The River City Mixed Chorus (RCMC) took the stage for its annual concert on June 10, and the audience at the Holland Center broke into cheers and applause. The music took us back to the ’70s, and the love emanating throughout the room was palpable. A room full of LGBTQIA+ people and allies gathered to celebrate Pride.
June is Pride month. Pride has been nationally recognized for only 24 years, but its roots go back 53 years. In June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City, a popular gay bar. Riots broke out, and the uprising lasted six days. A year later, in June 1970, the Christopher Street Liberation March in NYC saw hundreds of LGBTQIA+ people and allies march in memory of the Stonewall uprising. This is considered the first Pride parade, and since then, June has seen Pride events expand and continue.
It’s no mere whim RCMC chose music from the ’70s to celebrate Pride. Known as a decade of uprooting and evolution, and forcing systems to adopt more inclusive policies, the ’70s saw marginalized communities demand justice and equity. More than glitter and stardust and discos, the ’70s were a time of disruption. Movements established new concepts — concepts the world still wrestles with and marginalized groups fight for.
“Our mission is to create exceptional performances and show what diversity looks like,” said Dr. Barron Breland, RCMC’s artistic director. “At our core, we want to be a safe place for all types of people to gather. We have a message of inclusion and acceptance.”
No surprise, gay and lesbian choirs started emerging in the 1970s. After the 1978
assassination of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay supervisor in San Francisco, several of these choirs held vigils in the City by the Bay. RCMC was created in 1984 with nine men and one woman. Now, RCMC boasts 140 members, and is the largest chorus in Nebraska.
“We leave rehearsals uplifted,” said Breland. “It’s a weekly reminder what humanity can be.”
As the audience grooved to the songs of Earth, Wind and Fire, Elton John, Carole King and more, it was a pure celebration. Embracing all bodies, all identities was the message. The Holland Performing Arts Center was full of people in support of this message. But outside the doors of the auditorium was a state ready to vilify and erase most of the identities represented during the concert.
‘We Won’t Be Erased’
Nebraska recently passed LB574, which, among other items, restricts gender-affirming care for people under the age of 19. It’s a copy-and-paste bill seen in legislators across the U.S. It’s one of many steps being taken to erase LGBTQIA+ identities in the state.
“The purpose of this legislation is to eradicate queer folk, especially trans people. They want to make it difficult to thrive and exist,” said Cameron Koenig-Barker, RCMC chorus member. “RCMC sends the message that we won’t be erased. We aren’t going anywhere.”
LGBTQIA+ people spent centuries living in the closet. For decades local and national
movements have pushed against anti-LGBTQIA+ efforts. During the concert, Breland commented on how a few years ago, it was debated if LGBTQIA+ choirs have a purpose anymore. At the time, it seemed the world had become more accepting and embracing of the LGBTQIA+ community. Among queer choruses and activists, many believed the work was done. But in the last few years, those terrified of queer identities have taken steps to stomp out these voices. “They’re scaring marginalized communities out of existence,” said Ashley T. Brundage, founder of Empowering Differences.
Brundage is a proud transgender woman who focuses a lot of her advocacy on inclusion of trans people in business. She’s a successful businesswoman and teaches others how to leverage their differences to make an impact in the world. It’s her belief that when all people are included, the world is a better place. “It’s important to hear from people who are different, because you gain a different perspective,” Brundage said. “We have the ability to impact everyone along the journey of life.”
Making an Impact Through Music
RCMC is impacting the community through performance. Like so many performers and artists who came before, RCMC is participating in a long history of using artistic expression to uplift and take stances. “We are out and proud and singing, and that in and of itself is activism,” Koenig-Barker said.
Part of its activism is to build community and create hope, especially for youth. While the chorus is comprised of those 18 and older, it’s aware of the power it has to impact young people in Nebraska.
Karen Davidson-Fisher has been in the chorus since the ’90s. She recalls going into
communities and schools to perform for students. She’s thrilled to see so many young people interested in RCMC, and hopes the chorus leaves an impression on them.
“It’s going to make things better for young people, seeing young and old people up on stage, singing about important things,” she said.
With the passing of LB 574, and other potential legislation in the pipeline, it’s a scary time for the LGBTQIA+ community, especially transgender kids. RCMC wants to encourage young people to find hope and connect with those who understand their struggles.
“It’s super important young queer adults see there’s a life after high school,” said Koenig-Barker. “It’s impactful to see healthy, happy, fulfilled adults, and that you can be queer. Life is not just pain, there’s joy. This is powerful for youth.”
Whether performing classical music or pop songs, RCMC always seeks to bring the
community together and support LGBTQIA+ people. It uses music to resist, to uplift, to find strength. It’s a collective voice singing in defiance.
“Our presence is a protest our community needs to see,” Breland said. “There’s a storm coming for our trans community. We are a refuge, a place of strength.”
Next year will mark the 40th season for RCMC. Through ups and downs in the world, it
remains a light for LGBTQIA+ people in Nebraska. “It’s truly a family,” Davidson-Fisher said.
And it continues to grow, not stopping anytime soon. Its annual holiday concert will happen later this year. Then, RCMC prepares for a whirlwind of a 40th season in 2024.
One of many activities will be attending GALA’s international chorus conference in Minnesota. GALA leads the North American choral movement.
Hundreds of LGBTQIA+ choruses will descend upon Minneapolis and celebrate through song. Breland also announced during the June concert that RCMC is expanding from two performances a year to four, one being a cabaret.
Anyone 18 and older can audition. People who are 17 can audition and participate with a parent or guardian. The audition is simple and laid-back. Auditions are open to LGBTQIA+ or allies. Auditionees are asked to sing a few bars of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” do a range check, and discuss membership commitments.
RCMC also strives to be accessible by eliminating financial barriers, to embracing different expressions of movement by modifying physical movement. Regardless of what a person’s background is, or what the access needs are, RCMC wants its members to feel uplifted.
Through the rest of 2023 and into its 40th year, RCMC will face anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric with hope and love and joy.
“The primary human need is love,” Breland said. “We are people, human like anyone else. Where you find love is good and worthy and beautiful.”