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Pinkies do Peckham – a Tale of Car Parks and Unruly Hearts

Amy Delamaide talks about our recent unorthodox approach to face-to-face rehearsals. Over to Amy!

Amy Delamaide (front) with the Alto posse

Finally the big day was here!

I had waited, and waited, and waited, for fifteen long months. What was the big day? Was it a well-rehearsed concert performance on stage at Cadogan Hall? Was it an event or gig that we were performing at for an audience? No. The big day was just … a normal Pink Singers rehearsal. But after fifteen months of sitting alone at home, on mute, singing along to a recording over Zoom, I was ready for just a regular rehearsal.

I left my flat super early – there was no way I was going to be late. I cycled to Peckham, where I found a disused car park turned into an arts venue and ran into some friends straight away as I arrived. We walked up the pink, very pink, staircase together. Of course, we had to stop for a mini-photo shoot because pink is kind of our color.

When we got to the roof there was a restaurant and an outdoor sculpture garden with people from the neighborhood enjoying the great views of London from the rooftop.

We got a quick drink at Frank’s Restaurant. I sat at a picnic table with friends who I hadn’t seen in person since March 2020. I even got to hug Paul, the chair of the choir (we’re both vaccinated). Over the fifteen months of Zoom rehearsals and choir coordinating meetings, I felt like I had gotten to know him better that before. Greeting him felt like greeting an old friend! That hug was long awaited.

Alto realness!

Then, we walked down the car park ramps one level. It was definitely an old car park – but one that had gotten a good power-wash. It was concrete and there were pigeons flying overhead, but there was also electricity and a wavy background of board to make it a good place to present live music. Across the length of the car park, I could see a solitary table with two choir members preparing to take the register. We all brought our own pens or pencils to sign in.

Before the rehearsal started, we waited – socially-distanced from each other – but so incredibly happy to be in-person. But no more hugs – once we were in the rehearsal space, hugging was not allowed under the guidance.
Then we sat down in our seats. Since we were more than thirty people, we separated into two groups, altos and basses on one side and sopranos and tenors on the other side of the line. Ne’er the twain shall meet! We had planned for separate breaks and dismissal by section after the rehearsal to ensure proper spacing.

Each chair was spaced out from the other chairs around it by at least a meter, or more. Compared to our pre-pandemic rehearsals, it seemed like we were miles apart from each other. In our previous rehearsal spaces, we were used to being shoulder to shoulder in a small studio, so this was a big change.
Our director, Murray, was at the front on a small dais with a stool. He had a music stand for his music and other short tables and stands to hold a microphone attached to a small amplifier so those of us in the car part could hear him. He also had a microphone connected to a laptop which was running our simultaneous Zoom-casting of the rehearsal, for those who couldn’t be there in person. And there was a fish-eye camera trying to capture some video of us in the car park singing.

Happy faces!

To help us get our jitters out and get ready to sing, Murray took us through some warmups. We started with some gentle hmms, and some zzzzs going up and down like bees, then some sharp, percussive consonant sounds like puh-kuh-tuh-kuh and kuh-puh-guh-puh. Then, I’m not sure what we were supposed to do next because a train went by on the elevated tracks and I couldn’t hear Murray. So I followed along with his facial expressions and hand gestures and just kept warming up.

What followed the warm-up was three hours of musical bliss – it was the most amazing rehearsal. The voices of my choir members wrapped around me. The deep basses resonated, the tenors were confident in every note, the sopranos rang out like clear bells. And behind me were the altos, these beautiful human beings I hadn’t sung with in over a year, sending their sweet tones around me like another long-awaited hug.

Before the rehearsal, I had thought the part that would make me really emotional was when we sang Chosen Family. This is a song about an idea that is really important in the LGBTQ community. Often, when queer people come out to their families, they get emotionally or physically cut off from their biological relatives. If that happens, you find your people in the LGBTQ community who become your substitute parents or siblings to make up for being ostracized from our bio families. This is your chosen family.

To get the timing of Chosen Family right, Murray had us turn to each other, within our own sections and across the sections. “Look in each other’s eyes,” he said. “Sing these words to them.”

I choose you, you choose me, you’re my chosen family.

