12 DAYS OF FREEDOM IN 32 YEARS!

It’s hard to believe that a month has passed already since our Indian friends from Rainbow Voices Mumbai arrived on our shores and created a rainbow rollercoaster of excitement, pride, and amazing memories for us all. RVM’s Ashish describes his experience… 
July 6th, 2017 marked in my calendar is one of the most memorable days of my 32 years of life. The first time ever I flew across oceans and lands so far beyond my reach to explore freedom and equality. I had never thought this back in July 2016, that my next summer would be full of excitement, learning and love.
It was conceived when the Pink Singers came to India in January 2017 for Mumbai Pride and our ‘We Shall Overcome’ concert, to support Rainbow Voices Mumbai and the Indian LGBT community to fight for our rights. In January, we mingled, loved, and sang together to a packed audience at the NCPA theatre in Mumbai. The concert was a medium to create awareness and educate people about the hurdles we face in India due to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (which criminalises homosexual activity, introduced under British Rule in 1860). It was one mammoth task for a choir as young as ours to host Europe’s longest running community choir; we managed it successfully and learnt quite a few lessons in organising a standalone concert, which now seems to be a permanent part of the Mumbai Pride Calendar.
We were high on emotions and warmth extended by the Pink Singers and equally mesmerised with the musical abilities of the choir. We were amazed how spot on, entertaining and thoroughly convincing they were with the message they brought with them. I still remember Murray Hipkin, the Musical Director saying, “We have not come to fix anything; probably we can’t fix anything for you, but what we can do is to support you in all possible ways to revert section 377.”
The words were more soothing and actions were even more, when after the concert the Chair of the Pink Singers – affectionately known as ‘Cher’ – Simon Pearson, made the announcement of inviting Rainbow Voices Mumbai to London Pride and to take part in their summer concert. We were overwhelmed with the gesture and yet a bit lost with things that needed to be done! Constant encouragement and successful fundraising by the Pink Singers made the impossible possible for 10 of us (sadly the other eight couldn’t make it because of visa issues!).

Ashish & ‘Cher’

With hopes high and dreams in our eyes, we flew to the land of freedom and equality. The tour started with each of us being hosted by a few of the Pink Singers, which gave us the chance to see and learn how independent lives of gay men and women are, in contrast to India – where we don’t choose to live alone even if we are grown up enough to be married off!
On arrival, my host Simon came to the terminal to receive me, despite his fractured ankle. This gesture of his shows how dear and encouraging was their approach to us. It was my first international trip and it seemed to me a different world: new weather, time zones, people, culture and systems; I was in awe of every little thing I saw. First what struck me was platform 9¾ at Kings Cross! Being a Potterhead, I was enthralled to see it. As I walked the streets with Simon I saw a Pride flag along with the British Flag waving with pride in the front of the British Library – this reaffirmed my belief that equality and freedom are not merely words here, they actually mean it.

Exploring London from the London Eye

My dear friend Hsien met me and we were off to Canary Wharf for a lovely lunch, but before that the Thames Clipper just wowed me! Like a kid in a candy store I was in love with the skyline and monuments on both the side of the river, clicking pictures and noticing the P-flag everywhere we went. A new city, new day,  even jet-lag couldn’t deter my spirits and we explored a few parts of the Naval College and Greenwich.
I believe that destiny had bigger plans for us: we never had heard about anything as big as London Pride and we all were excited to take part. We vogued in style with our Rainbow t-shirts, painted ourselves with rainbows and were ready for the world’s biggest party. As we were waiting for the Pride march to begin I saw people from all walks of life, races, professions and ages joining this mega event. We have never seen such a phenomenon back home; instead we are judged by the people for gathering and walking the Pride march in Mumbai.

