When Nashville in Harmony was planning its Pride-month show, “¡Fiesta! A Celebration Of Equality, Diversity, & Unity,” scheduled for Sunday, June 26, 2016 at Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Polk Theater, Tennessee’s anti-trans bathroom bill was near the top of the list of legislative concerns.

Nashville in Harmony—Tennessee’s first and only musical arts organization specifically created for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and their straight allies—sent an email announcing that, “At our Pride show, ‘¡Fiesta! A Celebration Of Equality, Diversity, & Unity,’ we are raising our voices to show our total respect and support for our trans friends and to celebrate the complete and beautiful spectrum of gender identity and diversity. Come hear us debut our brand new original anthem, ‘Whatever Gender,’ that we created specifically to declare our solidarity with the transgender community.”

Don Schlosser, the artistic director of Nashville in Harmony (NiH) spoke passionately, about why the organization chose to place trans inclusion front and center this year:

From my perspective, the reason we are focusing on support for the trans community—and other expressions of gender fluidity and gender identity—is the confluence of three streams of considerations:

First, the brightest spotlight in the struggle for LGBT equality has long been on gay and lesbian issues and specifically on the fight for marriage equality. We all recognize that being gay or lesbian today is not the stigma it once was; in fact, the LGBT index has become a measure of a progressive and healthy community. And now that we have marriage equality, we need to shift our focus to other much-needed equality.

Second, trans is a huge hot-button topic in media. The current controversy over "bathroom bills" across the country is evidence that the spotlight has shifted to focus on discrimination and prejudice against those who are gender non-conforming. NiH is making a conscious decision to raise our voices in support.

Third, as Nashville in Harmony continues to grow, we are attracting a more diverse demographic, and a younger demographic. More and more we are finding that our original self-description as a chorus for gay and lesbian people and their allies doesn't describe the full spectrum of the community. We need to recognize and embrace the diversity of our own membership and then adjust the conversation so ensure that our mission to use music to build community and create social change remains relevant and compelling.

 

Devan Pope, a member of NiH, also spoke to O&AN about what the organization has meant to them as a trans person:

What has NiH meant to you in your journey?

For me, joining NiH was all about finding my voice again, both as a singer and a person navigating the realities of being trans in the south. During my transition, my voice changed significantly and it took a while to get used to it. From the audition day, NiH gave me a supportive and non-judgmental space to settle into my new vocal range and finally experience what it’s like to sing BASS!

Having the opportunity to sing with the bass section was, for me, one of those special moments that I think is unique to the trans experience. There are just those things that many of us in the trans community have fantasized about being able to do if our bodies matched up with our genders, or if we were just recognized for the gender we know ourselves to be.

For me, singing bass was one of those things and it was magnificent to be able to finally realize that dream surrounded by community that I know was so happy for me in that experience!

 

How does NiH fit into the community you’ve made for yourself?

NiH gave me the space and group of people where I could truly be myself—out and proud, when, at the time, I felt the need to remain “stealth” about my trans status in most other circles. NiH gave me the chance to talk about the experiences I had surrounding my transition before I was ready to be out in other areas of my life.

Nashville in Harmony also served as a crucial place for me to find mentors and adults that were supportive. As a fairly young trans person, I came to the organization after a rough year of losing most of my family support system due to coming out. NiH helped to fill that gap for me by providing loving and caring individuals of many ages that I knew I could ask for help and emotional support through difficult times.

 

Why do you think it is important—for trans and gender-nonconforming people—that NiH is focusing its annual Pride program on these groups, especially this year?

Given the recent political rhetoric and extreme fear-based policies making their way through the southern states, I think focusing on trans and gender-nonconforming people is one the most important topics for a group like Nashville in Harmony. There is so much misinformation that people are fed through their TVs and social media, it is up to groups like Nashville in Harmony to take a stand for what they know to be true. Focusing on gender allows NiH to educate audiences about the challenges and fears that face this community.

Each additional choir member, NiH fan or audience member that hears this message becomes just one more advocate for an inclusive and understanding society.

 

 

 

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