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Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams positions itself for the future under watchful eye of its namesakes

Furniture and LGBT rights go hand in hand for North Carolina-based entrepreneurs and advocates

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Mitchell Gold, gay news, Washington Blade
Mitchell Gold, gay news, Washington Blade
Bob Williams and Mitchell Gold today. They say their line of aspirational luxury furniture has resonated with consumers and their numbers back it up. (Photo courtesy Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams)

It’s a Monday morning and Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, the visionaries behind the Taylorsville, N.C.-based, eponymous company that bills itself as “classic modern home furnishings,” are looking at another long work week ahead but excited about the weekend’s events.

It happens to be the day after Pete Buttigieg announced his presidential campaign and Gold especially is excited. 

“I think he’s really terrific,” Gold, 68, says. As a long-time outspoken proponent for LGBT rights and author of the book “Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America,” Gold’s enthusiasm is not surprising.

“I think when he first came on the scene I was kind of dismissive,” Gold says. “Oh, this is some gay guy from the Midwest, he’s mayor of a small town, you know, who does he think he is?  But the more I saw him, especially on a CNN town hall, for me what he’s doing is challenging anti-LGBT evangelicals, the Mike Pences of the world. … In my wildest dreams as a kid, I would never have thought yesterday would happen so I was really touched by it.”

The occasion is the 30th anniversary of Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams and a lot has changed since the Blade profiled the men (Williams is 57) and company, long-time business partners and at one time romantic partners as well, on its 25th anniversary five years ago. It’s been a season of significant growth.

Five years ago, they had about 700 employees. It’s near 1,000 now. The majority are full time. Then they had 17 stores. There are now 33. The most recent opened last year in Fort Worth, Texas. Their headquarters five years ago was about 600,000 square feet It’s now close to 1 million. Sales have doubled in that time as well to about $230 million for all their holdings, which include a contract business that sells to hotels and an office supply arm. For more information, visit mgbwhome.com.

They were chatty — Gold especially — during a 45-minute phone interview. Their comments have been edited for space.

WASHINGTON BLADE: What’s going on these days with Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams? It sounds like a lot has happened since we last spoke.

MITCHELL GOLD: We are really working to position our company for the future to get the team really in order to take the company into the next decade and we’re super optimistic because the style sense that we have, the modern sensibility, whether it goes to pure American modern or more of a traditional modern, really seems to resonate with a lot of customers.

BLADE: How have trends changed from five years ago?

GOLD: We’ve had a lot of new competition in the last five years and a lot of our older competition has moved toward making more modern furniture. I think consumers have really moved toward the style sense we’ve had for well over 20 years.

BOB WILLIAMS: The other thing we’ve seen is color. Five years ago it was a lot more neutrals and a lot of it had to do with the 2008 recession. After about 2016, people were tired of that and wanted some freshness. That’s the other big thing we’ve noticed.

BLADE: Have you seen trends like that before over the years?

WILLIAMS: Yes, we saw it after 9-11. People were much more hesitant and conservative and not feeling as bold and colorful. It took a few years after that before we started seeing color back on the floor.

BLADE: What does that say about our national psyche?

WILLIAMS? I think when things get tough and people don’t feel secure, they get a little bit more reserved in their thinking and buying habits.

GOLD: Now things are a little chaotic and unsettling but I think what we’re seeing is a lot of people want to be happy and as Bob often says, the colors that we do are happy colors.

BLADE: What other national trends affect what you guys do? Over 30 years, for instance, the middle class in this country isn’t what it was yet your sales are up. Has the one percent made up the difference?

WILLIAMS: I wouldn’t say it’s the one percent making up the difference. I would say it really depends on the mood of what’s going on. People need to buy furniture no matter what’s going on with the economy. They move into a new house, something’s changed … so it’s kind of a tricky situation.

GOLD: People in our community categorize us as aspirational luxury … and you’d be amazed how many people just starting out in their career tell me, “Oh, I bought a sofa from you, I waited ’til the floor sample was on clearance so I could get a price I could afford,” or they bought something at more of an opening price point, all the way to people who are in charge of stuff like global retail for Nike. There are a lot more people at our more entry level price point who aspire to have our stuff and we try to make it available to them at different times of the year.

