According to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, 74 percent of LGBTQ students have been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation and 55.5 percent feel unsafe at school.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) is trying to change these statistics with their annual Alive Music Project (AMP), which aims to bring messages of anti-bullying and acceptance to middle schools and high schools through personal stories, musical performances and an anonymous Q&A.
During AMP’s 10 years of operations, the program has reached 48,000 students in the greater Los Angeles area through its monthly school performances.
“We hope that through our music and our stories that we create a space where people can feel like they can be themselves and they don’t have to hide and they don’t have to be ashamed of who they are,” GMCLA Artistic Director and Conductor Joe Nadaeu said. “We also try to create that space within the school and within the community environment.”
This year, the program reached the Santa Clarita Valley for the first time with a performance at Saugus High School, made possible through a sponsorship from Santa Clarita’s Boston Scientific.
More than 1,000 students — half of the school’s student body — attended the optional assembly in the school’s gymnasium. GMCLA members were met with standing ovations, cheers and support throughout the program’s hour-long duration.
Three chorus members shared personal stories about their own experiences during the assembly and encouraged students to accept themselves and seek support from someone they trust.
GMCLA member Dave Volpe discussed his own personal struggle accepting himself and his voice before he came out. Now, his loud personality and voice is something he would never want to change.
“It’s funny how the traits we are afraid or embarrassed of when we’re young are what define us later on,” Volpe said.
GMCLA, with members ranging from college students to seniors, sang renditions of “Creep” by Radiohead, “You’re The Voice” by John Farnham and “You Have More Friends Than You Know” by Glee Cast with the Saugus High School Concert Choir.
Nadeau said the chorus’ performances also impact its members, many of which grew up in generation when GMCLA would never visit a local high school, let alone talk about being gay.
“When the guys come and do this, it’s emotional and life changing for them too,” he said. “It’s empowering.”
Overall, students and administrators considered the event a success. Tate Dickens, Saugus High School student and co-president of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), said he hopes the performance will potentially stop bullying and make students feel accepted.
“I’m happy and glad [with the event]; even if it only helps keep one kid from feeling alone,” Dickens said.
Boston Scientific sponsored the performance through its PACE ERG (People Accepting and Celebrating Equality, Employee Resonance Group), one of nine diversity and inclusion groups within the company according to Steve Iland, Boston Scientific’s quality project manager.
“We’re so grateful that Boston Scientific came to us and said they wanted to do this for us,” said Tere La Giusa, Saugus High School Spanish teacher and GSA co-advisor. “They even printed up a whole bunch of promotional posters for the classrooms.”
Ken Mariash, Boston Scientific’s director of strategy and new markets, said the PACE ERG wanted to do something that directly impacted the community.
“This is different, this is special, this is focused. It’s focused on LGBT inclusion and it’s directed toward kids,” he said. “Hopefully if it works out we can do more of these things.”
For Mariash, he was personally inspired to bring the event to the high school because he grew up in Los Angeles and came out his senior year of high school through an anonymous letter in his high school newspaper.
“I want to make sure kids are protected from bullying, so that is my personal inspiration,” he said. “We’re all unique individuals and we should all be able to bring that part of ourselves out.”