Let’s talk about race, baby!

As October is Black History Month, Charly from our Communities Team, talks about the conversations and actions we’ve been taking this year to make our choir a more inclusive and diverse space. She also talks about her learning journey and what she has pledged to do to make herself more aware.


Following on from George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, race seems to be the hot topic on our screens, social media, work places, at home and our community spaces. For a lot of us, it was one of the first times that race was really at the forefront of everyone’s conversations and made us question our perspective and attitudes that we had towards others of another skin colour. I was immediately sickened by the death of George Floyd and hearing the stories of other victims making their way into the headlines. I couldn’t quite believe that this level of racism existed in today’s society but then hearing from others who were around me it compounded the fact that these attitudes were still very prevalent in the UK and our everyday lives. 

Not only were these instances affecting us personally, they were also making us look inwardly at our social groups and communities and how inclusive and safe these spaces were for people. At our Pink SIngers rehearsals, we started to hear from some of our black, asian and ethnic minority (BAME) choir members and learn about their experiences of living in London as well as being in the choir. I know that when I look at pictures of the choir we are predominantly white and I wanted to understand what that meant to a person of colour, how did that make them feel and how could we improve the environment for them? 

Let’s talk about race, baby!

During our summer break, the Communities Team held two workshops for members of the choir entitled ‘Imperfect Conversations about Race’. Thanks to choir members Hsien, Shauna and Paul for making this happen and to Adè Adeniji our wonderful host. Adè is a certified coach, group facilitator, consultant and mediator who works with individuals, teams and organisations to give voice to unspoken words and behaviours, with a view to having conscious courageous conversations. He was the perfect person to create a safe space for us to have these conversations about race and challenge our thinking.

The first workshop was around the personal and relational and allowed us to explore our own personal experiences and how that had shaped our perspectives. We looked at the first time we knew that race existed and how often we thought about the colour of our skin. It made me think about my own childhood and I hadn’t realised how white it was. I was really into hip hop, soul and Motown music featuring lots of black artists but did I really know what it was like for those people growing up? We then looked at how we personally responded to slogans such as BLACK LIVES MATTER and how that made us feel and why. 

The second workshop then moved from the personal to the collective, and in our situation, our choir community. We broke up into smaller groups and discussed what needed to happen to make the choir more inclusive for more BAME LGBTQIA members and potential members. We then discussed how we could extend anti-racist priniciples to the community and wider audiences. Despite at times feeling very uncomfortable throughout both workshops and feeling like I was going to say something wrong, they enabled me to ask questions, to learn and recognise how I could change and make things better. I always thought of myself as a good ally but was I doing enough, was I standing up for them and transferring the benefits of my privilege to those who lack it? 

One participant commented:

Having been a Pink Singer for 18 years now, and having seen the issue of racial diversity, particularly with reference to the black community, come up at least 3 or 4 times over the decades, I am really glad that we are finally taking action. It is easy to absolve oneself of responsibility by saying that people of a minority want to hang out with other people in that minority, but I believe that people want to find spaces where they feel comfortable. For that to happen we need to get our own house in order and to invite people in, rather than ask why they don’t want to play with us.

Since the workshops and our conversations over the summer, some of those ideas we discussed are now coming into light. We have a working group pulling together an Equal Opportunities Policy, we have changed some of our processes to ensure we have representatives from all kinds of backgrounds in our creative and musical teams. I pledged to do some comms for Black History Month on our social media channels and to read more personal stories from people in the black community. We all made pledges to raise our race consciousness and be more aware of the issues.

My final point is what are the steps YOU can take to raise your race consciousness?

Here are some things YOU can do to be a better ally:

  • Be open to listening
  • Be aware of your implicit biases
  • Research to learn more about the history of the struggle in which are participating
  • Use your privilege to amplify (digitally and in person) historically suppressed voices
  • Learn how to listen and accept criticism with grace, even if its uncomfortable

Not sure where to start? Try visiting the Black History Month page for inspiration.

Read Pink Singers initial response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which also contains links to some charities you may wish to support.

Charly, Soprano

Timeline datestamp: 01 October 2020

Eastern Europe Project: LGBT+ lives in Russia (Part 1)

You can read Part 2 of this article here.

Our choir project for 2021 is focussed on 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.