BLADE: You had a spate of events at your various stores for your 25th anniversary. Are you doing that again for 30?

GOLD: We have a few. We just had one in New York with Elle Decor magazine that benefited the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Lady Bunny DJ’ed … she’s fantastic. …We’re doing a big event in September in our Beverly Hills store with Architectural Digest and in our Texas stores next week. So yes, we have things going on all over the country for the year.

BLADE: What other causes are you passionate about besides LGBT ones?

GOLD: We work with the Sustainable Furnishings Council, an environmental group for the home furnishings industry. And Exodus Works, headed by Rev. Reggie Longcrier that helps homeless people get into their first apartments. 

BLADE: How do you decide where you’ll open new stores?

GOLD: There are a lot of factors — what the household incomes are, what the education levels are, what the style sense is. We also try to cluster our stores in big markets because they do more business than you would get in a remote market and you get to take advantage of the efficiencies of having two-three stories in one market like in D.C., we have a store just down the street from you and also one in Tysons Galleria that really gives us the opportunity to cover a big part of the market. Another big factor is just what’s available in commercial real estate. It’s much different than residential. We really want to be in great locations, great buildings and have it be the right size for us so there are always four or five balls we have up in the air looking for the right place.

BLADE: Will you open any more in 2019?

GOLD: No. We’re working more on our website this year, then we will start back expanding in 2020.

BLADE: Does your expanded headquarters space make up for more overall volume or are there other things you’re doing there?

GOLD: It’s mainly a factor of volume but we have a large distribution center now. We used to ship certain categories out of different locations but we’ve brought it all together to one distribution center and we took the other space and used it to expand our manufacturing abilities.

BLADE: What are the downsides of so much growth? Are there headaches involved that the average person wouldn’t think of?

GOLD: You have to do everything very carefully. One of the difficulties is hiring the right people, hiring them quickly …

WILLIAMS: Office space …

GOLD: … moving people around, we’re going through that again. Every time you hire somebody, you have to have a space for them. Even though we try to have extra office space available, it never seems to be enough.

BLADE: Five years ago, you estimated your employees were about 15 percent LGBT and clientele about 15-20 percent LGBT. Would you say those numbers have changed?

GOLD: Those are close enough I would say.

BLADE: Mitchell, almost exactly a year ago you were on the cover of The Washington Post (Sunday) Magazine in a piece called “The Last Frontier for Gay Rights,” and spoke of your work with the P.R.I.D.E. Club at a high school in your community. How was it received?

GOLD: The reaction was generally very good. … I got virtually no negative comments that I know of, to my face. The only disappointing thing was I wish the writer had focused a bit more on people who have changed their minds (on LGBT rights). She seemed a bit more focused on people who have dug in their heels, who still believe, quote-unquote, that homosexuality is a sin. There are people, whether they’re evangelicals, Mormons or Catholics, who have started to change like Rev. Stan Mitchell in Tennessee or David Gushee in Atlanta … who stand up and say, “I don’t believe it is a sin.” 

BLADE: Do you feel the rate at which that is happening is encouraging or will we still be debating this in 20 years?

GOLD: Mayor Pete has the opportunity to create a seismic shift and he has that opportunity because he’s willing to talk about it in a way that people understand, in a way that our LGBT advocacy groups don’t talk about it. It’s not enough to win an election or win a court case, we have to continue educating people and getting them to understand the harm they’re doing to people … to understand why they have to change their voting habits.

BLADE: Bob, do you follow these issues as closely as Mitchell?

WILLIAMS: Not quite as closely as Mitchell but my husband is on the board for OUTright Youth so I hear a lot of things that are going on because of him and also being out in the community, being a big part of that.

BLADE: You listed the Sunbrella Collection in 2018 as one of your recent milestones. What’s that?

