Things are booming and bustling for GenOUT, the youth chorus formed in 2015 as an outgrowth of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.
In September, Paul Heins, its conductor, left his teaching job to go full time with the chorus. The group maintains a busy performing schedule having sung recently at the Walk to End HIV, the SMYAL Fall Brunch and more. Next up is their part in the annual Gay Men’s Chorus Holiday Show that kicks off this weekend (performances are Dec. 9, two on Dec. 16 and one on Dec. 17; details at gmcw.org).
GenOUT, open to all young people 13-18 but mostly LGBT, will join the chorus for two songs and sing two others on their own — “Shoulda Been a North Pole Elf” and “Mid-Winter.” The 17 GenOUT members rehearse weekly and represent 13 schools in the area. Almost 50 out teens have sung with the chorus since it began.
“We have come a long way in the past decade,” Heins says, “but as long as kids are still being bullied … as long as 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, as long as the suicide rate for LGBT youth remains perilously high, as long as we continue to fight battles for basic rights and recognition, then GenOUT will be here as a place for kids to be celebrated for who they are.”
Heins, a D.C.-area native, returned to the region in 1996 after college. He’s been involved with choirs since high school when he was an accompanist and rehearsal pianist. He joined the Gay Men’s Chorus in 2014 after many years with the now-defunct Lesbian & Gay Chorus of Washington. He completed his doctorate in choral conducting in 2014.
Heins, 44, lives with husband Matthew DelNero on 16th Street. He enjoys reading about ships, running and playing piano in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I came out when I was 21. The hardest person to tell was my mother because she had never suspected and the news was very difficult for her.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
American composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981). He and his partner, fellow composer Gian Carlo Menotti, worked together to create “Vanessa,” one of the most beautiful operas of the 20th century and winner of the 1958 Pulitzer Prize.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I’m old enough to remember Badlands, at 22nd and P, N.W. It had a great dance floor, plus an upstairs area with karaoke hosted by wonderful drag hostesses and a back bar with music videos.
Describe your dream wedding.
It’s really the people who make a wedding a “dream wedding.” We were blessed to have so many friends and family members at our wedding in 2010, some of whom are no longer with us (like my Aunt Mary, who passed away earlier this year).
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
The lack of voting representation in Congress for the 681,00-plus citizens of the District of Columbia is an appalling embarrassment to me.
What historical outcome would you change?
Without a doubt, the presidential election of 2016. I am genuinely afraid of the damage the current administration is doing to our environment, to our civil rights and to our standing among the community of nations.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
On our Southern Equality Tour last summer when the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington sang at the Knoxville, Tenn., Pride Festival. As we departed, we noticed a group of protesters picketing at the entrance gate, holding up huge signs with hateful messages against LGBT people. Our Artistic Director Thea Kano stopped the buses and led us across the street to meet the protesters. We encircled them, held hands and sang to them. I will never forget that experience.
On what do you insist?
I work hard and take on a lot of responsibilities. I expect that when someone else takes on a job that intersects with mine that he/she/they will devote an equal amount of hard work and thoughtfulness as I do.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
On Facebook, I shared a link to a petition asking for increased funding to help school-age kids who are battling depression. Sadly, this petition was written in response to the suicide death of a young person at a local school.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“No More Empty Yesterdays”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Nothing to change my own orientation. Who I am is significantly influenced by my being gay.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I have believed in God all my life and was brought up a church-goer. Although my faith has been tested over the years, I draw strength from the community of believers.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Stay connected: to your community and to the world at large, to youth voices and to history, to what is possible and to what the loftiest dreams are.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
To have a conversation with politicians that actually changes hearts and minds.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That our most meaningful contributions to conversation are about pop culture and fashion.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
On oldie but goodie is “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
I’m old-fashioned, so there are few social customs that I think are overrated and quite a few I think are under-valued or ignored, especially a written thank-you note.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
In 2016, the GenOUT Chorus sang at the White House for President Obama’s LGBT reception. I have a beautiful photo of us from that event, standing with the president in the Blue Room.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That there were more choices in life and that it’s valuable to try as many as possible.
The Washington area was my first home. It’s a place where I can be my authentic self and where I easily found a community that shared my values and respected my beliefs.