And it worked! Across the distance, we used our eyes to connect and get into the same rhythm. You can’t do that over Zoom! For those of us who had felt quite isolated during the pandemic, coming together to sing about our chosen family was incredibly powerful. But that wasn’t the part that got to me the most…

The part that got me the most, as the alto section leader, was when we sang Unruly Heart together for the first time. I was in the front row of the altos, with newbie Rauwa to my right, who has just joined choir this Summer 2021 season. Behind her was Molly, who joined in Spring 2020 and had rehearsed in person just a few times before we went into lockdown. Two rows behind me was Georgina, who joined this season as well. And there were the familiar voices of Pippa, Gill, Nicki and Ben with whom I had sung in the Winter 2019 season, our last normal season before everything changed.

Newbie Rauwa with Molly and Ben

When we sang this popular song from the musical The Prom, the altos voices sang out with strength around me. Singing “this heart is the best part of meeeee!” I heard their gorgeous tones supporting my own voice as we sang together in the car park, some of these voices I’d never heard before. And they can SING! It sounded so beautiful. That was the moment that made me tear up a little bit.

It’s been a long, long wait. But, we’re back! We have had two in-person rehearsals and we are hoping for more. We’re looking forward to a time when we can perform again and we hope you will join us!

Amy Delamaide, Alto

Communities Under Covid – 21st June

Please join us for our second public seminar during Pride month.

Date: Monday 21 June 2021
Time: 19:00-20:00 BST
Zoom webinar link: https://zoom.us/j/93783318589

The Pink Singers is London’s LGBT+ community choir and for this year’s Pride Month we are celebrating the diversity of our and our wider LGBT+ family.

While the pandemic has made it difficult for certain LGBT+ communities to meet, it has also opened up possibilities for other communities to emerge. In this panel talk, we will hear from two people who have founded new international LGBT+ communities under lockdown: Maya Joseph-Chavez, founder of the Queer People of Colour Project, and Filip Kaleta, founder of King’s College London’s LGBT+ Peer Support Group and Queer Film Club. We will hear how the ideas for their communities were conceived, how they have managed to create a feeling of closeness despite physical distance, and what their plans are for a post-lockdown world.

Please free to share this event with your anyone else you think may be interested. There’s no need to sign up, simply add the zoom link to your calendar and join us on the night. We look forward to seeing you then!

Please also find details about our first public event “Being LGBT+ and Muslim – in conversation with Khakan Quereshi” on 10th June @ 7.30pm

Being LGBT+ and Muslim – 10th June

Please join us for what we expect will be a fascinating seminar.

Being LGBT+ and Muslim – in conversation with Khakan Quereshi
Date: 10 June 2021
Time: 1930-2030h
Zoom webinar link: https://zoom.us/j/92091895504

The Pink Singers is London’s LGBT+ community choir and for this year’s Pride Month we are celebrating the diversity of our and our wider LGBT+ family. Within our choir we have several members who have religious beliefs including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. There has traditionally been friction between faith-based and LGBT+ identities, but the sense of purpose, social justice and wider community they both engender suggests they have significantly more in common than appears at first glance. In today’s webinar we will discuss the intersectionality between being muslim and LGBT+ and explore how these two worlds may be brought closer together.

Khakan Quereshi is a Senior Independent Living Officer and founder of Finding A Voice, Birmingham’s first voluntary-led, independent multi-faith South Asian LGBT social /support group, a Diversity Role Model, speaker, writer, and one of the Stonewall School Role Models. He organizes events for LGBT+ South Asians to empower and inspire them to celebrate their authentic selves, offer support, provide representation and a connection to reduce isolation and discrimination. He recently spoke in support of the No Outsiders programme in Parkfield Community School in Birmingham. His faith has given him the impetus to question the traditional ways, culture and boundaries/barriers we have placed upon ourselves and believes that as LGBT+ Muslims, we can be united by reaching out and speaking up.

Please free to share this event with your anyone else you think may be interested. There’s no need to sign up, simply add the zoom link to your calendar and join us on the night. We look forward to seeing you then!

Eastern Europe Project: LGBT+ Lives in Poland (part 2)

Svaja (right) at Baltic Pride

Our choir project for 2021 is focussed on LGBT+ lives in Eastern Europe and throughout the year we will be collaborating with two other LGBT+ choirs: Voces Gaudii based in Warsaw, Poland, and Obochina, based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Following our second event looking at Lives in Poland. Svaja, one of our lovely Altos, talks about how the event resonated with her and reminded her of what it’s like to be LGBT+ in Lithuania.

Hi, I’m Svaja and I’m a recent member of LGBT+ choir, The Pink Singers. It’s been a great joy and honour to be a part of this friendly and creative community where I feel safe and welcomed for who I am. Being part of the choir has taught me a lot about diversity within the LGBT+ community, and it’s been a pleasure to see that every individual is celebrated and accepted for their differences. 