WILLIAMS: That’s a company that has been around for a long time and is really known for their outdoor fabric and for the longest time they’ve been trying to get in on the indoor market but their fabrics weren’t quite soft enough. But they’ve finally found a way to re-engineer their yarn to have a softer feel and we’re very excited to be part of their new indoor collection. It’s easy to take care of. You don’t have to worry about it staining. 

BLADE: Are buying trends any different in Washington than your other markets?

GOLD: The stuff in D.C. is very gay. No, I’m kidding (laughs). The only thing I’d say is maybe a larger amount of smaller pieces that might be sold because it’s a city whereas in Tysons where the homes are bigger, not as much, but style wise it’s very similar.

BLADE: How about in Los Angeles? 

GOLD: There’s sort of a California casual yet dressier look. Maybe a little cleaner looking but still very modern. In D.C., maybe a little more traditional. We have three fantastic stores in L.A.

BLADE: Would you like to retire someday?

GOLD: At some point I would like to work a little less. We have a search on now for a CEO to come in and transition and eventually take a lot of my responsibility. 

WILLIAMS: One of the things we’ve been focusing on the last year is getting everything a little bit more organized for that day when neither of us are here. 

GOLD: We’re also searching for a chief marketing officer. That could be a pretty big opportunity for somebody.

BLADE: Any other big changes since we last spoke in your personal lives?

WILLIAMS: I grew a beard, that’s about it.

GOLD: I lost about 45 pounds and feel great. 

BLADE: How are your husbands and what do they do?

GOLD: Tim (Gold) is fostering at-risk puppies and cogs with the local Catawba Valley Human Society. He picks the appropriate dogs and trains them to be service dogs for kids or young adults with autism or other people in need. And Bob’s husband Stephen (Heavner) is a painter and is very good.

WILLIAMS: He also does volunteer work and has sold some paintings. Not anything that expensive.

GOLD: But he’s very good and he’s sold things for prices above what I would have anticipated. 

BLADE: How is Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams different from Pottery Barn or Room & Board?

GOLD: We have a distinctly modern style sense, we have our own factor and we make higher quality and equality is important to us. We are a company that supports equality for everybody, not just in the things we say but in the organizations and politicians we support. In those other stores, when people go in and buy, they’re buying from manufacturers that we know down South do not support politicians who honor equality. In fact, they have manufacturers that supported (anti-LGBT legislation) HB2 (the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act) and politicians that had those in place.

BLADE: How do you relax?

GOLD: I like “Law & Order” and “Seinfeld.”

WILLIAMS: He watches the first eight minutes then falls asleep in the middle and wakes up at the very end and says, “Let’s watch another.” Then he falls asleep again. He never knows what’s in the middle of any of those episodes. 

GOLD: I love to read. On the weekends, Tim and I take the dogs on long walks.

WILLIAMS: We like taking short trips and discovering new things in North Carolina. We take advantage of that as often as we can.

Bob Williams and Mitchell Gold in 1987. (Photo courtesy Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams) 
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D.C. summer ablaze with events, concerts, art

A plethora of activity in wake of COVID restrictions loosening up

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After a year of public events being cancelled and residents staying cooped up in their homes due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the “outside” is finally open and D.C. is effervescing with events. Check out ways to make up for lost time during the remaining months of this year’s summer season:

The Baltimore Museum of Art will open Women Behaving Badly: 400 Years of Power & Protest, an exhibition dedicated to the women who rebelled on Sunday, July 18. The exhibition combines prints, photographs, and books to tell the stories of past heroines and modern trailblazers, celebrating women throughout history who broke rules, transgressed boundaries, and insisted upon recognition of their human rights. For more information, visit the BMA’s website

Tschabalala Self: By My Self is on view at the BMA through Sept. 19, 2021. Explore 13 paintings and two related sculptures curated by Cecilia Wichmann that reveal artist Tschabalala Self’s depth, intricacy, and singularity. The exhibition explores how the compositional process generates meaning in Self’s work, reflecting her theory of selfhood as a consciousness that is at once produced by external images and by an ongoing reworking and evolving of forms into a new whole. Self was born in Harlem, New York, in 1990 and is based in New Haven, Conn. For more information, visit the BMA’s website

