Recent Comments

    Bomb Scares and Death Threats and Music, Oh Dear

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    No one ever imagined our chorus—or any chorus—would garner the attention and fanatical ire of the far, far-right.  This happened not once, but twice within a month. We’ve heard many questions. Hopefully, this will answer some of them.

    In the beginning, the chorus adopted music and mission, art and activism as co-equal partners in its DNA. The chorus has used its music in the fight against injustice and ignorance at every turn—for 43 years. One might say this was our destiny and bound to happen sooner or later.

    The first attack from the right came in late May when the chorus released a take on Three Dog Night’s “Celebrate.” One of our artistic staff, Paul Saccone, changed the words to “Vaccinate” and we released a brief and hilarious video encouraging people to get vaccinated! Oh, boy. The far political right rose up and began online harassment of the chorus for “promoting propaganda, being a mouthpiece for Fauci and supporting the Biden agenda of lies.” That evil agenda is trying to save lives, of course. For the gay community, this is NOT our first pandemic, or trip to the rodeo as it were. That backlash was just a primer for what was soon to come.

    The big one would come with the release of a music video, “Message from The Gay Community.”

    There was no scenario imaginable where a song by a gay chorus, released on its own YouTube channel, could illicit personal threats to its members, graffiti on its building, and bomb scares to organizations associated with the chorus. The chorus became an instant cause célèbre for the radical religious right. Within hours, it had been twisted, taken out of context, and promoted by the most despicable media outlets on earth. From that point, there was no getting the genie back in the bottle or the cows back in the barn.

    No amount of “but did you actually listen to the whole thing?” mattered. They took certain phrases out of context and referred to their usual playbook: gay men are pedophiles.

    We immediately began getting threats. They found the names of our singers, staff, supporters on our website and on our other videos on SFGMC TV. They were leaving no stone unturned, even going so far as to select members and create sex offender files with their names. These were shared with millions of people—on blogs, videos, “news” outlets. Out of fear for our members, we decided to take it down. It was not because we do not stand 100% behind the song, as it was portrayed. We finally put it up because it had already been cloned and was being posted by many alt-right outlets. We even made Fox News and Breitbart.

    We were completely overwhelmed and frightened. The video was getting hundreds of thousands of views on alternative websites and the comments were unbelievably vile and violent. We sought help from the police, the FBI, professionals in crisis management, and PR. Each day brought new onslaughts of hate.

    Let’s back up to fill in the blanks of “Where did it come from?” and “Who chooses the music anyway?” In the summer of 2017, Maestro Michael Morgan of the Oakland Symphony commissioned a multi-movement work from composer/lyricists Tim Rosser and Charlie Sohne. The result was “A Message from the Gay Community.” My email immediately exploded about this new piece. It was magic and the audience, mostly straight, literally howled at the humor and satire so obvious in the piece. The “message” was clear. It actually took the religious right’s own playbook and turned it on its ear.

    Soon after the premiere, we began conversations with Tim and Charlie about whether or not they would be willing to have it arranged for a TTBB chorus [four-part men’s chorus]. They said yes, and the process began. We premiered it at our Pride concerts in 2019 to huge response. Over the next year, we would perform it many times, including for the San Francisco City Attorney’s annual meeting at Herbst Theater, and in Charleston and Greenville, S.C. All of these were majority straight audiences.

    We performed it at Outfest in L.A., and were looking forward to performing it at the GALA Festival in Minneapolis that was cancelled due to the pandemic. Everywhere we performed it, it was peoples’ favorite piece. Many LGBTQ choruses were excited about bringing it to their own audiences. We had a hit on our hands! At no point along this 4-year path did anyone raise any concerns or even think it would get worldwide attention.

    For the record, researching and selecting music is one of the main responsibilities of the Artistic Director. It is one I take huge joy and great pride in doing. That said, I do not do it alone. All potential music first goes to the artistic staff—paid and volunteer. It then goes to our Music Input Committee, made up of 20 singers. The group is widely diverse in every way, including music expertise. In the end, based on the above input, I make the final choices of what goes on the stage. I did so without reservation when it came to “Message.”

    None of that matters at this point. People are being hurt immeasurably by this. People are frightened. Their livelihoods are being threatened. Private information is being stolen and used for threats of physical harm. And why? Because we sang the truth, actually. As we sing in the song, we do want to convert you children—away from hate to tolerance. We are coming for your children—because they are locked in your prison of ignorance. The very ones who threatened singers with bodily harm are the ones whose children need to hear this message. There are television series and movies about extracting young people away from dangerous religious cults.

    You must be taught to hate. We know this. We offer a way to teach love and acceptance instead.

    The use of the term “convert” is perfection on the part of the lyricist. It pushed their buttons in the best possible way. For centuries, it has been the goal of Christian and other religions to convert children. I WAS ONE OF THEM. I was converted from my sinful ways at the age of 6. I had no choice. I was fully indoctrinated into the shackles of a conservative religion. But, hallelujah, at the age of 35 I “unconverted” myself! I was converted to the gays—not by the gays. I only knew one gay person and he didn’t try to convert me to the gays; he just cut my hair. Yes, there was hair in 1986. For this un-conversion, I say: “Thank you, Jesus.”

    For those raining threats on our lives, converting children is what they do. If it doesn’t work, conversion therapy is not far behind. I think of the horrors of escaping the cult of religion—the hundreds of stories of suicides by young people who had been forcefully converted and had no one out there saying, “There’s another way. Look over here. Listen. We’ve got you!”

    There was and is a growing wave of support that simply silenced the radicals. After three days, they must have realized the tide had turned. They had been caught twisting the truth. Of course, there will never be acknowledgment of that, but the simple fact that the flame dies as quickly as it ignited tells the whole story. There was no there there. We have received thousands of messages of support from all over the world. Unfortunately, our thousands are a drop in the bucket to their literal millions.

    GLAAD: “The ugly anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and violent threats reinforce the need for LGBTQ visibility, community, and advocacy, all of which SFGMC has exemplified in its 40+ year history.”

    SFist: “Extremely Funny SFGMC video unleashes a Torrent of Right-Wing Threat, Vitriol.”

    Pink News: “Right-wing cranks flip out over hilarious gay men’s chorus song about teaching kids tolerance.”

    Consequence: “Satirical song by SFGMC awakens conservative rage machine.”

    Twitter: “Let’s keep converting children to be tolerant and fair … and funny!”

    The head of a PR firm in Washington, D.C., suggested this statement for the chorus:

    “SFGMC finds it unfortunate that the Alt-Right has chosen to take aim and threaten members of our chorus who are singing lyrics that convey the importance of raising tolerant, loving, non-judgmental children. These are the very core foundational values they find in the Bible they so passionately claim to uphold in their daily lives.”

    The ire and death threats the Alt-Right have for our members only emphasized the need for the message even more. The song promises, “We’ll convert your children … someone’s got to teach them not to hate. Their behavior is the purest example of why songs like this and choruses like ours exist: Because someone must spread the message of love and acceptance. If they are not going to take that message from the Bible, then the least we, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, can do is help to spread it.”

    Do I hear an Amen up in there?

    I know the chorus will be stronger because of this. We will most definitely suffer from the scars that remain. The chorus as a unit will certainly survive and thrive. The individual singers will have a harder time. They have been personally attacked and, in some cases, libeled. It will take time to unravel all of this and heal the wounds. But we will heal! The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is the most amazing logical family. There are unfathomable depths of love and support among the members. That cannot be extinguished by hate. There is just too much light!

    Thank you for your incredible support during this trying time. We are going to need a huge hug when we see you!

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

    Published on July 29, 2021