London Pride 2017

As we marched up to Trafalgar Square, we saw people waving, cheering us on and even calling for a hug from the other side of the barricades. Such love, acceptance and cheer filled all of us with positivity and re-affirmed that we are walking on the right path to attain freedom and equality for all of us. Then came the moment to go on the Pride main stage where we were to perform to the largest crowd we have ever performed in front of. The moment I addressed the crowds with ‘Namaste’, a huge cheer and ‘Namaste’ I heard back, and the crowd was moved with our rendition of ‘We Shall Overcome’ in English and Hindi. I could see a few in tears when they learned that section 377 criminalizes homosexual activities in India. I think, I was nervous but I knew this was the only time I could talk to London as a city and made sure that I spoke right and conveyed the purpose of our visit.
London has different colours during pride and our friends the Pink Singers made sure we got the best of London and also that we got opportunities to meet the ones who had supported our trip  such as eBay. It was great interacting with the eBay office and we are indebted to them for their support very much.
The city charmed me to the core, whether it was architecture, culture, Soho – the night life for gays was amazing! I watched my first musical ever and my first drag show here in London. The experiences are still sinking in for me and I am unable to really believe that something so surreal happened to me. As we explored, Brighton, Richmond and the city of London, we had so many memorable times with the Pink Singers – singing in parks, at house parties and a lot more.
I had unknowingly become the spokesperson of the choir. I had previous experience of talking to media back home but that was for work. I was told that I was crisp in front of camera and this boosted my confidence even more. In the media coverage – though I am not out as a gay man in India – I did not hide my identity. This is because I got encouragement in my week’s exposure to London and its acceptance; the unwavering support from the Pink Singers filled me with a “come what may” attitude and I put my best foot forward to be heard on all possible platforms. 
The support continued even on the concert stage, when the audience gave the 12 of us a standing ovation before we even started.
I have taken back home  a lot of inspiration, strength, and conviction in what we do and yes, more purpose to the music we do. My hosts Simon and James were the coolest ones and I miss those lanes and bylanes of London… With a dream to come back, I sign off from India!

Photo credit: Jess Rowbottom

From Queer To Eternity

This summer, we returned to Cadogan Hall for a sizzling evening of choral music to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Our repertoire was drawn from LGBT composers and performers as well as music that has been meaningful to these communities.

Entitled ‘From Queer to Eternity’Songs of Struggle and Celebration, the evening covered music from a rich variety of styles and genres including artists such as Leonard Bernstein, Dusty Springfield, Queen, Erasure, Joan Armatrading, Mika, Radiohead, George Michael, Lady Gaga and Christine and the Queens. Classical numbers included a rousing chorus by Handel and a moving spiritual by Michael Tippett.

From Queer To Eternity, 15 July 2017, Cadogan Hall Featuring special guests, Rainbow Voices Mumbai and Out Aloud Sheffield Photo credit: Jess Rowbottom

We were delighted to be sharing the stage with two special guests choirs: Out Aloud from Sheffield, and – to highlight the work being done around the world on legalising homosexuality, as part of a year-long exchange project – we were also joined by Rainbow Voices Mumbai, India’s first LGBT choir.

Timeline datestamp: 15 July 2017

Hello, my name's Claire and I'm a lesbian.

What does it mean to be part of the LGBTQ community? Why is there a need for one? Our next concert – on 15th July – seeks to explore this, as we mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. In the run up to the show, which we’ve called ‘From Queer to Eternity‘,  alto Claire shares what being part of the LGBTQ community means to her…
Lesbian.  It’s a word.  It’s a word that I use to describe myself.  I’ve used this word to describe myself for a long time, but truly it is only the last few years that I wear this word like a layer of skin; an epidermis; a fully functioning part of myself that exists in peace rather than a badge that gets brought out on occasion.  It’s part of my identity that I share and I don’t care who knows.
I realise I am in a fortunate position – this country has come a long way to protect the rights of LGBTQ people and the way the community is perceived.  Growing up in Thatcher’s Britain, there was Section 28, homophobic mainstream media, no positive gay role models on TV that I could identify with, the word ‘lesbian’ thrown around my classroom like a shameful slur…. In short, growing up as a gay kid in the 80’s was a lonely experience. To quote the fine words of Skunk Anansie, ‘It takes blood and guts to be this cool, but I’m still such a cliché’.     
I think it is human nature to reach out to others like yourself and being part of the LGBTQ community, I have done just that: joining the Pink Singers (coming up to 15 years now..  eeek!) not only normalised my gayness but I have also been blessed with amazing friendship, companionship, laughter, LGBTQ campaigning buddies (home and abroad), and compassion – all wrapped up in a big glitterball of song and sparkle.
By being part of the LGBTQ community I have had the opportunity to perform and campaign all over the world: Iceland, France, Ireland, Denmark and more recently, India.  I feel it is my duty as part of this community to campaign for the rights of our friends abroad who are not as fortunate as we are in the UK; to campaign for equality and to address hate in all forms.  I am so excited to be welcoming our friends from Rainbow Voices Mumbai in July this year to march with us in London Pride and perform with us in London – part of a year long, life changing cultural exchange.
The brief I was given for this blog was ‘how has being LGBTQ changed your life’.  Well, to be honest, it is my life, it is who I am.  But only one part of me: I am also a daughter, sister, friend, lover, singer, performer, colleague, activist, transport nerd, indie tunes enthusiast, fan of drinking tea and dancing (although not necessarily at the same time) and so much more.
Hello, my name is Claire and I am a lesbian.
There’s still time to book tickets to see us and our special guests, Out Aloud from Sheffield and Rainbow Voices Mumbai. Please click here to book!