The 1455 Summer Festival will begin on Thursday, July 15 at 4 p.m., featuring a stellar lineup of literary leaders and creatives (many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community) who will share their insights into the art of storytelling. The lineup will include literary superstar Brian Broome, author of “Punch Me Up to the Gods,” and Booker-Prize-winning author “Shuggie Bain” and fashion designer Douglas Stuart, among others. Some of the festival’s events include “What Makes a Successful (Queer) Narrative?” a panel that’ll dissect queer storytelling throughout the years. There will also be a teen poetry contest with a $5,000 grand prize. For more information, visit the festival’s website.

The National Museum of Asian Art will open Hokusai: Mad about Painting on Saturday, Aug. 28. The exhibition will feature work by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) best known for his iconic woodblock print, “The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa” and a breathtaking painting titled “Breaking Waves” that was created 15 years after Great Wave at the height of Hokusai’s career. Drawing on the museum’s impressive Hokusai collection, visitors have the opportunity to see a new presentation, with artworks being added throughout the summer. In addition to Breaking Waves, the exhibition includes works large and small, from folding screens and hanging scrolls to paintings and drawings. For more information, visit the NMAA’s website.

Awesome Con will be from Friday, Aug. 20 to Sunday, Aug. 22. The event is D.C.’s own Comic Con, a celebration of geek culture, bringing more than 70,000 fans together with their favorite stars from across comics, movies, television, toys, games, and more. Awesome Con is home to Science Fair, Book Fair, Awesome Con Jr, Pride Alley, a celebration of queer creators and fans curated by GeeksOUT, and Destination Cosplay. For more information, visit awesomecon.com. 

A scene from 2019’s Awesome Con. This year’s event is slated for the weekend of Aug. 20. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Maryland Renaissance Festival will begin on Saturday, Aug. 28 and runs Saturdays and Sundays and Labor Day Monday through Sunday, Oct. 24 for nine weekends of thrills, feasting, handmade crafts, entertainment and merriment in Crownsville, near Annapolis, Md. The 27-acre Village of Revel Grove comes to life each autumn with more than 200 professional performers on 10 stages, a 3,000 seat arena with armored jousting on magnificent steeds and streets filled with village characters. For more information, visit rennfest.com. 

The National Museum of Women in the Arts will be open for special evening hours from Thursday, Aug. 5 to Friday, Aug. 6 from 5-8 p.m. The featured exhibitions are Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood, which presents images photographer Mary Ellen Mark made throughout her career depicting girls and young women, and Selections from the Collection, which highlights historical and contemporary art by women around the world. Free timed tickets are required so that the museum can ensure the safety of patrons and their staff. Visit their website for more information. 

The 13th Annual Ukefest will begin on Friday, Aug. 13. Celebrating a decade dedicated to this small but mighty music maker, UkeFest Artistic Directors Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer return alongside extraordinary instructors like Peter Luongo, Kevin Carroll, Ginger Johnson and more. The program orientation will kick off on Friday night, followed by four days of classes and evening events. For those looking for more intensive skill development, Strathmore’s UkeFest is the only program of its kind that offers an advanced track. Admission is $225 and more information is available at Strathmore.org.

The Drive-In at Union Market will start at 7:30 p.m. every first Friday of the month through October. While watching films under the stars, enjoy dozens of local, regional, and international foods: Egyptian favorites by Fava Pot, night market noodles from Som Tam, ice cream locally churned by The Creamery, tasty takeout burgers from Lucky Buns and more. Movie audio will be transmitted through an FM transmitter on the radio and through speakers placed on Neal Place. All movies are shown with open captioning, and the movie plays rain or shine. Each showing costs $20 per car. For more information, visit unionmarketdc.com. 

