The Pink Singers and the London Gay Men’s Chorus take part in a vigil in Old Compton Street, standing in solidarity with the Florida LGBT community the day after the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando. Alto Jeremy’s moving piece which reflects on the horrifying massacre in Orlando and the subsequent vigil, which saw thousands of Londoners – and a strong contingent of Pinkies – gather in Soho on Monday evening to pay tribute to the victims.
Our Pinkie hearts are heavy. Like most of you, most of us are still in shock at the horror of it all, but when we came together at London’s vigil in Old Compton Street on Monday night, we found it in us to sing, and so began the process of healing.
We were so honoured to be present at such an important event for our community. As soon as we knew the vigil was going ahead we knew that the Pink Singers would be there, in full voice and full heart.
Most of us heard about the news via Twitter and other social media whilst we sat in the Alban Arena in St. Albans on Sunday morning. A large contingent of the choir had travelled to compete in the first round of the ‘Choir of the Year 2016‘ competition. We had been the first choir on stage to perform in the morning session, which saw 12 choirs doing their thing on stage. We sang our hearts out, raised the roof, and sat down to enjoy the other performances.
The compères had encouraged everyone to live-tweet the occasion, so we did, and word passed round of the violent attack in Orlando. We wondered, ‘should we say anything?’ But as it was still unclear what was actually happening we kept quietly mindful and carried on. As the day wore on we left the arena, went back to London and many of us joined together for food and company. As it turned out, the gruesome figure was said to be ‘about 50’.
It was about 50 Pinkies that had made it to the competition. As we 50 sang, 50 of our brethren were being slaughtered. The people in Orlando had gone out for joy and community, love and life, and to dance with freedom. The second song we sang for the judges was our Pinkie classic, an arrangement of Whitney Houston’s hit, ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. An eerily prescient coincidence. We had gotten together that Sunday morning to achieve the same things that those lost souls had.
What if we had gone out that day but never come back? It was the question we were all thinking but not many of us were asking. We knew it could just as easily have been us.
Monday dawned with little joy in it. Overnight there had of course been the infamous Sky News Interview with Owen Jones that left people exasperated, angry and sad. Some very deluded and clearly disturbed people had a new ‘hero’ and were singing his praises online. LGBTQI people woke up everywhere, feeling lucky to be alive. And we were lucky, it’s just that we should be alive anyway, not relying on luck. Most of us have found solace and sanctuary in LGBTQI venues, our first trip to one often being a seminal moment in our understanding and acceptance of who and what we are. I always remember a creative writing tutor once telling me that the most distressing stories of horror and pain take place where one usually feels safest. She was right.
LGBTQI spaces are not always perfect: they can be beset with intersectional prejudices, from a person’s perceived attractiveness, to their gender and/or gender expression, to judging a person by the colour of their skin. It’s worth naming and remembering that the majority of the people in the club, and those killed, were members of the Latinx and Trans* communities. (For clarity, Latinx is a gender neutral term used by the LGBTQI Latin community in place of the masculine ‘Latino’ and the feminine ‘Latina’. It’s an effective inclusive term that we are wise to be more aware of and consider emulating). Thankfully of course, for many, they were that place of sanctuary, and they will be again.
Hopefully now, we understand clearer than ever before that we are stronger and better when we stand together. I hope sincerely that the Latinx community felt as much love and compassion in the aftermath as we Pinkies did.
But of course, we did all feel the horror, how could we not? They were in that club because they were like us. Something most of us have always feared had happened to our family, and we weren’t going to let them go without solidarity, love, and a lot of noise. There are many flags that represent different groups within the LGBTQI world, and they tend to be bright and colourful. Certainly not one of them is plain white.
The call out to the Pinkies came early in the day, we were to meet early in Soho to warm up. I spent the day getting hold of flags, candles, sheet music and whatever else would be useful. As we discovered, so did thousands of others. As I arrived in Old Compton Street about an hour before the planned silence at 7:05pm, it was already full of people. Flags were out in force, every LGBTQI sign or emblem you could think of was there.
