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Philly chorus provides safe space for LGBTQ people

The Philadelphia Voices of Pride unites LGBTQ and ally vocalists.

Daniel Schwartz wants to provide a safe space for LGBTQ people in Philly.

Schwartz, a 2009 percussion performance and 2011 master’s of choral conducting alumnus, is the artistic director of the Philadelphia Voices of Pride, which he said is the only chorus in the city  that unites vocalists from all parts of the LGBTQ community.

The choir has an upcoming concert on Saturday at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral at 38th and Ludlow streets.

A few members of the Spruce Street Singers — a former gay men’s chorus in the city — founded the organization more than 10 years ago. Schwartz said the 45-member ensemble has always aimed to represent and strengthen Philly’s LGBTQ community as a whole and show support for other minority groups as well.

“I think it’s important to bring all of those different groups, bring gay men, lesbian women and transgender folks, and also allies together,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said he started working for the Philadelphia Voices of Pride after he finished his master’s degree five years ago because he wanted to get more involved in the community.

Gay and lesbian choirs first formed during the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic as a way to raise awareness about the disease and also give LGBTQ people a place to feel secure during the difficult period, Schwartz said.

“There are still people that are looking for safe spaces, especially younger people, who are more recently out of the closet who don’t feel totally comfortable yet expressing themselves in a regular chorus,” he said. “They do feel much more comfortable to come and be around other LGBTQ people.”

Schwartz said the election of President-elect Donald Trump has caused some LGBTQ people to “feel like minorities again” after years of social progress, and groups like the chorus could provide some of them with security and acceptance.

“I’m worried that we are more susceptible to, perhaps, being targeted by hate groups or just for lack of a better word, bullies,” said Kirsten Schaney, the choir’s president.

“It’s a community unto itself, and we definitely welcome people who are straight allies,” Schaney added. “That’s not an issue for us, but it’s a place to feel safe. It’s become a real family for me. The people that are in the chorus are also some of my best friends.”

Schaney said she’s concerned that the chorus — a nonprofit organization — could potentially lose an important annual grant from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund after Trump is inaugurated.   

“The [idea of a] Trump presidency has definitely scared a lot of people, I know, myself included, and we do want to sing songs that reflect a sense of community,” said Caroline Edgeton, the group’s marketing chair.

Edgeton said she and her husband initially auditioned for the chorus in 2013 because of their passion for music, but added that they love the inclusive community they found in the group.

Although the choir’s upcoming concert will mainly feature songs about the holiday season, Edgeton said their concert this May will address “social injustices” relating to not only the LGBTQ community, but also the Black Lives Matter movement and the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters.

“We’ve been trying to re-evaluate the role of a choir that’s so inclusive of everybody,” Edgeton said. “Especially in light of recent events, we are focusing our spring concert on that.”

Carr Henry can be reached at carr.henry@temple.edu.

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