The Orthodox Catholic Church seems to be pretty influential in Ukraine on the social and political front. So, it is all the more impressive that an Orthodox bishop was present for the first part of our concert at the Philharmonic on Friday. I’m speculating a bit, but I would guess that the weight of the U.S. Embassy letterhead provided encouragement. We’ve encountered many ways this week in which the U.S. Embassy is using its influence for good when it comes to LGBTQ issues in Ukraine.
Case in point — on the Saturday of our tour, we were invited to a BBQ on the campus of the Catholic University outside of Lviv in honor of Memorial Day. By inviting a gay chorus to an event with U.S., Ukrainian and Catholic leadership present, the Embassy isn’t afraid to push a few unconventional conversations forward. While governments can be risk averse when it comes to foreign policy, we have experienced an Embassy in Ukraine that is nimble and unafraid to dream.
Our original invitation to the BBQ was to sing a few songs including the U.S. national anthem. We later learned there was misunderstanding by the church surrounding our identity as a gay group. We saw the frustrated Embassy staff scramble to honor the relationship they have with the church as well as with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington — an impossible situation because Orthodox Catholic doctrine is in direct opposition to GMCW’s mission. The church, un-shockingly, didn’t want to acknowledge our gay identity.
You might think there was an impulse to grab our bags and leave, angered and hurt. Most people at the BBQ already knew our story, so accepting the altered invitation would just allow the church continue its head in the sand tradition. This begged a natural question: Were we more likely to reverse centuries of dogma that day, or chip away at the armor…maybe influence one person? It was a split second decision we made collectively, and I couldn’t be more proud of Potomac Fever for realizing that we can’t change hearts if we’re not in the room. Even if our hosts didn’t have the capacity to move as much as we wanted, the needle always moves through person-to-person interaction.
Our partnership with the U.S. Embassy has already caused a stir. Like many parts of this tour, we won’t know the aftereffect of this particular experience with the Catholic University for some time. But we do know that a gay chorus (known, if not acknowledged) performed twice for Orthodox Church leadership in as many days. In Ukraine that is a leap forward. I won’t ever defend or make excuses for an institution whose doctrine and actions are discriminatory. Instead, I lift up a group of singers whose true colors of compassion, cultural understanding and dignity were ablaze.
Chase Maggiano is the executive director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. He posted periodic posts from Ukraine on his blog ChasingTheArt that he is allowing the Washington Blade to repost.