I had a chance to attend the second event for our Eastern Europe Project and hear speakers from Voces Gaudii talk about life in Poland. I was deeply touched and overwhelmed hearing all the stories of how the government is depriving LGBT+ people from their basic rights and absolutely ignoring their existence. Seeing all those scary videos of the way people where treated when attending a pride parade reminded me of the first gay pride march in Lithuania in 2010. Although I didn’t have a chance to attend that pride, the parade was recorded and published over the news and it will always stay in my mind. I couldn’t believe what I saw, 350 participants from the Lithuanian LGBT community had to be protected by 800 policemen and were told to  march in the least public street in Vilnius. Barricades had been built to protect from homophobic people; among them quite a few politicians, who were shouting and expressing their discontent and disgust to what was happening. People were holding offensive banners and trying to jump over the barricades. I could see so much hatred and anger in people’s faces that it shocked me. Some of the politicians were walking with speakers and shouting offensive slogans and were inciting angry gangs to fight the ‘’gay agenda’’. 

Seeing such a hostile environment for LGBT+ people left a trace for many people and sent the message that this must be changed. Thankfully Baltic countries established the international Baltic Gay Pride, which will commence annually in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In 2013 Lithuania had a second gay pride and this time I was able to participate in it.

Over 1000 people came, including some guests from Sweden and American LGBT activists. This time we were able to march on the main street of Vilnius, protected by over 2000 policemen. Most of the crowd were very hostile: shouting slurs, holding offensive banners and throwing eggs to the participants.  The same politicians from 2010 gay pride came and expressed their negative feelings. One of them was arrested by the police for violent behaviour. It was an amazing feeling to be a part of the march and see quite a lot of supportive people, waving rainbow flags, which indicated that things are getting better in Lithuania. However, once the event was over me and my girlfriend threw away everything that could disclose our participation in the pride and ran as fast as we could, so that no homophobe would be able to attack us.

Here is a little bit about me… I was born in Lithuania and my first years of childhood were happy as I was surrounded by love and affection. Things started changing growing up as I started developing feelings for the same sex. At first, I was trying to deny them and decided to date men. Obviously, things didn’t work out and I had a hard time understanding what was wrong with me. I could not face the fact that I might be gay and was terrified by anyone finding out who I really am. There was very little information about homosexuality and most of it was translated from Russian, which was very bias and incorrect. Finally, I came to terms that I am a lesbian, and it was a very traumatising experience knowing how badly people were perceiving homosexuality in Lithuania. We lived under Soviet Union oppression for 40 years and homosexuals were sent to prison.  We were compared to pedophiles and our perverted ways were condemned by society.

My personal life was a big secret and I had to lie to my mum and my friends about it, which made me feel very lonely and dishonest. Finely, I decided to come out to my friends, my brother and my mum. Some of my friends said they already knew about it, and so did my brother. They were okay about it, but unfortunately my mum didn’t take it so well. It’s been a long journey for my mum to come with the terms of my sexuality, but I’m happy to say, that despite all the negative media information, she finely was able to accept that and came to see me in the next Lithuanian gay pride. 

Living in Lithuania became very awkward once I found a girlfriend and started living with her. I was not able to hold her hand in public or to declare my love for her to any living soul (apart from the LGBT community), not mentioning that there are no legal rights to marry or be in a civil partnership. Although Lithuania became a part of the EU in 2004, the situation with human rights was not improving. There was a scandal with one of lecturers from the University of Kaunas who was dismissed once he came out as gay. Seeing this situation unfold, me and my girlfriend decided to emigrate to the UK. It was a massive change for us and liberation for not having to hide our identity. Although the relationship didn’t work out, I decided to stay in the UK and attend every gay pride in Lithuania. I was pleasantly surprised with the last pride in 2019 seeing how Lithuania improved, as I could see rainbow flags in the centre of Vilnius and we were marching through the centre of the city, surrounded by friendly, smiley faces. There was no great need for as much security as before and there were very few people who expressed their anger. 

I am glad to acknowledge that a left-wing government was elected in 2020 and are considering to pass civil partnership law in Spring. I am very happy how Lithuania is becoming more tolerant and a modern country. And I know it’s going to be a long process, but we are definitely taking the right steps towards a happy and diverse society. 

Svaja, Alto

Check out our Eastern Europe Project page for more details on our project mission and our past blogs on LGBT+ lives in Russia.

