Upon joining Heartland Men’s Chorus in September of 1995, members of the chorus kept telling me that, “We are going to GALA in Tampa next summer. You have to go.” I had no idea what GALA was, but I have always loved the Florida Gulf coast, so I signed on. My then partner, Paul, was not a member of the chorus at that time, but we registered him as a non-singing member, and we made our way to Tampa for the GALA (Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses) Festival. Having no idea what to expect, we were thrilled when the keynote speaker was introduced. It was Dr. Maya Angelou. Taking the stage Dr. Angelou told us that a nice young man had helped her on stage and told her she had twenty minutes. Her reply had been, “Thank you for the twenty minutes, and I will be finished when I am done!” She went on to say that as soon as the media learned that she was speaking at the GALA Festival, she began to get somewhat veiled questions about her sexuality. In response to these, she stated, “Yes, I am gay. And I am straight. I am black and I am white; I am male and I am female. I am all and everything!” It is a memory that I will carry with me always.
There was no way at that time, that I could imagine that twenty years later I would be standing on stage of the Folly Theater with Paul, now my husband, and singing the words of Dr. Maya Angelou as HMC premiered “I Rise.” Truly this was a full circle moment for me. As we prepare for the November concert at the Church of the Resurrection, the text has been particularly meaningful to me. Each time we sing “Equality” I am reminded of the forces at work to take away hard earned rights of the LGBT community. As we sing her words, we stand together to send a message that no one is free until we are all free. “Equality, and I shall be free.”