To kickstart the project off we took some time to understand what it’s like to be LGBT+ and living in Russia. Pippa gives us a summary of our first #PSEasternEurope event

A few weeks ago, the documentary Welcome to Chechnya (dir. David France) was released on BBC iPlayer. Under the Chechnyan regime, LGBT+ people are routinely kidnapped, tortured, and forced to turn other LGBT+ people in. The documentary tracks the story of a group of Russian activists, working to get people out of Chechnya to a safehouse in Moscow, in the hope that they will be able to go to other, safer countries from there.

Following the release of the documentary, the Pink Singers set up a roundtable discussion with Russian LGBT+ activists for members of the choir, to gain a better understanding of what the situation is like in Russia at the moment. Attendees were instructed to watch the documentary beforehand, and join in the roundtable via video link.

The roundtable was chaired by Ali and Hsien in the choir, with the participants Misha Tumasov  of the Russian LGBT Network, Misza Czerniak of the Poland-based Voces Gaudii choir, Paul J Dillane of Rainbow Railroad. Because of technical difficulties, Максим Дрожжин of Obochina choir could only join for the last couple of minutes, and Olga Baranova (who features in the documentary) of the Moscow LGBT Center was unable to join at all.

While the documentary is beautifully made, it is also incredibly harrowing. Being faced with the direct footage of people committing homophobic violence, and hearing the terrible stories of torture, made it very difficult to feel like there is still any good left in the world at all. On the one hand, this is absolutely necessary: real people are being subjected to this government-sanctioned violence, and we cannot simply pretend that this isn’t the case, just because it makes us uncomfortable.

However, on the other hand, the panel felt a necessary extension of the documentary. Being able not to only see the work that activists do, but also be able to have a conversation, felt central to my understanding of what we can do to stand in solidarity with people in Russia, and Chechnya in particular. One specific discussion that stayed with me, was the discussion around the role of the UK in this issue. Misza Czerniak noted that Russians living in the UK are arguably the richest Russian diaspora in the world, and he voiced his hope that this group, as well as UK-based politicians more broadly, can use their international leverage to make demands of Russia, as well as impose sanctions on the country if it is seen to violate human rights.

Misha Tumasov added that the Dublin III regulation, which covers asylum claims, needs to be updated for a contemporary context. One of the factors taken into account when processing asylum claims is the family unit. However, when someone is in a relationship or a family that doesn’t have governmental recognition, it means that there is no proof to substantiate this claim: a gay Russian couple will not be able to show a marriage certificate to prove that they are a family.

Paul J Dillane added to this that in his work with UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) that Britain is the only country in Europe which has no time limit on detention of refugees. This means that the UK’s answer to people fleeing inhumane treatment in their countries of origin, is often to lock these people up indefinitely, for the ‘crime’ of seeking a life free of fear and torture. Indeed, there is much that can be done in the UK to provide a safe and dignified haven for LGBT+ migrants, including Chechnyan migrants.

Look out for more posts about our Eastern Europe Project. The ‘Storyville – Welcome to Chechnya’ programme is still available to watch on BBC iPlayer https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000kjnt

You can read Part 2 of this article here.

Timeline datestamp: 11 September 2020

Launching our First Virtual choir

– and what an emotional one it is!

Last weekend we should have been performing live at the Cadogan Hall, so we thought this was a perfect time for us to launch our first virtual choir performance.

‘Fix You’, is a song that Chris Martin of Coldplay had written for his wife Gwyneth Paltrow after her father died. It is a song about coming to terms with loss and has always been emotional for the choir and audiences alike.

Be the first to know about our next video: sign up to our newsletter.

The performance starts with a feeling of sadness and isolation which turns to despair (‘Tears stream down your face when you lose something you cannot replace’) before taking us on a journey of hope: ‘Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones, and I will try to fix you’. The lyrics remind us that we need to help each other get through difficult times. This is especially true for some LGBT+ people who may find it difficult to meet like-minded friends in their community, but now face added isolation because of Covid-19.

The accompanying video tells the story of the Pink Singers and how our members are guided by six main themes: Pride; Community; Performance; Diversity; Solidarity; and History. And, by sharing our joy online, we will inspire others to “See the light”. 

When we played the finished recording in our final choir rehearsal of the season there was stunned silence as to how our individual tracks and home video recordings could have been turned into such an amazing and emotional story. We hope you enjoy it. And if you do, please share it! 

The Pink Singers

Timeline datestamp: 08 July 2020

The Pink Singers Go Online

In the light of the Covid-19 crisis, we Pink Singers have stopped our regular Sunday afternoon rehearsals for the first time in 37 years, and had our first virtual meet-up this Sunday.

It was emotional! We sang, we laughed, we offered support to each other, we shared stories. 

