Chorale asks members to sign document before auditioning, but some say effort to curb negative comments online goes too far


VOCAL CRITICS  | The Turtle Creek Chorale, background, is shown during a performance at the Dallas City Council Inauguration in June. The appearance became a topic of debate on the group’s Facebook page after the council refused to pass a resolution in support of marriage equality. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

ANNA WAUGH  |  News Editor

When Turtle Creek Chorale members auditioned this week for the new season that begins next week, they were asked to sign a social media policy.

Some members are skeptical of the policy and say chorale leadership is overreaching to prevent any public criticism of the organization. But TCC’s interim executive director says the policy is meant to help the organization.

A draft of the policy obtained by Dallas Voice outlined guidelines when “participating in social networking sites and/or engaging in other forms of Internet use on behalf of TCC.” The policy stated that the use of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, chat rooms, or “any other electronic to print communication format” shouldn’t “harm the goodwill or reputation of TCC,” share confidential TCC information or harass members or others associated with TCC. TCC members and staff who violate the policy are “subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of membership or employment.”

One TCC member, who asked that his name be withheld, has been with the predominantly gay organization since the 1990s. He said the policy came about after the group’s private Facebook group got out of hand and discussion among members became profane and accusatory.

In recent years, chorale members have taken to social media like Facebook and Twitter to express their dissatisfaction with TCC, the member said. Complaints have ranged from treatment in rehearsals to meeting fundraising and ticket sales expectations.

He said recent issues that fueled debate included the chorale’s appearance with Sandi Patty, a gospel singer with ties to the tea party, and performing at the Dallas City Council inauguration after the council refused to pass a resolution in support of marriage equality.

Those posts, like others deemed inappropriate by TCC, were removed from the Facebook page and members then posted the discussion on their personal pages, continuing the debate outside the group. The member said that while something was needed to keep discussion and comments clean, the wording of the policy seems too broad.

“Why not attempt to fix what people are complaining about instead of silencing the people complaining?” he said. “They go online to post something and to start discussion, they get shut down and then there’s not an outlet.”

Hank Henley, TCC’s interim executive director, said the policy has been in the works since last fall, when members and board members began writing it. He said a line was recently added to the policy that states, “This policy is not intended to apply to expressly private or personal communications in any media.”

He said opposition to the policy has been “more of a semantic thing” with members thinking it was “very heavy-handed” when it was sent out prior to the latest revision. Henley said while he understands the need for a forum, members must be professional in discussions and posts.

“If they want a forum, that’s one thing,” he said. “If they get personal and ugly to each other, that’s another.”

Henley said while TCC monitors the Facebook group, its leadership doesn’t monitor personal social media accounts of its members and the chorale is following other organizations like the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus in creating a policy.

“As many corporations are doing, we’re trying to protect our right of freedom of speech and also protect our corporation,” he said. “Our appearance to the community needs to be protected.”

Members were asked to sign the policy this week to acknowledge they understand and agree to it. If they declined, Henley said they would be removed from the Facebook group. He called the policy “a working document” and said members who disapprove of it can help rewrite it in the future.

But Don Dureau, a lifetime member involved in TCC since 1991, said his friends who are members joined a committee months ago to work on the policy and were never contacted about it.

He said TCC members were initially told that if they didn’t sign the policy when they auditioned for the new season, they wouldn’t be allowed to audition. After complaints, members were told that they would be removed from the group’s Facebook page instead.

Dureau didn’t audition this week because he’s taking a break from singing. But he said he wouldn’t have signed the policy because despite the added clause, it mentions blogs and all social media accounts, most of which are personal. And he wouldn’t want to have his personal blog monitored for content or comments about TCC from other people.

“It’s not clear,” he said. “I’m not going to be responsible for something the chorale deems derogatory that I don’t think is derogatory.”

The policy states that members who have concerns or complaints should bring their issues to TCC’s leadership. Dureau said although the chorale is good about being open to members coming to them with issues, it seems to not like complaints. And he said the policy seems to make that clear to members.

 “The chorale seems to think that no one can criticize them and that seems to rub me the wrong way,” Dureau said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 16, 2013.