IDAHOT 2017

This IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia) day, 17 May, the Pink Singers performed at a private event, to celebrate the achievements of LGBTQ+ staff at the offices of one our long-standing sponsors, EY. It was a wonderful evening, with song and art and a sense of not just acceptance, but welcome, and we were lucky to be a part of it. Alto Zoe shares her thoughts on the day.

Just exactly how lucky we are has been brought home to me and other members of our choir – and the wider LGBTQ+ community – in recent months. The UK in general, and London in particular, is a broadly decent place to be queer or gender non-conforming. Not that that means it doesn’t have its problems – Northern Ireland is still dragging its feet on marriage equality, and violence against members of our community still happens. But we have legal protections and rights, hard won by activists and campaigners over the years, and whatever someone’s private opinion of us might be, they don’t get to use that as a reason to discriminate against us any more, at least not legally speaking.

Contrast that with the situation in Poland – where a concert we’d been invited to take part in was cancelled as none of the venues wanted to be associated with ‘gays’; or the USA, with the interestingly paranoid ‘bathroom bills’ and threats to roll back LGBTQ+ protections; the horrific situation in Chechnya, which seems to keep getting worse, with world governments seemingly reluctant to get involved beyond disapproving frowns – would there be that same reluctance if the target were another minority group, based on skin colour or religion, I wonder?

It’s easy, sometimes, to forget how far we’ve come, especially when you know that despite progress, there are still battles to be fought. So last night, singing with my Pinkie family, surrounded by out and proud guests, with London glittering behind us, I counted my blessings – and readied myself to keep shouting for those who don’t get to enjoy that same sense of welcome.

Timeline datestamp: 17 May 2017

Mumbai Musings: part 1

Following the Pink Singers’ recent trip to India, we’re bringing you not one, not two, but LOADS of blogs to tell you all about the amazing time we had – both from our perspective and Rainbow Voices Mumbai (RVM). First up, here’s a piece from RVM’s  Siddhy, reflecting on his experience with the Pinkies.

“The first time I saw the Pink Singers, four of us from Rainbow Voices were carrying a piano, for our first event together at the American Consulate. We waved at them and then met each other mutedly as the event was about to begin. The Pinkies took to stage and joyously sang Nat King Cole’s ‘L-O-V-E’. I was stunned into happy tears. The playful, innocent choreography coming through the most age-diverse white crowd I’ve ever seen – and immediately fell for – pushed me to serious indie-movie sobbing.

Siddhy with Tracey & Louise

One person from Rainbow Voices was in each taxi we took to reach the next place, to ensure our guests got there safely. It was an hour-long ride and by the time we reached the restaurant, Louise, Tracey, Giancarlo and I had traded coming-out stories and shared our professional lives. Giancarlo had switched vocations; Tracey recently quit her job to go travelling; Louise is freelancing fancy. All friends now, we went in, karaoke’d, bought each other drinks and danced.

During the pre-concert rehearsal the next evening, the Pinkies sang – among other lovely songs – Ryan Amador’s ‘Define Me’: a song about celebrating who you are and being free to love who you want. I’ve seen them perform it twice and each time I smile, feeling comforted.

Afterwards, over cheese garlic naans, we gabbed all through the night. I saw gay-gay and les-b-honest lesbian couples all around me like exquisite people that just stepped out from a novel. Tanya was showing me pictures of her gay daughter and nephew. Alessandro was gushing over his daughter while we cooed and aaw-ed, and for a moment I felt like my dreams were plausible and my hopes valid.

Finale of the We Shall Overcome concert

Our ‘We Shall Overcome’ concert was moving, and tinged with flashes of disbelief that we were performing at the prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts! Manasie, our ‘Ms Bisexuale’, turned 24 that night and the entire bar witnessed spontaneous performances from the Pinkies, all at their respective tables, some standing cheering, some holding Manasie’s hand. Like Aditya said, “it was so Pitch Perfect”. The bar management begged us to finally leave and everybody hugged everyone goodnight.

We walked together in the Pride March the next day, beaming at the crowds, dancing to drums and taking pictures. At the farewell party, we confessed gratitude, marvel and a million other things.

It is soothing to imagine those who’re free, liberating to meet them.

Sunday rehearsals with Rainbow Voices really help me – I can turn off autopilot and be my real self. I’ve made good friends who’re all colourful, compassionate people. We can breathe out.

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’.

Next up, the Pinkies plan to bring Rainbow Voices to London! We can’t wait to perform with them again and plan for them to join us at our next concert at Cadogan Hall on 15th July. But we need funds to help make this dream a reality! If you can help bring this wonderful choir to London (you can even come to watch them perform!) you can donate through our website www.pinksingers.co.uk/india2017  or contact chair@pinksingers.co.uk for more information.