The Turtle Creek Chorale honors six groups at its next concert that includes music commissioned by The Tyler Clementi Foundation
When the Turtle Creek Chorale performs Tyler’s Suite, commissioned by The Tyler Clementi Foundation, as part of its upcoming Heroes concert, TCC will also honor six local organizations that are heroes in Dallas’ LGBT community, each in a very different way.
Two are cornerstones of Dallas’ LGBT community — Resource Center and Cathedral of Hope — and have been at the forefront of caring for people and nurturing the community for decades.
The Tyler Clementi Foundation targets bullying on a national level. Both Resource Center and Cathedral of Hope combat bullying as well as one of its direst consequences — suicide — as a core part of their work.
Resource Center worked to pass anti-bullying legislation in schools and fought Dallas Independent School District to get the law implemented throughout the district. Among other things, its counseling program helps individuals fight the scars bullying leaves and thoughts of suicide brought on by un-accepting families or religious experience.
Youth First, a program of Resource Center, provides a place for LGBTQ youth to interact and learn the skills they need to lead a healthy and open life. Resource Center CEO Cece Cox said she’s excited that Youth First will be moving into the Community Center building opening on May 21 where she expects the program to be able to offer a variety of new services.
Clergy at Cathedral of Hope have helped countless people through religious bullying by welcoming them to experience a healthy religious experience.
The Rev. Neil Cazares-Thomas said many members of his church heard anti-LGBT rhetoric over and over as they were growing up. While many people now join Cathedral of Hope as their church of choice, others joined “to reclaim or regroup or to find a place at the table that’s been denied them elsewhere,” Cazares-Thomas said.
“Other [churches] tell kids they’re not welcome,” said Bruce Jaster, executive director of the Turtle Creek Chorale. “Cathedral of Hope reinforces people’s self worth.”
Jaster said the other four honorees may be more on the periphery, but do indeed make significant contributions that save lives.
Jonathan’s Place is an emergency shelter in Garland for abused and neglected children that was recently recognized by Human Rights Campaign as a leader “in supporting and serving LGBTQ families.” Statistics show that a disproportionately high number of LGBT youth are in the foster system.
Chorale Director of Marketing Tri Truong was event manager at Jonathan’s Place before joining the Chorale’s staff. He said when he worked there, he never wanted to hear the children’s stories because they were just too painful. But he called the shelter a leader in supporting LGBT families.
While one in six kids has considered suicide, and suicide is the No. 2 cause of death among young adults, Jonathan’s Place helps keep children safe.
Truong said the shelter takes care in placing LGBT children in proper foster homes and welcomes LGBT foster parents.
Music will salute each organization. Chorale Artistic Director Sean Baugh said, “A new arrangement of Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ is what we want to say to these kids.”
Dance will be part of the tribute to Bruce Wood Dance Project, which commissioned new choreography to accompany the piece the Chorale will sing. This summer, BWDP will join the Chorale at the 2016 GALA Festival of 190 North American LGBT choruses in Denver to present the piece there.
Baugh said he’s glad he won’t be able to see from his vantage point on stage during Heroes because it left him in tears at this week’s rehearsal.
“Bruce Wood was the first male choreographer to create works on intimate male relationships without them being sexually obvious,” said BWDP President Gayle Halperin. She said his works are about warmth and intimacy, loneliness, introspection and alienation.
“All relationships are important,” Halperin said. “His works are about the human experience.”
“Bruce challenged a non-dance-minded community,” Baugh said. “He was a pioneer with choreography in the area and a pioneer in our community.
They’re not a gay group, but we’ve adopted them as ours.”
While art may heal the soul, it takes money to fight for equality. DFW Federal Club raises money for HRC so that organization can continue the fight for equality, according to Liz Rodriguez, co-chair of the local Federal Club. Their work, she said, sometimes focuses on local issues as well.
Among the work that Federal Club supports are lobbying efforts that result in legislation to protect the LGBT community. Advocacy work is also a visible piece of the work it funds. First HRC rated businesses, many of whom strove to change policies to receive higher scores. Hospitals were next.
Then came municipalities.
Dallas and Fort Worth both worked to change local ordinances and policies to increase ratings. Most recently, HRC began to rate child protection agencies like Jonathan’s Place, which became the first agency in Texas to be ranked a leader.
When the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was challenged, DFW Federal Club pitched in.
“It was all hands on deck,” Rodriguez said. “People on the ground. Phone banks. Staff from D.C.”
She said the effort to save HERO was unsuccessful, but that fight isn’t over.
“We take organizations like this for granted,” Baugh said, “but they’re helping to shape our lives everyday.”
Susan G. Komen is the largest organization for breast cancer education, research and support in the U.S. Statistics show lesbians contract the disease at a high rate.
Baugh said the Chorale hasn’t teamed with Komen since Sing for the Cure and it was time to reignite that bond.
“As gay men, we forget what an epidemic breast cancer is,” Baugh said.
The original plan for the Komen portion of the program was to commission a new work. When that didn’t work, they decided to use Rachel Platten’s
“Fight Song” to tell the story of women fighting breast cancer.
What Baugh learned was Komen already had a small chorus and they were already using the song as an anthem. So he invited the chorus of breast cancer survivors to join the Chorale and they’ll appear at the Saturday night performance.
And while the Chorale is honoring six groups, each of the groups returned the accolade.
“When I moved here, I quickly learned what organizations bring our community together,” Rodriguez said. “Turtle Creek Chorale is definitely one of those.”
“We’re honored to be recognized by an organization that also been in the community so long,” Cox said.
Before moving to Dallas, Cazares-Thomas sang with the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus. “One of the great things about the gay chorus movement is they combat homophobia through music,” he said. “The language of music unifies.”
He called members of the Chorale ambassadors of the community and healers.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2016.