Eastern Europe Project: LGBT+ Lives in Poland (Part 1)

Charly from the sopranos
Charly

Our choir project for 2021 is focussed on improving our awareness of LGBT+ lives in Eastern Europe and throughout the year we will be collaborating with two other LGBT+ choirs: Voces Gaudii based in Warsaw, Poland, and Obochina, based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In January 2021 we held our second event for the project looking at LGBT+ lives in Poland, here is a summary of what was discussed

Poland has been featured all over the news the last couple of years due to a huge backwards step for LGBT+ rights. Their current  President, Andrzey Duda, is proudly expressing his anti LGBT+ views and recently passed the controversial bill of the “LGBT free zone”. We wanted to get a better understanding of what it was like to live in Poland with these changing attitudes and what it’s like to grow up in a country so close to the UK but so far behind for LGBT+ people gaining acceptance in society, so members of our partner choir Voces Gaudii organised an online event for members of the Pink Singers.

A map of Poland showing that about a third of the country is effectively an “LGBT-free” zone. Map courtesy of activist collective @StrefyAntyLGBT Source: atlasnienawisci.pl

Throughout the session we were shown some videos and members of the choir provided us with personal stories. Kristof first took us through a potted history of LGBT+ rights in Poland from the 1800s to the present day.  They explained how attitudes were far more relaxed many years ago and Poland was one of the first to decriminalise homosexuallity, in 1932. 92% of the population is Roman Catholic and prior to the recent shift in attitudes, the main LGBT+ issue was that the religious community considered gay sex as a sin and most LGBT+ people hid their sexuality to “keep their grandmas happy”. However, in recent years the landscape has changed and since 2010 extreme right wing groups have been pushing back, to demonise homosexuality, stating that it threatens the traditional heterosexual Polish family. Most political parties are 90% conservative and side with these right wing attitudes, claiming homosexuality to be a Western ideology and not wanting to upset the Roman Catholic church.

Check out the video below following the recent vote and more about the ‘LGBT free zones’.

We heard that LGBT+ people are an unknown entity for many in Poland. There are no openly gay politicians, no openly gay singers and no-one on TV. It appears that everyone in the media is 100% straight and no famous person is out. There just aren’t any LGBT+ role models for those growing up and needing someone to look up to.  With these role models missing from every day society and the constant message that being queer is  wrong, 70% of LGBT+  teenagers have reported struggling with their mental health and having suicidal thoughts.

Polish law is blind to LGBT+ issues and it’s like these people are invisible apart from the clause that if you lose your job for being homosexual then this is illegal. There is no way to legalise your union  with someone of the same sex. If you are transgender then you have to sue your parents for assigning you the wrong gender at birth to enable you to change gender.

https://www.facebook.com/170500696298873/videos/439525853262406

We heard from another choir member, who talked about growing up in a small town and not knowing what a gay person was. They said that homosexuality had been eradicated from history as there were no references to it; the topic was non-existent. Now, young people find out about homosexuality from the internet or from programmes on Netflix. When she became financially independent she came out to her parents and was subsequently kicked out of the family home and ended up living in Warsaw. She said that she was lucky as the clothing she wears means she passes as a straight person and therefore doesn’t have too much hassle from homophobic people. She has cut ties with her old school friends so they don’t find out that she is gay. She has seen her parents and her family have met her partner after 10 years of being together, but her parents don’t talk about it with others and just say that she lives in Warsaw and has no husband or children. Warsaw is one of the more relaxed areas in Poland and has been holding an Equality Parade since 2001; a community pride parade. In 2019, there were over 50,000 attendees.

We were also introduced to a member of the Polish Rainbow network in the UK. This group organises direct action and social events in London and other cities in the UK for Polish LGBT+ people. They talked about leaving Poland after being beaten and thrown out for being gay. This  came after years of being bullied at school and at university. It was a fight or flight reaction and they decided to just leave and live in London. They said that young LGBT+ people in Poland feel like they are just not strong enough to stay there. When he returns he dresses down so he doesn’t stand out and is scared for his life. In some areas of Poland, LGBT+ people’s flats are set alight for no apparent reason. He said that gay rights are not seen as human rights and it’s just a lifestyle choice or a personal choice so it can’t be addressed.

Look out for Part 2 of our blog series coming soon. If you’re interested to find out more from LGBT+ people in Poland, visit Ideologia LGBT.

Check out our Eastern Europe Project page for more details on our project mission and our past blogs on LGBT+ lives.

Charly, Soprano