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    Mormon Gay Pride: Behind the Headlines

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Gets a Gay Conductor – On One Night”

    Headline from The Salt Lake Tribune on June 25, 2018

    What? That has to be fake news. Regardless of where you stand on religion or the gays, this event resonated with people in both groups as two things that do not go together in nature. In fact, the press release alone had “views and hits” by 2,486 outlets with a potential audience in excess of 80m. “How the heck did that happen?” you might ask.

    Let’s start at the very beginning. No, not all the way back to Joseph Smith, just back to Arthur.

    About four weeks ago, we received an email in the office from a person named Arthur. “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (MoTab) is coming to the Bay Area on tour. They’ll be in Mountain View on Monday, June 25. Sometimes they invite members of local choruses to join them for their afternoon rehearsal. Wouldn’t it be great if they invited the gay men’s chorus?”

    We thought for sure we were being punked. But he gave his full name and a phone number. It was too outrageous not to give him a call. He knew someone who knew someone. Now, not to distrust Arthur, but we needed to hear from someone in the MoTab ranks officially. Boom. The invitation was indeed real from both the Publicist and the General Manager. My laptop did not burst into flames.

    That’s when the real discussion began internally. It included our own members who had left the Mormon religion—mostly not of their own accord. They are former Mormons or FoMo’s. We were puzzled by the invitation coming from one of the most anti-gay religions anywhere. While the Mormons have not been physically abusive as some religions are, they have been guilty of emotional and psychological abuse resulting in countless broken hearts and lives. It was not lost on any of us that in a week when families were being forcibly separated at our borders, the same has happened to thousands of families at the hand of the Mormon church.

    What should we do with this invitation? We went directly to our own mission statement for the answer. It says that we build community, inspire activism and foster compassion through music. The answer was clear. All three of these pillars would be served by accepting the invitation.

    We had three requirements:

    1. We would be introduced as the San Francisco GAY Men’s Chorus.
    2. We would wear SFGMC t-shirts: bright purple, a rainbow swoop and with the words “Love Can Build a Bridge.” (They are fabulous and designed by a FoMo.)
    3. We would bring our own photographer (also a FoMo).

    The answer was yes to all, and there were no caveats or contingencies placed on us in return.

    The t-shirt we wore said it all. Building bridges is an interesting thing. I wrote an entire article about it. (See http://sfbaytimes.com/bridge-to-somewhere/) In the best case, it begins on both sides of the chasm. In this case, regardless of their motivation, they had laid the first brick on their side. We responded to the invitation by laying the first brick on our side. We were clear from the outset that the bridge would not be completed any time soon, but how could we not do our part? We felt that we were doing this for all of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters for whom this might give just a glimmer of hope.

    They allowed us to bring 25 singers. Nine of those are actually former Mormons, our FoMo’s. Some of their stories are shared in this issue. There are more who couldn’t make the Monday afternoon event. FYI, recovering Baptists are greatly outnumbered by FoMo’s in the chorus. The remaining slots were filled on a first come first served basis.

    On Saturday morning, June 23, as I was getting ready for two shows that day, the phone rang. It was Scott, the MoTab General Manager. I was fully expecting, “We’re so sorry. It’s not going to work out for Monday.” His message stopped me in my tracks. “We are excited about having your singers. We also wondered if you would be our guest conductor for the encore?” I said, “You mean at the rehearsal?” He said, “No, at the performance.” Lordy, Lordy.  I picked myself up off the floor as he told me I would conduct, “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land”—OMG, could it get any better? They would also present me with a special commemorative baton.

    On Monday, our little gaggle o’ gays arrived at the enormous Shoreline Amphitheater. The massive Chorus and Orchestra were already on stage. Within 5 minutes, I was approached by 3 large men in dark suits and ties (even though it was a very sunny warm day in the South Bay). I was a little frightened, but they were smiling and introduced themselves as Elder this and that, shook my hand and told me how delighted they were that we were there. Seriously, they seemed delighted.

    As the rehearsal began, our singers joined MoTab on stage. They stood out in their bright purple/rainbow swoop, colored hair and beards! I thought they were going to sing one song, but they stayed as much as an hour! One of our singers was actually placed by his cousin who sings in MoTab. Oh, yes. You can’t make this up. The MoTab singers were absolutely gracious. Of course, they were; they are Mormons. But everyone sensed that it was not just “Mormon nice,” but something deeper.

    Toward the end of the rehearsal, I was escorted to the stage. I wasn’t actually invited to say anything, but that has never stopped me. I called out the big rainbow elephant in the room. I thanked them for putting aside our differences long enough to make music together. It was a moment I will never forget. I can’t, since it was filmed! (You can see it on the SFGMC Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SFGMC/)

    After rehearsal and before the concert, Dan and I were invited to a VIP reception where we were introduced to many of the Mormon Elders (with “Hello, my name is Elder Price” ringing in our ears). We introduced ourselves as husbands to everyone we met. That was fun!

    Then the concert began. The chorus of 300 and the 60-piece orchestra performed flawlessly. I mean flawlessly. They are simply stunning. Not a note or a hair or a pearl necklace out of place (only the women donned pearls—another difference from SFGMC).

