Messages of love and acceptance were abundant in Oxford last week as the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) passed through.
“Speaking up is scary. Take that leap anyway.”
“If we exude acceptance and love … it just starts with one of us.”
These were just a couple of the ideas conveyed during their week in Oxford, one of the stops on the GMCLA’s 2016-17 “It Gets Better” tour.
The It Gets Better project was founded in 2010 with the goal of broadcasting a message of hope to LGBTQ youth around the world.
Throughout last week, the “It Gets Better” cast hosted events on and off Miami’s campus for the entire Oxford community, including discussions with Miami faculty and students about how to solve issues the LGBTQ community is facing.
One such event was a piano karaoke cabaret night in Armstrong’s Shade Family Room in partnership with the Late Night Miami program on Thursday. Miami students and community members were invited to take the stage and sing. Some chose to belt out hits from Disney movies while others sang Broadway favorites.
“There’s no judgment here,” said Billy Thompson, pianist and “It Gets Better” cast member. “Just freedom.”
Miami students weren’t the only ones attending events this week. Talawanda High School students filled the first row of Hall Auditorium on Saturday, and Oxford residents were in high attendance at each event.
The week culminated in a musical performance in Hall Auditorium on Saturday. During the show, the cast shared true stories of struggles faced by LGBTQ youth.
Whether it was the story of a mother of a drag performer (narrated by cast member Amber Hurst-Martin) or the story of a man whose homosexuality was “so obvious” since his childhood (narrated by cast member Nick Ley), each anecdote carried the same message: It gets better.
The selection of stories, however, has not always been the same.
“The stories are always changing,” said cast member and show choreographer, Mario Mosley. “We’re always searching for stories that are interesting and dynamic.”
Mosley told the story of former NBA player Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete to play in any of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States (the NBA, the NHL, the NFL and the MLB).
Most of the stories told and performed by the cast members Saturday night were the result of researching and interviewing real people to gather their stories. One cast member, however, was given the opportunity to tell his own story of being completely rejected by his father and stepmother for being gay. Over time, however, they came to accept his homosexuality.
“It’s all about exposure and making it personal,” Mosley said. “When it becomes personal, people start to change their minds.”
For the performance’s finale, the Oxford Community Chorus, directed by Julie Froude, joined the cast on stage. They were also accompanied by Miami President Greg Crawford, who even joined the cast for a question-and-answer session following the performance.
Accompanying each story was a musical performance with a range of atmospheres. From a somber original song by the GMCLA titled “Run, Run, Run” to Pentatonix’s empowering “Sing,” song and dance served to both lighten the mood and to drive home the reality of the discrimination that LGBTQ youth experience.
“So much prejudice comes from a lack of experience and a lack of knowledge,” said Hurst-Martin. “People are afraid of things they’ve never experienced.”
Although the “It Gets Better” tour has visited a plethora of colleges and cities since its start in 2011, Oxford is its first repeat city. The GMCLA first visited back in 2013, a time when, according to cast member Jason Currie, the climate in Oxford was different, but more LGBTQ-friendly.
“At that time, we felt things were winding down,” Currie said. “Now, there’s more need to advocate.”
Both times that the GMCLA has visited Oxford, they’ve given a presentation at Talawanda High School. In 2013, around 20 students showed up. This year, “almost the entire student body” came to the optional assembly, according to the cast.
“It’s important to be just as visible as [those who aren’t supportive of LGBTQ rights],” said cast member Caitlin Leow in regards to the current political climate. “A lot of people don’t know that there are gay allies [and the] LGBT community around them, but if you’re a visible ally, then you’re there to help.”