The Pinkies gathered upstairs at VILLAGE Bar, our lively chatter and camaraderie powered by equal amounts of love, anger, fear and familial comfort. There was a touch of bravado about it all, but how could there not be when the reason for being there was so grim. It could have been us. After a quick rehearsal of our most well-known songs we headed out to the packed (and I mean packed) Old Compton Street to take our place, ready to sing.
As the whistles blew at 7:05pm to mark the starting of the silence, every hair on my neck stood up. The silence was astoundingly thorough, flags fluttering in a virtually soundless breeze, quiet tears rolling down the cheeks of people with battered souls. Battered, but still alive, and using that moment of their one and precious life to think of the siblings they will now never have the chance to know.
After the silence 49 balloons were released to symbolise the 49 murdered in the coldest of blood. At this, a roaring cheer rolled along the crowd, the intensity of which stirred every cell in my body. A wall of sound and passionate humanity that, if only for a moment, blew away every memory I have of ever being yelled at, spat on, punched, kicked, beaten or bullied just for being myself. It lasted quite a while and turned into the chant ‘We’re here! We’re Queer! We will not live in fear!’ I have no words to describe what it felt like to swim in that song of defiance and pride.
Then the London Gay Men’s Chorus (LGMC) sang, and it was beautiful. It has been much documented, quite rightly, and they began a healing ritual of intense beauty. As they ended, the Pinkies started up. As we made our way through the crowds to regroup, we started singing an old Pinkie favourite ‘Hand in Hand’, which had been sung by the choir in 1996 in Tampa, Florida. Now of course the song had made a sort of tragic full circle, but the lyrics resonated with so many present there as tears flowed freely, and perfect strangers held onto each other for comfort.
Hand in Hand
We’ll be the strongest we can be
If we learn to stand by those in need
With shoulder pressed to shoulder
We will build a mighty wall
And nothing in the world
Can make us fall,
If we stand hand in hand
We sang ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now‘ to an appreciative crowd, and then sang together with the LGMC – ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow‘ reverberated around the streets as hundreds of people joined in.
After this we all decamped to the beautiful garden outside St Anne’s Church in Soho – coincidentally the new home of Diversity Role Models, a charity we have been proud to support with our recent CD project. The LGMC sang again, and then we joined in.
At our recent concert, one of the compères, Simon Harrison, quoted Armistead Maupin’s theory of having a ‘biological family’ and a ‘logical family’, the latter being one that you have chosen to support you through life. Like many Pinkies, I see the choir as my logical family, and I certainly don’t know how I would have fared in the last few days without them.
At the time of writing, it seems increasingly likely that the gunman was gay or bisexual himself, raised in an ideology that clearly set him on the worst path imaginable. If this turns out to be true, the human race will have reached a new low. People have since declared #lovewins in the time following the attack, but for that to work we must encourage everyone we know to extend it everywhere, and especially to our own LGBTQI community.
Release your anger, you must, otherwise it will fester within you, poisoning the unique beauty of you. Don’t fall into the trap of looking for a scapegoat, don’t let people talk you into bigotry based on falsehoods; we the Pinkies stand by our Muslim LGBTQI brethren. Whether you are a person of faith or not, swapping one bigotry for another will never solve anything.
Do be brave.
Do be yourself.
Do love and be loved.
If I said I wasn’t scared after this horror, I would be lying, but if we stand “Hand in Hand, we’ll be the strongest we can be”. Every act of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is fuel to an ugly fire, but there is hope. The day after the vigil I was working with Diversity Role Models in a school, where 40 children aged 9-11, voluntarily formed an ‘Equality Club’ as a response to a workshop on LGBTQI awareness. We had hoped that this generation would grow up feeling less of the fear we felt when we were younger, which may not happen now, but we and they still have the power to make things better, if we stand Hand in Hand.
Later in June, The Pink Singers, the Adam Street Singers, the London Gay Men’s Chorus, Diversity Choir and the NHS Choir put on a joint concert to commemorate those lost in the massacre and to raise money for the victims’ fund.
The Pinkies send our love to Orlando, and everyone else who needs it right now.
Timeline datestamp: 13 June 2016