Portland Gay Mens Chorus Celebrating 37 Years

By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly

Last month the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus (PGMC) kicked off their 37th opening season with a titillating performing of Shameless: An Adult-Only Cabaret. As someone who’s known a little about the PGMC over the years but been more of a sideline fan, I have to say this show was thoroughly entertaining, hilarious and dripping with all sorts of playful sexiness that left even the most voracious appetite quenched. This of course only made me want to learn more about this outstanding chorus.

For those unfamiliar with the PGMC, it was created in 1980 after founding member, Mark Richards attended a concert of the San Francisco gay men’s chorus and became thrilled with the idea of starting a gay men’s chorus here in Portland. He met with Mark Jones and Gary Coleman at “Wilde Oscars” to discuss ideas on where to begin. They decided to place an ad in the local newspaper, and the PGMC was born! Over the course of the last 37 years, there have been more than a thousand members from many different countries, ages, and ethnicities. The eclectic composition is also reflected in their work with their performances ranging from light-hearted sassy show tunes to original works reflecting the complexities of human emotion.

One of the amazing things about the PGMC is they’ve always had a drive toward inclusivity and accessibility. So even though the title of “Portland Gay Men’s Chorus” seems exclusive they are welcoming of everyone. It’s even written in their bylaws that, “Anyone shall be eligible for membership in the chorus, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin, marital or veteran’s status, or disability.”

Women have been a part of PGMC since the 1990’s when Phylis Myles became the first female president. “In our organization, women have been singers, board members, staff members, and volunteers. PGMC has shared its stage with women’s choruses including Portland Lesbian Choir, Sound Circle (Boulder) and Soromundi (Eugene). In 1999, PGMC produced a concert featuring women composers, In Celebration of Women, including the premiere of four PGMC commissions of women composers.” – PGMC Website.  Translation: If you’re brave enough to belt out America the Beautiful and have the vocal chops to sell it, they’ll welcome you with open arms.

“We see a growing inclusiveness in our chorus community beyond just gay men; joining us on stage are lesbians, heterosexuals, bisexuals, queer & questioning, women, trans-males, trans-females, gender queer, intersex, non-binary and more.” – commented current chorus President Gary Coleman.

It should also come as no surprise that PGMC has taken an active political role in the LGBTQ community over the years. Founded only a year before the AIDS epidemic began, their mission to “honor and uplift the gay community and affirm the worth of all people,” has remained a politically resonant act that is all too important in keeping our community strong and safe. Back in the 1990’s when Lon Mabon and the Oregon Citizens Alliance were trying to pass anti-gay legislation with Measure 9 and 13, the PGMC received a Special Recognition Award from the Metropolitan Human Relations Commission for their fight against discrimination.  They also received the Lucille Hart Award from Right to Privacy in 1990 for distinguished service to the gay & lesbian community.

In 2007 the PGMC commissioned a cantata in response to the Iraq war. “It’s a dark, but ultimately uplifting work that examines the human consequences of war as seen through the eyes of a mother who loses her child in battle. It’s probably PGMC’s most important commission across our 37-year history.” – remarked Artistic Director Bob Mensel.

Perhaps this piece will take on a new meaning after the first hundred days of the Trump Administration and all the fear, anger and sadness we’ve been and will be experiencing as a community. Better be there in a concert hall with over a hundred gay (and queer) voices sing in unison can’t help but be powerful, moving and ultimately hopeful.

The PGMC will have their Annual Holiday Night Monday, December 19th that you can still catch! In February bring your Valentine as they’re performing “Love Struck,” a more intimate event featuring chorus soloist singing a variety of love songs. And in March they have a performance called, “Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding.” This is a concert dedicated to reflecting on the current state of our nation and offering a message of hope. It will feature the 10th-anniversary performance of notable PGMC commission BraveSouls & Dreamers, dedicated to the memory of Robert Espindola, its librettist.

For more information about PGMC and their upcoming events visit their website: www.pdxgmc.org.