Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles visits school, passes on message of equality

Choir member Dennis Hunter speaks about his troubling past being a bully due to the fear of him being bullied.

The nearly 100 students sat, in quiet awe, listening to One Direction’s hit song “What Makes You Beautiful.” Typically, teenagers are anything but quiet when listening to One Direction songs, but this wasn’t a normal event.

This was the scene as the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) performed during an assembly on Nov. 13.

For 35 years, the GMCLA and its now over 200 members have traveled the country and the world, promoting a message of equality and support for the LGBT community. They do this by weaving personal stories with their musical performances.

For the students at school who had the opportunity to see GMCLA’s program, the music included Melissa Etheridge’s “Uprising of Love,” a mix of Adele’s “Someone Like You” and “Rumor Has It,” One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” Radiohead’s “Creep” and Cyndi Lauper’s 1980s hit “True Colors,” while the stories were told by men like Dick Summers, who has been with GMCLA for over 30 years.

“We were afraid, scared of persecution from the government,” Summers said as he recounted his experiences of having to hide his sexuality during the 1960s and 1970s, a time when people were arrested for hanging out near gay bars and homosexuality was classified as a disease.

Summers worked as a government aerospace engineer, a job he lost once the top brass found out he was gay. During that time, investigators would come to visit him, asking him, among other things, who he shares a bed with.

“Who’s in my bedroom, that’s between me and the person I’m with, no one else,” Summers said.

Each of the GMCLA’s 250 or so members has a story, some about facing persecution, while others speak of the stresses of coming out to close family and friends.

“The hardest thing was coming out to my daughter,” said chorus member Patrick Cullen. “I may still be a creep (referencing the Radiohead song from the performance), but I’m a very happy one. I’m happy living as the man I’m meant to be.”

Even though the chorus is made up of seemingly random people: multiple engineers, technicians, a cruise line supervisor and even the mayor of a city, they are all tied together through the message that they and GMCLA want to promote.

“It (the chorus) is like my church,” said Peter Johnson, who has been a member of GMCLA for 27 years. “It’s where I have my religious experience once a week (when we practice).”