Unwind with an hour-long vinyasa outdoor yoga session taught by District Flow Yoga every Tuesday and Thursday on District Pier and every Sunday morning on Recreation Pier at The Wharf. Enjoy waterfront views and fresh air as you shed the stress of the day or greet the new one. The outdoor yoga class on Sunday, July 25 is hosted on Recreation Pier from 9-10 a.m. and costs $10. Tickets must be purchased on Eventbrite. For more information, visit wharfdc.com. 

FUTURES, the first building-wide exploration of the future on the National Mall, will open in the late summer and run through summer 2022. This exhibition is your guide to a vast array of interactives, artworks, technologies, and ideas that are glimpses into humanity’s next chapter. Smell a molecule. Clean your clothes in a wetland. Meditate with an AI robot. Travel through space and time. Watch water being harvested from the air. Become an emoji. The FUTURES is yours to decide, debate, delight. Patrons are encouraged to dream big, and imagine not just one future, but many possible futures on the horizon—playful, sustainable, inclusive. Visit the Arts and Industries Building’s website for more information. 

The National Portrait Gallery will open “Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands” on Friday, Aug. 27. Hung Liu (b. 1948) is a contemporary Chinese American artist, whose multilayered paintings have established new frameworks for understanding portraiture in relation to time, memory, and history. Often sourcing her subjects from photographs, Liu elevates overlooked individuals by amplifying the stories of those who have historically been invisible or unheard. More information is available at the gallery’s website.

 After a long COVID drought, music is back! The 9:30 Club has a schedule of shows starting in September, notably the return of the Bob Mould Band on Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. (tickets are $25 and still available). Tinashe performs her “333Tour” on Oct. 3 (tickets on sale July 16). Visit 930.com for the full schedule and hurry, because many shows are already selling out. 

Bob Mould, gay news, Washington Blade
The Bob Mould Band plays 9:30 Club on Sept. 18.

Meanwhile, at I.M.P.’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, more shows are headed our way, including James Taylor and his All-Star Band on Aug. 10. Wilco and Sleater-Kinney perform Aug. 20. For more throwback fixes, New Kids on the Block are slated for Aug. 4 and Alanis Morissette with Garbage and Liz Phair play on Aug. 31. Visit merriweathermusic.com for the full lineup. 

Wolf Trap has a full schedule of events planned this summer as well. Highlights include Renee Fleming on Aug. 6, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on Aug. 12, and ABBA the Concert on Aug. 15. Visit wolftrap.org for the full schedule.

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Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington celebrates 40th anniversary with virtual concert, retrospective

Veteran choir soldiers undeterred through pandemic with Zoom rehearsals

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Members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington gather in front of the Supreme Court on Sept. 3, 2013. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GMCW Turns 40
Streaming begins Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m.
Available through June 20
Tickets: $25
gmcw.org

Discussion of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington quickly becomes emotional for its members both veteran and newbie(-ish). They’re the kind of strong feelings that only exist when one has sacrificed and invested in something.

“It’s an experience that touches our soul in a way that not that many LGBTQ+ people get to experience,” says tenor Javon Morris-Byam, a gay 28-year-old music teacher who joined three years ago. “We have music tying us together and in the end, we make a product that we can share with the public and that’s a humbling experience.”

Steve Herman, 79, is a founding member, though he doesn’t sing. One of a group of “non-singing members,” he joined in June 1981 and has helped over the decades painting scenery, designing ads, serving on the board and more. His partner at the time had joined the chorus as a singer.

A Gay Men’s Chorus performance in 1983. (Washington Blade archive photo by Leigh Mosley)

Now retired after 47 years in the federal government, he says the Chorus “has been a major centerpiece of my life.”

“This may sound corny, but I couldn’t imagine my life without the chorus,” Herman says.

The chorus is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend with a streaming concert simply dubbed “GMCW turns 40” that can be streamed starting Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m. and can be viewed until June 20.

Selections will include “From Now On” (from “The Greatest Showman”), “Rise Up,” “Make Them Hear You” (from “Ragtime”), “Truly Brave” and a new song called “Harmony’s Never Too Late!” written for the occasion by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, composers of “Ragtime.” Video clips of past performances will also be included in a montage. Tickets are $25 at gmcw.org.

