Our Amazing Stories: Whittier Strong

“It was 2002. I was living in Indiana, working on an undergrad degree and investing my spiritual life in a large evangelical church…


“After giving my testimony one evening, all in attendance knew about my little “problem”—that I was attracted to men—and the rest of the congregation was sure to find out through the rumour mill. My pastor had hoped that my example of authenticity would inspire others to live more authentic lives. After all, I was a model of Christian living, since, through Christian counselling, I was overcoming my “problem.”

“But, of course, I wasn’t. Never mind the fact that I had never had any “inappropriate” relations with a man. The simple fact of where my eye would dart in a crowd was sufficient to prove that I was not far along enough in my spiritual life to be “true” Christian. But I had to maintain the appearance that I was converting into a heterosexual. In my desire to be truly authentic, I would tell my counsellor and those closest to me in the church that I wasn’t experiencing the promised change. And because I was expressing doubt about the possibility of change, I was deemed inadequate in my roles at church. One night, the leadership pulled me aside and said I could no longer participate in any “up-front” ministry—singing, playing guitar, acting—because my doubts about turning into a heterosexual were inconsistent with their teaching, and they could not have me representing the church openly for fear that someone might think that my less-than-heterosexual existence represented the church’s beliefs. And so, quick as that, I lost my voice. I could not sing.

“Flash-forward eight years. Financial considerations had forced me out of my degree just shy of graduation. The state of Indiana’s withdrawal of coverage for disability treatment forced me out of the state. I had landed in Minnesota and found a modest job working in a local public attraction. But the tourism industry was one of the first hit in the recession, and I was laid off. I had got incredibly depressed, and, no longer able to afford my home, was given a choice: a homeless shelter or a group home. I chose the group home, a place where society hides its undesirables so that it doesn’t have to deal with them. I was at bottom, but I was also clawing my way up from the bottom. I was in intensive daily therapy. I had taken up jewelry design as a hobby to occupy my mind and my hands. And I recognized that I needed to develop my social circle. I had very few gay friends and often felt isolated as the “token gay” in my circle. And so, at one of the lowest points in my life, I auditioned for Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. This proved to be one of the most important decisions I have ever made.

“The Chorus has given me so much that I had once received from my congregation before it rejected me. I have the camaraderie of joining over 150 men in the common purpose of providing our community and the larger world with “music worth coming out for.” The musical standards we are held to are higher than in any musical setting in which I have participated, and that commitment to excellence shows.

“Our purpose runs deeper than that, though. So many of us have fought incredible struggles to get to where we are, singing with this group. We experience the brotherhood of soldiers who have survived the battlefield together and lived to tell the tale. But what touches me most deeply? It’s when I get up on the stage and look out into a crowd of hundreds who are there, not despite the fact that I am gay, but in celebration of it. When I open my mouth and sing the first note at one of our shows, it is then I remember how this Chorus gave me back my voice.”


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