Some vocabulary for common ground first. “LGBTQ” gets thrown around as an acronym often, but not everyone understands what these letters actually represent. The “LGB” and “Q” signify one’s sexuality, while the “T” and sometimes “Q” represent one’s gender identity. These are separate but related concepts. Sexuality (or sexual orientation), represents to whom one is attracted (or not)—physically, emotionally, or sexually. Gender identity is one’s inner “gender compass”—the gender they know themself to be on the inside, regardless of their body. If you woke up today feeling like a woman, then that is your gender identity. Gender expression is how we represent our gender identity in the world, through things like clothing, mannerisms, hair style, voice (choral directors take heed!), and jewelry. For example, I identify as a gay cisgender man (cisgender means that my gender identity and my assigned birth sex match). The Gender Unicorn is a great way to represent these abstract concepts (courtesy of Trans Student Education Resources):
Something I’d like to impart in this new role is that LGBTQ issues have always existed in choral music—we just “didn’t discuss it” for a long time. When Choral Journal published an article in 1990 about GALA (Gay and Lesbian Choral Organization) Choruses, there was great backlash from the readership. When Music Educators Journal published Louis Bergonzi’s “Sexual orientation and music education: Continuing a tradition” in 2009, there were scathing letters to the editor. Progress has not come easily, but it has come. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We all have multiple layers of identity (e.g., race, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation or lack thereof, sexuality, gender) and all of these play a role in how we experience the world around us—including choral music. Queer issues can be difficult to discuss, and there are varying levels of comfort with these issues. But for many of us in the queer community, these dialogues are powerful—even life changing. Paul Caldwell and I did research before our presentation on LGBTQ issues at the 2015 National ACDA Conference in Salt Lake City. As one of our respondents said: “Choir was my lifeline. I wouldn’t have survived my youth without the beautiful escape” (Palkki & Caldwell, 2018, p. 28).
There has been a lot of great research and scholarship around LGBTQ issues in choral music in the past several years. I started www.queeringchoir.com as a repository for these resources. There have been three LGBT Studies in Music Education Conferences thus far and a fourth next summer at the University of Oregon.
I am open to dialogue at any time. There are many questions of late about “gendered choirs”, uniforms, rooming on tours, honor choir policies, etc. I am happy to be a sounding board for anyone in CCDA about these issues. I look forward to the dialogue and I am grateful to Dr. Benson for creating this new position.
-Joshua Palkki, PhD
Palkki, J., & Caldwell, P. (2018). “We are often invisible”: A survey on safe space for LGBTQ students in secondary school choral programs. Research Studies in Music Education, 40(1), 28–49. https://doi.org/10.1177/1321103X17734973