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‘Define yourself’ — Ariadne Getty on family, philanthropy and queer activism

‘I encourage everybody who has any way of being part of a cause to make the time and become involved’

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‘I’ve never pretended that I made a penny in my life. I inherited this money and I’m a steward. I have to honor it,’ says philanthropist Ariadne Getty. (Photo courtesy of the Getty Foundation)

“Money is like manure,” said J. Paul Getty. “You have to spread it around or it smells.”  Getty himself was redolent of a rascally sort of rapaciousness. He was also a tough old coot with a tumescent appetite for beautiful women. But he had a soft spot for one particular beauty in his life: his granddaughter and godchild, Ariadne Getty, now 57, who has always been a bit of a rascal herself — one part punk, one part princess.  

“I’ve never taken any of this for granted,” the philanthropist tells me when she is read that quote from her grandfather. “I’ve never pretended that I made a penny in my life. I inherited this money and I’m a steward. I have to honor it. Actually, I have to honor my great-grandmother who set up the trust. She didn’t trust my grandfather because he was a womanizer,” she says, confirming this lede paragraph and letting loose a signature burst of laughter, a quick gale of it that can blow through a conversation like a gust of gumption. 

Such frankness is refreshing as she sits at a table in her Los Angeles home on this conference call as we converse in the disembodied way that such calls engender on top of the already stilted badinage of an interview’s back-and-forth, a kind of disembodied, distilled discourse all its own with which such wealthy patrons raised by the wolves of fame and fortune engage journalists after having been coached to do so by the experts they hire to smooth their heralded heredity into but a smattering of personality quirks and wisecracks. Call it the knowingness of the known. 

Getty has an expert publicist and the expert head of her charitable foundation there at the table with her at each of her elbows, which I imagine to be well-lotioned, even though she is unafraid to throw such elbows around a bit roughly if need be in the staid world of philanthropy. That is her charm: her ability, elbows ready, to challenge others to find their inner iconoclast even as they serve a higher purpose to better society as a whole. Yet there is nothing slippery about this iconoclastic woman even if the emollients of lotion and lavish privilege come to mind when speaking with her.  

Indeed, Ariadne Getty speaks haltingly — a bit shyly — and chooses her words quite carefully. This is not out of a fear of being misquoted so much as it is out of the seriousness with which she takes her philanthropic impulse.   

When she was first starting her charitable foundation, she came up with a one-line, two-word mission statement: “Unpopular Causes.” It has since expanded to the more generalized assertion that the goal of the Ariadne Getty Foundation is to “work with partners worldwide to improve the lives of individuals and communities through large-scale investments & hands-on advocacy.”  

The focus most recently at  the foundation has been shoring up LGBTQ organizations,  such as the Los Angeles LGBT Center and GLAAD. Getty joined the board of directors of the latter in 2016 and last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos she pledged $15 million to the organization, which focuses on media and how we as a culture can rewrite the script for LGBTQ acceptance. 

I ask her if maybe her daughter Nats Getty’s mission statement for her gender-fluid streetwear line, Strike Oil, might be an even better fit for her foundation. It reads, in part: “For the misfits and the outcasts, The unseen and the unheard, For anyone who dares to be different, Because different is dope.”  

She readily agrees and tells me that Nats and her brother August, also a fashion designer but one with a more high-end couture aesthetic focused on the female client, are her “beacons of information and light.” They are her only two children. August is gay. Nats is a lesbian and married to Gigi Gorgeous, the YouTube sensation and transgender activist. They are the kind of adults who still have a cool-kid vibe about them, as does their part punk/part princess mom.  They are quite a triple-treat as a close-knit family as well as a style council of creative spirits who straddle lots of worlds  — Getty runs both the fashion lines — and I’d wager some of that Getty wealth that when you use the term “grommet” around them they know it is not only something that can reinforce an eyelet sewn into a piece of clothing, but also a term for an inexperienced  skateboarder with scratched-up knees and no real scratch of his own.  

“Inexperienced” is not a term anyone would use for Ariadne Getty who grew up outside Siena, Italy, with her mother after her parents divorced. It was in many ways an idyllic setting for a childhood but anywhere would have been within reach of the tentacles of the family scandals that, as she grew up and realized what her last name meant to the larger world, strengthened her even as it all made her a bit wary — and, yes, for a time quite weary — of public attention. Her father J. Paul Getty II was a drug addict for much of his life (her stepmother died of a heroin overdose) and became a recluse in England in his later years, but one finally with a generous spirit which she seems to have inherited from him. She survived the actual narrative of the kidnapping of her older brother, J. Paul Getty III, and his subsequent heartbreaking health issues as well as the faux narratives made more noxious for their rather mercenary and monetary reasons.   

She bonded with her sister Aileen who is herself an activist and philanthropist, roles that were motivated by Aileen’s HIV-positive status. She lived in London and had a swinging time designing T-shirts and being a bit of dilettante who dallied in lots of sybaritic endeavors. She even had an academic interregnum at Bennington College in Vermont.   

Getty’s gust of laughter again blows through the conversation when I bring up her college days because of how few those days actually were.   

So she didn’t go for the whole four years?  

“I certainly did not.”   

Does she even remember her time at Bennington or was it basically one long, however brief, blackout?  