    During intermission, Dan and I visited with one of the elders. We asked how the decision had been made to make this happen. Apparently, it had been discussed among the MoTab folks first. They were coming to the Bay Area. It was Pride month. They knew of SFGMC’s reputation and I am an acquaintance of their conductor. They decided to send the idea up the hierarchical flag pole.

    They did not expect a “yes.” It went up and up and finally landed in The Quorum of The Twelve Apostles. To everyone’s surprise, they said, “Yes.” That explained some of the overt friendliness. They had been given their blessing by the highest body of the LDS church. The gays and the church had found a small plot of land where we could coexist—a land called music.

    Then, it was time. The announcer told the audience, “Tonight’s guest conductor is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.” An immediate cheer went up from the audience and continued as I made my way to the podium and took a bow. (Film of this is also on our Facebook page.)

    Everyone in that place knew something significant was happening. The song went well. I got my baton. The ovation from the audience—and the choir and orchestra—was overwhelming.

    The choir then sang their traditional blessing that they always end with, a cappella. The powers that be asked that I turn and allow the choir to sing it to me, and to the audience. “God be with you ’til we meet again.” There were many tears among the choir members. (OK, and a few from me.)

    Not everyone thinks that it was a good idea for us to have taken this foray into “enemy” territory. Some think it is folly—or worse—for us to have accepted the invitation.

    I believe that I have explained our reasons. It’s about building bridges. It’s what we do.

    We accepted an invitation to sing this past October from the Southern Baptists. We’ve accepted an invitation for this coming October from the Catholics. These kinds of things are the only way we are going to continue to keep the rights for which we have all fought so hard.

    None of us are fooled. The current movement, using “Religious Freedom” as its moniker, is a very thinly veiled attempt—on the part of organized religion—to limit our rights and to disavow our very existence. We will sing on, wherever invited.

    It is these stories shared in this issue that make the entire experience worth it.

    As a group, we are far from being Christian. But there is irony that the gay men’s chorus actually demonstrated Biblical truths, such as forgiveness and loving your neighbor. It was the right thing for us. We hope it was the right thing for them.

    This is one of the most humbling experiences of my life—not because I was invited to conduct what is, as they call it, “The World’s Choir,” but because of what I hope it meant for our own community and for theirs. I know I stood there representing an incalculable host of young people who have been cast aside, wounded. There is some deep symbolism in the fact that the crown jewel of the Mormon Church—MoTab—opened its hearts and made room on its podium for a BIG OLD GAY to lead them.

    THIS LAND IS OUR LAND … not yours, not mine, but ours.

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

     


    SFGMC Event with Mormon Tabernacle Choir Sparks Emotional Responses

    Below are just some of the responses that followed Dr. Tim Seelig serving as Guest Conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

    “The whole experience felt surreal. I was bracing myself for conflicting emotions and a tortured heart, much like I experienced as a closeted Gay man in the church. But this experience was peaceful, positive and filled with love, which was enough for me in that moment. I’m already dreaming of a joint concert someday.”

    SFGMC member Tyler

    “I was surprised by how moved I was during “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” For all the pain and anger I’ve felt towards The Church, I can’t escape the fact that these are my people, my ancestors, and this was their anthem of hope that kept them going during unimaginable hardships. I would not be a professional musician today, if it were not for the Church. Considering all the negative publicity the Mormon Church has received as far as their treatment of the LGBTQ community. it’s nice to see them do something positive.”

    SFGMC member Lynden

    “I officially resigned from the Mormon church in December, 2012, and moved to San Francisco. I just had to get away from Utah and all of the emotional baggage. Since then, something has changed. My emotional wounds have healed, at least partially. Healed enough, that not even singing those old MoTab chestnuts caused the wounds to reopen. (Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”) I figured I would just grit my teeth and muddle through. But what happened was quite the opposite. Those religiously charged lyrics had no power over me.”

    SFGMC member Dan

    “I am so unbelievably offended and insulted that the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus sung with the choir of bigotry. They are responsible for thousands of queer youth deaths and you sing with them on Pride Weekend. Shame on you. I will never go to another game ends horse event or performance or support you in any way. I was raised Mormon and just resigned last year. I know the damage, the pain in the blood they have on their hands, and now you have it on your hands as well.”

    Post on Facebook

    “I read in the news that you conducted the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Is this true? Do you even know their stance on homosexuality? You guys are gay as f–k and they, as a church, won’t even let you get baptized. I don’t understand the rationale behind this collaboration. Would you care to explain?”

    From a letter received in the SFGMC offic

    “I joined the LDS Church in 1966 thinking that if I were baptized and became an Elder, I would be healed of my ‘tendencies.’ My first year at Brigham Young University, I fell in love with Mitch. We sought guidance from a member of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I began conversion therapy. It was not successful. I was excommunicated. A group of Elders stood in a circle with candles, said my name and then turned the candles upside down, smashing out the flame, signifying that my soul/spirit was scattered throughout the universe—and dead. All these years later, nothing prepared me for the experience of actually singing with MoTab. Wow! They were kind, they were gentle and they were welcoming with warm hearts open to our presence. We shared stories, we laughed, and most importantly of all, for that one moment in time, we sang as one.  There is no false thinking that all is hunky-dory now. But for today, a bridge was built through the love of song. I am at peace.”

    SFGMC member Gregory