UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Spirit Story

Singing with all our hearts

By Paul Knowles

When I asked my friend Rod Culham if I could join the new gay men’s chorus in London, Ont., my request was well intended. I’m a straight supporter of LGBTQ equality, and by signing up I could make a statement about inclusivity. I probably had a certain scenario in mind: “straight guy joins gay choir, group hug, triumphant performance.”

Then came Orlando.

Months before, Rod had announced that, after years of dreaming about it, a gay men’s chorus was going to be created in London. Rod is the music director at our church, Thamesview United in Fullarton, Ont., and we also sing together in the London Pro Musica choir. So I approached him. “Is the new men’s chorus also open to straight guys?” Turns out, a few other straight guys had asked the same question.

Rod thought this was a terrific idea; so did his co-founder, Clark Bryan, CEO at the Aeolian Hall in London and accompanist for the chorus. Within minutes, the name had morphed from “Gay Chorus” to “Pride Men’s Chorus.” More than half a dozen allies joined the group.

There was much teasing, as we began to learn songs like It’s Raining Men and Keep It Gay. It was intriguing to be in the minority. The vocabulary is different, the jokes are different, the allusions are different. It was instructive to be temporarily removed from a social milieu that tilts so strongly toward the hetero. Turns out our intention to be inclusive doesn’t always translate into social reality.

Our premiere concert was set for July 21 last summer. We had a large repertoire. We had been rehearsing for two hours, every Sunday evening, for months.

But on June 12, violence erupted at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, leaving 49 victims in its wake. Clark and Rod immediately began working with other London LGBTQ groups to put together a memorial vigil at the Aeolian Hall.

The night of the vigil, 300 people packed the hall itself and another 700 listened to an audio feed from the parking lot. But not everyone came. Social media carried many comments from people who were afraid to attend — fearful that Orlando meant LGBTQ people could be targeted at any event identified with their community.

As I stood on stage among the 30 men of the chorus, I thought about personal safety. I’ve long known that our gay and lesbian friends face daily worry unknown to me as a straight guy. But until the vigil, I hadn’t felt it. On stage, that changed for me. Perhaps for the first time, I caught a glimpse of the fear that’s a reality for many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

The names of the Orlando victims scrolled above us, and we sang with all our hearts: Lean On Me, We Shall Overcome, He Ain’t Heavy, Rise Again. There were cheers, and there were many, many tears.

I thought I had joined the chorus as a statement of inclusivity. It turns out that it was a lesson I needed to learn about living with the pervasive anxiety that someone will treat you badly, hurt or kill you, just because of who you are.

For me, the vigil continues.

Paul Knowles is a freelance writer in New Hamburg, Ont.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!


The biggest threat to women in South Africa is their partners

by Kristy Woudstra

An investigation of why one woman is murdered every eight hours by her husband or boyfriend in this African country — and how advocates are trying to stop it.

Promotional Image


Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: My last conversation with Nanny

by Jocelyn Bell

Editor Jocelyn Bell reflects on the power of our final words with loved ones.

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The 28-year-old also has a unique musical ability, serving as a United Church music director, and performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image


March 2018

Egerton Ryerson: The legacy of a tarnished hero

by Mike Milne

He founded public education in Ontario — and this very magazine — while also promoting residential schools. How should we judge Ryerson today? Some students want his name and image gone.


March 2018

Church organist has been leading worship for 86 years

by Wendy Lowden

And Louise Pelley is still going strong at 98 years old.


February 2018

Pro-choice advocates still at risk despite Ontario’s new abortion law

by Jackie Gillard

Threatening messages spray-painted on their doors and lawns won’t stop those advocating for reproductive rights. If anything, they feel even more determined to help protect those seeking an abortion.


March 2018

The biggest threat to women in South Africa is their partners

by Kristy Woudstra

An investigation of why one woman is murdered every eight hours by her husband or boyfriend in this African country — and how advocates are trying to stop it.


March 2016

The fighter

by Richard Wright

When he was 13 years old, Willie Blackwater stood up to his abuser at a B.C. Indian residential school. His defiance would eventually help change the course of Canadian history.


March 2018

14 writers share their moving final conversations with loved ones

by Various Writers

These stories will make you laugh, cry and rage. Maybe they’ll spark a fond memory. Or perhaps they’ll prompt you to consider the things you need to say now, before it’s too late.

Promotional Image