Thea Kano, the Chorus’s artistic director since 2014 (she was associate director for a decade prior), says “Make Them Hear You” has “kind of become our anthem over the last 10 years,” so contacting its composers for a commission made sense. They premiered it last summer virtually at the Chorus’s Summer Soiree, a COVID-induced postponement of its usual Spring Affair.

Thea Kano, center, joins members of the Chorus at the United States Supreme Court on the day of the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality decision in June of 2015.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kano, a straight ally, directs the Chorus with aid from Associate Conductor C. Paul Heins, Assistant Conductor Joshua Sommerville and accompanist Teddy Guerrant. Justin Fyala has been the Chorus’s executive director since 2016. Staff also includes Craig Cipollini (director of marketing), Kirk Sobell (director of patron services) and Alex Tang (accompanist).

Under the main Chorus umbrella are five ensembles: 17th Street Dance, a 14-member performance troupe started in 2016; Rock Creek Singers, a 32-voice chamber ensemble; GenOUT Youth Chorus, a teen choir of about 25; Potomac Fever, a 14-member harmony pop ensemble; and Seasons of Love, a 24-voice gospel choir.

GenOUT Youth Chorus. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Musically, the Chorus’s repertoire is eclectic.

“(We sing) everything from spiritual to glam rock to punk to traditional classical, and everything in between,” Morris-Byam says. “I love when the chorus is all together and able to produce a big powerful sound.”

Kano says working with Fyala is “a dream” and says under his leadership the Chorus is “in a very healthy financial place, which is wonderful and a very humble thing to be able to say right now particularly given that we’re in a pandemic — that’s not the case with a lot of arts organizations.”

The D.C. Chorus is a quasi-unofficial spin off of its San Francisco counterpart. During an early ’80s national tour, the San Francisco group performed at Washington’s Kennedy Center and had a profound effect on local audiences. Marsha Pearson, a straight woman who lived in Dupont Circle at the time and enjoyed hanging out with gay men, was one such person.

“I couldn’t believe we didn’t have one of these,” she told the Blade 10 years ago for a story on the Chorus’s 30th anniversary. “I thought, ‘We’re the nation’s capital, how come we don’t have this?’”

The Chorus performs at the popular gay nightclub Tracks in 1984. (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

She hand wrote fliers — four to a sheet — had her sister photocopy them at her office, cut them up by hand and passed them out at Capital Pride in 1981. Accounts vary about how many showed up to the first practice at the long-defunct gay community center (no connection to the D.C. Center) on Church Street. Pearson remembers about 30. Others say it was more like 15-ish. It was June 28, 1981 and, by all accounts, an innocuous beginning.

Pearson never sang with the group — it was exclusively a men’s chorus. She asked if anybody had any conducting experience. The late Jim Richardson did and became the first director.

“I still remember the first chord,” Pearson told the Blade in 2011. “It was just a simple thing, you know, like do, mi, so, do, but I just got goosebumps. I was just elated that even one note came out, I was so excited. I got those same goosebumps at the anniversary concert last weekend. I put their CDs on and I get the same thing, especially on certain things they sing. You just can’t believe it sounds so great.”

Click here for more about the history of the group. A bio/history is also available at gmcw.org.

COVID has, of course, wreaked havoc on the operation. Thankfully, Kano says, no members have died from it, though a handful (she says fewer than 10 that she knows of), including Kano, have had it and recovered.

The Chorus continued its Sunday evening rehearsals via Zoom, which, because of the precision required for musical performance, was tougher to take online than, say, a business meeting. It never occurred to the Chorus leadership to take a hiatus.

“I look back now like, ‘Why didn’t we take some time off,’ but I think off the top of my head at the time it was like, “We sing and we’re a social justice organization and community is such a big part of who we are,’” Kano says. “And so for suddenly, with no notice, to have something that we love so much and are so passionate about …. to suddenly just turn the lights off, that wasn’t even an option.”

