By Eduardo Morales, Ph.D.–
The 1981 National Tour of the SF Gay Men’s Chorus
For me and others who were also present, it was a very memorable and transformative tour. This happened over a two-week period in June 1981, just three years after the choir was formed in the fall of 1978. It was in early 1979 that I joined the choir, thinking it was a very creative and effective way to integrate performance. arts as part of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement. Imagine being in a gay choir and singing classical and popular music that often has a double meaning.
As the choir evolved and matured, discussions regarding a then-envisioned national tour across the United States became an important goal. Interestingly, we learned that a chorus member owned the dress that Jeanette MacDonald used in the 1936 film. San Francisco. Before the tour, we were to sing at St. Ignatius Church with an appropriate program for a place of worship. The Jesuits then refused to host us, resulting in legal action and the choir being awarded damages in a civil lawsuit. This gives an idea of the politico-social climate of the time.
Three members of the choir actually mortgaged their homes to fund the first national tour. The kick-off concert was held at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco on June 4, 1981. Our touring group was so large that United Airlines had to schedule two planes for each of our stops to ferry us to the various cities. They included Dallas; Minneapolis; and Lincoln, Nebraska, where we found there were two openly identified LGBTQ+ elected officials on the local city council. A church in Lincoln opened and gave us a wonderful welcome dinner with matching cutlery. While in Lincoln, the local TV station refused to allow any part of the SF Gay Men’s Chorus to sing on TV unless we dropped the word “gay”. This was previously programmed and registered with the FCC, so their request was a violation of FCC regulations; this led to a controversy with media headlines across the United States. The mayor of Lincoln came to apologize and welcomed us to his city.
We then went on to sing at the Boston Opera, then at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. While in DC, we gathered inside the Jefferson Memorial and sang “The Testament of Freedom” with lyrics by Thomas Jefferson and music by Randall Thompson. The Kennedy Center concert was sent live to SF Bay Area News Media for simulcast. This concert was acclaimed by respected music critic David Hume.
We then sang at the Seattle Opera before flying back to San Francisco, where several buses sent us to a crowd of thousands who greeted us and welcomed us home on Castro and 18th Streets. In our triumphant final performance to a sold-out audience at Davies Symphony Hall during Pride week, we took the stage for our part of the concert and the audience roared with over 20 minutes of standing ovation as a gratitude for completing this historic tour.
Then Mayor Dianne Feinstein gave us the key to the city, which was a historic first for giving this award to San Francisco residents. On Pride Day that year, we walked down Market Street singing “Testament of Freedom” with thousands of onlookers cheering and clapping.
This national tour launched countless LGBTQ+ choirs across the United States and the world and inspired the creation of GALA (The Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses).
NAMES Project AIDS Quilt
The AIDS quilt was first displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC on October 11, 1987. It was in a space larger than a football field and included 1,920 panels of the quilt. The project has been a source of healing for many people who have lost loved ones to HIV/AIDS. Ironically, as I looked across the Potomac River, I could see Arlington Cemetery in Virginia honoring fallen soldiers who defended our country.
Over half a million people visited the quilt this weekend. This overwhelming response led to a four-month nationwide tour of 20 cities for the quilt in the spring and summer of 1988 with 9,000 volunteers. They helped move and exhibit the quilt across the country. Over 6,000 panels were added during this time, tripling its size by the end of the tour. In October 1988, 8,288 panels were displayed on the Ellipse in front of the White House. Seeing the quilt then and now is a powerful, emotional and unforgettable experience.
Eduardo Morales, PhD, is one of the founders of AGUILAS, of which he is the executive director. He is also a retired Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Alliant International University and is the current Past President of the National Latinx Psychological Association.
Posted on July 14, 2022