We also danced, laughed, and shared stories of our crazy weeks. We welcomed our new members, applauded our public servants (in particular our healthcare workers) and celebrated recent birthdays. We met each others’ pets. We finished by singing ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ from our most recent concert – which has suddenly taken on a new and deeper meaning for us as we adapt to our new virtual existence, for the foreseeable. 

In future weeks we have plans for quizzes, break-out rooms where we can start to learn new music in small groups, sharing solo performances with each other, and more. We will also perhaps look at making some multi-track recordings. 

Here’s a quick summary of what we did in our first one, and what we learned. We:

  • Used zoom as the platform, on a regular plan. It allows up to 100 participants and worked well for us, with 56 participants. 
  • Set the call to start 30 minutes before the actual start time, to allow plenty of time for tech setup.
  • Made everyone be muted by default, and had one MC (host) who called on people to share by raising their hands first to speak or sing. 
  • Kept it short – an hour or so. Spending time conversing on video chat feels more  mentally taxing than being face to face.
  • Did not sing ‘live’ together. There were 56 of us on the call and it would have been impossible. The varying latency of internet connections makes it very hard to hear each other in sync without special hardware. 
  • Muted ourselves most of the time and sang along with some tracks.
  • Sang warm-ups (all muted) with our MD at the piano
  • Shared some audio that everyone could sing along to, using Zoom’s share screen feature (use the advanced tab: share computer audio)
  • Kept the meeting open for a few people who wanted to hang around a chat for longer
Timeline datestamp: 22 March 2020

Supporting LGBT rights in India

The Pink Singers ran a year-long project to highlight LGBT rights in India, in partnership with India’s first ever LGBT choir, Rainbow Voices Mumbai.

What were our goals?

In 2015, we made contact with a brand new choir in India, Rainbow Voices Mumbai (RVM). We heard about their passion for making music, how they work together and support each other, and their struggles in a hostile environment for LGBT people. We were inspired to reach out the hand of friendship.

As a charity the Pink Singers has worked with many LGBT choirs in the UK and around the world to support their work, to march together in Pride and to sing a shared message when words alone are not enough. 

In India, section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises homosexuality, with a version of the same law which existed in the UK until 1967. It was introduced under British rule in 1862 and to this day carries the threat of a decade in prison, and daily fear and discrimination. Individuals are blackmailed by the police so that, in exchange for money, their secret will be kept.

“This space, as a bisexual woman is a safe space for me. When we’re singing, it’s the only moment we feel ourselves.” – Manasie Manoj, member of RVM

So together with RVM, we planned a project to raise awareness about the reality of being queer in India; sharing music and culture by performing together in both our home cities. We aimed to:

  • Raise awareness about the status of LGBT rights both in India and the UK, encouraging communities from both countries to support equal rights and status for LGBT people.
  • Share music and culture of the Pink Singers with RVM, and vice versa, encouraging the choirs to develop and grow, to give LGBT people a space and a strong community to support vulnerable people at risk of isolation and harm.
  • Present joint concerts to generate positive press coverage in India and the UK, raising RVM’s profile, helping to establish their music as a vital part of the city’s cultural offer.

What we did

Part 1: Queer India Today Seminar


We organised a seminar featuring three academics from the School of African and Oriental Studies in London and members of the Pink Singers and RVM (by Skype!).

This helped us understand the similarities and differences between us, the language used, the history of section 377 being repealed and then re-introduced 4 years later. In the early stages of this work, this was important, to know just what the situation was in India, and how, if, we could help.

Part 2: Visit to perform and march in Mumbai

In January 2017, 39 Pink Singers visited Mumbai and finally met RVM in person. They welcomed us to their city, we shared stories and experienced Pride in a city without acceptance, where the participants were celebrating, but bystanders looked on, seemingly not understanding why we were there.

Our joint concert “We Shall Overcome” at the prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts was sold out, including emotional joint renditions of the title song, and “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. The songs took on new significance in the context of our project. This was the first time RVM had organised a concert of their very own. Ashish told us:

“it brought out leadership qualities, creative and administrative abilities of choir members. We were struck that almost no families came to support the concert. One RVM member told how his parents planned to come, until they knew their son was singing with an LGBT group.

Below is a short video of our joint concert at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai.

We also joined hand in hand with Rainbow Voices Mumbai at Mumbai Pride, Queer Azaadi Mumbai.

