Monday, July 10, 2006

Gay Men at the Grand Ole Opry

Nashville, Tennessee

This is a great country.

One of several, sustained rounds of applause at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium Sunday night erupted after Joanne Usher, executive director of the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, noted the occasion as the first time a gay organization had performed from the stage of the historic home of America's Grand Ole Opry.

The mostly gay audience lept to its feet with an enthusiasm that appeared to stun most TCGMC members on stage. For the locals, this event brings them into the mainstream of their hometown.

Known for the plethora of historical music stars who have graced its stage for decades, Ryman Auditorium is known as the Mother Church of country music. It has earned its place in America's story by being the people's stage -- and it continued to add to the legitimacy of the claim with Sunday night's performance.

Nashville was the first of five performance stops on the TCGMC's "Great Southern Sing Out Tour."

One hundred two members of the 150 member chorus are traveling for nine days, along with about 24 TCGMC staff, friends, and partners.

One of several emotional highlights of Sunday evening's performance was the rendition of Robert Seeley's "Marry Us" -- during which partners of Chorus members joined them on the historic stage (don't worry, mom, I wore my Sunday best).

The best was saved for last, however, with a fabulous version of "We Shall Overcome" followed by the TCGMC signature song, "Walk Hand In Hand." No one -- least of all Music Director Stan Hill -- will ever forget it.

Excitement about the performance had been building among the singers for months, weeks, days, and hours leading up to Sunday's performance. Few, if any, avoided feelings of humility about their presence on sacred ground -- how would you feel, for example, being assigned to Minnie Pearl's dressing room?!

Nashville has been nothing but friendly. We arrived here in two batches on Saturday morning and afternoon.

Activities have included the "Nash Trash Tour" (an entire article by itself), visits to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Parthenon, and a Saturday evening reception at Tribe.

This morning, James Davies and I visited Christ Church Cathedral for divine services.

Beneficiaries of the Nashville performance will be Nashville In Harmony, a two-year old choral group, and the Tennessee Equality Project.

Tennessee voters will decide this November whether to amend their constitution to prohibit gay marriage. The good news is that here -- in the home of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist -- voters favor legal protections for gays by a 60/40% margin, while 60% oppose marriage. More than 40% oppose amending the constitution, however. It takes a majority of all those voting in this November's governor's race to pass a constitutional amendment. If it fails, the issue cannot resurface for four more years.

In just two days -- so many stories, sights, and sounds, including that of the 81-year-old man next to me on the plane from Detroit. He lives in Warren MI and fought at D-Day and through nine European countries before returning home and pursuing his American Dream. But, there is not enough time for that right now.

In eight hours, we are "on the bus" headed to Birmingham, and Monday night's performance at the University of Alabama.