A GMCW rehearsal in 2007. (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

With the Chorus and dancers and GenOUT, there are about 200 current volunteer performers. It’s been slightly higher at times. Some were deterred by the thought of rehearsing via Zoom although some former members no longer in the D.C. area — even a few overseas — rejoined when virtual participation became possible.

The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement last summer and beyond was a galvanizing event. The Chorus responded with its “Let Freedom Sing” concert, which Kano says celebrated the intersection of Black and LGBTQ people.

Featured soloists perform in ‘Let Freedom Sing.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“It was our way of saying we raise our voice in solidarity with those facing injustice,” Kano says.

But does that get messy at times? Surely not everyone in a choir of this size is on the same page politically, even in a progressive city like D.C., right?

As a nonprofit, the Chorus avoids anything ostensibly political. Kano says the issue did arise when they were invited to sing at a Virginia-based gun-reform event last year. They participated, but carefully.

“So anytime you mentioned guns, it becomes political,” Kano says. “It’s not about whether or not we support the Second Amendment. It’s us standing in solidarity with those who have been victims of gun violence.”

Kano says there’s “a very good chance had this been a non-pandemic year,” they would have been invited to sing at the Biden-Harris inauguration, which she says they “absolutely” would have agreed to.

“We did wonder, though, a few years ago what we would have said if 45 were to ask us,” she says. “We didn’t spend a lot of time on it because we knew that wasn’t gonna happen,” she says with a chuckle.

The holiday shows for the Chorus often involve elaborate costumes, as in this scene in 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Herman says performing at big, pro-LGBTQ “statement”-type events is woven into the Chorus’s history and is understood.

“Every Christmas Eve, we’d sing for the patients at NIH,” he says. “We still do, only then it was primarily AIDS patients. We sang special concerts when the (AIDS) Quilt was first displayed and when there was a March on Washington. We did a lot of community work and outreach at a time when it was really needed.”

Morris-Byam says even today, with so much progress having been made, the Chorus still is needed. He, by the way, calls Kano “one of the most brilliant musicians I’ve ever met.”

“I believe the Chorus is a strong political statement in itself,” he says. “When we’re making a strong, joyful noise, it’s celebrating everything we are, what we can be, and everyone who has gotten us where we are.

The Chorus celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in a performance at Lincoln Theatre in 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There have been challenges over the years — finding new office space, patching together individual vocal parts for virtual performances — but no warring factions. Kano is, by most accounts, extremely well liked.

The future, Kano says, is bright. She hopes to resume in-person rehearsals in the fall. She spent a big chunk of early lockdown transcribing a Puccini “Gloria Mass” for tenor/bass chorus. She plans to program it with works by Cole Porter eventually.

Ultimately, Kano says, her goals for the Chorus are about making great art.

“Art comes first,” she says. “Because that’s how we deliver our mission. And if we put great art first, it’s going to attract great people. It’s going to both as members and as audience members and patrons, and therefore it’s going to attract great funding, and then all that goes right back into the arts we can further our expansion and our ability to get the mission out.”

Craig Cipollini leads the ‘Grease’ dance auditions in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
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Billy Porter talks about his HIV diagnosis and keeping secrets

The Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-Award winning actor revealed the secret he’s been keeping for 14 years in the Hollywood Reporter Wednesday

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Billy Porter appearing on Tamron Hall's show Wednesday (Screenshot via YouTube)

NEW YORK – Daytime talk show host Tamron Hall welcomed Broadway icon and star of the hit tv show “Pose,” Billy Porter on her show that aired Wednesday. The Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-Award winning actor revealed the secret he’s been keeping for 14 years that was made public in a piece for the Hollywood Reporter published Wednesday.

Porter discusses his HIV diagnosis from over a decade ago which the actor said he felt a sense of shame that compelled him to hide his condition from his castmates, collaborators and even his mother, and the responsibility that now has him speaking out. “The truth is the healing,” Porter said.

“I was on the precipice of obscurity for about a decade or so, but 2007 was the worst of it. By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive,” he wrote. “The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already [accumulated] in my life silenced me, and I have lived with that shame in silence for 14 years. HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment,” the actor wrote.

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