“The Pinkies crossed the ocean to high-five and greet us like visiting family. They reminded us of the sublime words of John Mayer and Katy Perry, ‘You love who you love who you love’.” Read more on what RVM’s  Siddhy had to say after reflecting on his experience following the Pinkies’ visit to Mumbai… 

“Singing with and listening to the members of Rainbow Voices Mumbai was truly uplifting. Being able to spend time singing, listening, talking, and sharing stories and experiences made me realise that although we live many miles apart, we can still find common ground”. Click here to read Pinkie Claire’s blog. 

“We felt accepted as we declared to the world, “I was born this way and I am not ashamed”. RVM member Aniruddha tells us about meeting the Pinkies for the first time, and feeling uplifted in the battle against Section 377, the law which criminalises homosexuality in India. Read more…

“The joint ”We Shall Overcome” concert was an emotional rollercoaster for many of us: every song sung by both choirs took on an added significance. When we sang an a capella version of “We Shall Overcome” together in English and Hindi, it was a moving show of defiance and solidarity from which I could not hold back my tears”. Pinkie Hsien shares his experience.

Part 3: Performing on stage at Pride in London, 2017

The final part of the project was the most complex, but in many ways the most important. After all the fundraising efforts, Skype meetings and long conversations with the UK visa office in Mumbai, we succeeded in bringing 11 members of RVM to London.  Most of the group had never left India before so every aspect of the visit was new and exciting.

We hosted the choir in our homes, showed them the sights of London and shared Pride week together, in our city full of rainbows.

“The first time ever I flew across oceans and lands so far beyond my reach to explore freedom and equality”

It was a pleasure to bring Rainbow Voices Mumbai to the Pride in London stage in Trafalgar Square: where all of London fell in love with them too. 

As a finale to the project, Rainbow Voices Mumbai also joined us for our summer concert at Cadogan Hall and performed to a packed audience of 800, receiving multiple standing ovations.

What was achieved through this work?

The UK partially decriminalised homosexuality in 1967, and since then we’ve come a long way in gaining acceptance, most recently with legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013.

In London, RVM members could see how life could be, with freedom; it gave them hope to see same-sex partners living openly together.
They gained renewed determination to improve the situation for their community in India. Two singers, Anand and Mak, sat in a restaurant in Covent Garden holding hands and talked about how in India they could only do this at home when nobody is around, for fear of being seen.

They saw the support shown across the city for our Pride celebration, with businesses and tube stations emblazoned with rainbows in support of our freedom.  

“It is soothing to imagine those who’re free, liberating to meet them” – Siddhy

Working alongside the Pink Singers was a learning experience for RVM, in rehearsals and preparation for our summer concert.

“It made the singing more effective and  everyone leaned towards getting better to share the stage with you all”. – RVM member

They have returned to India with new ambition: planning to grow the numbers in the choir, to perform at queer events and to be known for their music, to inspire others to use music as a tool to spread awareness and join in the fight against section 377. They want to do more to highlight LGBT rights and visibility in India, to make their country more diverse and inclusive of all.

Media coverage

  • Interviews with members of both choirs during London Pride, on New Delhi TV

We achieved our goal of raising awareness of this issue, with TV, radio and print pieces as well as online articles and blogs in both countries. Talking about the issues and their experiences boosted the confidence of choir members to advocate for their rights and hopes for the future.

“It has made me stronger; a firm believer and an optimist with regards to the support we can achieve. Despite all the hurdles we’re determined to be what we are and make a difference to the world in every possible way we can.” – Ashish, member of RVM

Reflecting on the project

The challenges we faced
We aimed to bring every member of RVM to London although we encountered issues with visas, which meant that unfortunately not all members could join us. We countered this by including members left in Mumbai through a social group on Facebook and asking them to contribute to blog posts and media articles for the project.

What is the future of the project?
After this experience, RVM are more well known in India and have been featured in a number of news pieces about section 377. They continue their fight to effect change for LGBT communities in India, with the Pink Singers’ support from the UK. On a local level, they plan to grow the number of people in the choir significantly over the next three years, to build their community and profile. They aim to inspire others through their music to fight alongside them for equality.

The Pink Singers will stay in touch with RVM, supporting when we can with the development of their community, and in their plans to achieve equality.  

On behalf of the Pink Singers and Rainbow Voices Mumbai, THANK YOU for your support in making this project happen. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Want to support us financially on an ongoing basis? Please take a look at joining our Friends scheme.

Thanks to

Silicon Valley Community Foundation

With thanks to the Friends of the Pink Singers, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and to Rigour Research for their financial support to make this project a reality.

Timeline datestamp: 16 January 2017