to include music written by queer composers, Maori composers, Kiwi composers, people of color, women composers, [and] non-binary composers, finding lots of different music from around the world in different languages and different styles.
The choir also explored ways to play with gender in songs.
Usually “poppy [and] kinda gay” was how Stevens described the repertoire.
While many choirs sing religious music, Stevens said: “It’s a no-no for GALS mainly, especially with lesbians because of the patriarchal church which has been bad for them all along. ‘story”. However, the choir rehearses and performs at Pitt Street Methodist Church and St Matthews in the City, “probably the two most gay-friendly churches in town”.
A multigenerational choir
Shelley said she made many strong friendships with the choir. She felt it was “a place where I feel like I have a connection with the older members of my community in a way that there is nothing else in my life where I I would have the opportunity to talk to people who have lived through the AIDS crisis and people who ‘I have lived through all the defining moments of queer history in New Zealand.
“I think a lot of young people really appreciate that connection with the older members of the choir.”
Calder shared a similar sentiment.
“I felt a little sorry when I got a little old, and it was a little difficult going up and down the risers and so on and getting to rehearsals, but they were so nice to me. People made sure I wasn’t going to fall,” he laughed.
“At first there weren’t a lot of young people, but over time more and more young people were coming, and it’s really nice to be an old person and to have young people that you could consider like your friends.”