“It’s a little bit fuzzy to be honest,” she confesses. “But I did learn a lot there. I really did.  I had some fantastic people I was exposed to. It really was an environment that allows you to find your own personality without the restrictions of rules.  It’s almost like a Waldorf approach to college,” she tells me, citing the Rudolf Steiner holistic model of education. But I take it as another kind of cue. “A Waldorf salad approach?” I ask. Another gust of of laughter. “It does put nuts into your life,” she says.

Some would claim that her children and their circle of friends — many of them the misfits and outcasts cited in Nats’s mission statement for Strike Oil streetwear — are the latest nuts in her life with whom she has surrounded herself. She is a kind of den mother of the denizen of acceptance that her home has become for this extended LA family. They even call her Mama G.   Does she think she would be so viscerally focused on LGBTQ rights if she weren’t the mother of two gay children and seen as a mother figure for so many of their friends? There is a maternal aspect to her activism. “I always say I am here doing this mostly to support what my children have made me aware of … I’m not sure how the Mama G thing started, but it’s so sweet. I get texts to Mama G all the time from the friends of my children and my daughter-in-law Gigi. I am a fiercely loyal mother.  I will go to war for my children and their friends.”

“You’re like a polar bear,” I tell her.

“I can’t believe you said that. That’s my spirit animal. You got me there. They are my cubs — Nats and August. And all of their friends are, too.”

“Yet not all wealthy parents support their gay children in the way that you have chosen to support yours. Some of them even donate to Donald Trump. Would you meet with Trump if he invited you to the White House?”

“Oh, Kevin … Kevin …,” she says, moaning. No laughter is launched into the conversation at the thought of this. There is a long silence instead. “I would have to say, ‘I’m sorry. Under most other situations, I would be honored to be invited and I would love to go,’” she carefully begins. “But as Trump continues to stop people’s human rights and disregards the basic … ah … ah, ” she stops again. Time to throw some elbows, after all. “You know what, I would tell him in a heartbeat that under any other circumstances I would love to go but I actually wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I met with him in the Oval Office. I would probably even have a couple of rotten tomatoes in my pocket,” she says, that gust of laughter finally unleashed as she references her time in England and how the groundlings there would respond to their own vulgarians on their Elizabethan stages by throwing such weaponized fruit at them. 

“You could bring your children and daughter-in-law to bear visual witness to your meeting with him,” I suggest, knowing that Gigi is sort of Trump’s type and how disconcerting that would be for him to be turned on by her. 

“If he allowed me even to bring them with me,” says Getty. “Can you imagine? Or we could wear MAGA caps but install little mini-cams in them and tape his reaction when I introduced him to my daughter-in-law, ‘Mr. President, this is Gigi.  She’s transgender.’” 

We have been speaking on this conference call the same day that Ellen DeGeneres was getting media flak for her friendship with another president, George W. Bush. What does Ariadne think of Ellen’s response to the criticism?  

“I personally believe that if you have a platform no matter what it is — even if it is your single voice as a human — you have a responsibility to it. Ellen is extremely fortunate to have such a fan base and a platform. I personally believe that there is nothing wrong with being friendly in private, but going public with it and saying what she said sends a mixed message. It not only might confuse her fans but also those who aren’t necessarily her fans but use her as a sort of barometer. Since she is a comedian, she gets to tackle a lot of topics. I do think that this is a message that does not need to be so public. Yes, it’s important to respect and accept everyone for who they are. I haven’t read exactly what she said. But if she is using her platform but she is ignoring the facts that there were so many rollbacks with Bush and his administration and there were so many LGBTQ injustices passed, then I don’t agree with that. 

“She is not referencing that. She is not saying even though these things happened, we can affect a change if we approach those who have been against us in a fair and kind way in order to try and find a middle ground … After the election in 2016, I called Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO at GLAAD. I said I’m going to bed and closing my curtain and I’m going to stay here for a couple of weeks because I’m so very depressed. And she said, ‘I’m going to give you 24 hours to be depressed and then I want you to get out of bed, get dressed, brush your hair, and make 10 calls to talk about the changes you want to see happen. Get up and stand up and get to work.’ And that’s what I did.”  

“Here is another quote from your grandfather,” I say, winding down our conference call.  “’The rich are not born skeptical or cynical,’” he said. “They are made that way by events and circumstances.’And yet you, Ariadne, have had the opposite reactions to the events and circumstances of your life. They have made you less cynical and skeptical. They have given you a social conscience and spurred you to activism.” 

The laughter is no longer a gust of gumption. It is now more a lovely little breeze, a hum of humility underlying it here on the line.  

“You know what, life is too short,” she says. “I’ve had all the things happen to me that you can imagine — especially people taking advantage. There could be plenty of space in my life to just shut down and not interact and just basically be a victim, or what have you. But I love my life. It is really a privilege to be involved with the LGBT Center in LA, which has so many intergenerational programs there. I’m fortunate. I encourage everybody who has any way of being part of a cause to make the time and become involved.” She pauses. The breeze erupts into one last gust that carries more than itself forward. “Don’t let what other people do define you,” says Getty.  “Define yourself.”

(Editor’s note: Ariadne Getty is being honored with the Washington Blade Lifetime Achievement Award for LGBTQ Advocacy for her commitment to equality. The award is being presented to her at the Blade’s 50th anniversary gala on Oct. 18 in D.C.)

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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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