Instagram Page Calling Out Gay Men’s Chorus Sparks Controversy

The @nycgmc_nightmares Instagram page has highlighted allegations of racism in the chorus.
Instagram

Warning: This story includes graphic images that could be triggering for readers.

Following the recent emergence of allegations of racism in New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, a new Instagram page claiming to highlight the group’s racist past has drawn criticism from people of color who currently or previously served in the chorus.

Distraught over racism in the chorus, an ex-member, who asked not to be named, created an Instagram page in September dubbed “nycgmc_nightmares,” where members could anonymously share stories of racism and sexual harassment in the chorus. Four months ago, Gay City News exposed the internal uproar at the chorus, where one member said he was booted for calling out racism and another recalled hearing racial slurs by members at a non-chorus performance, among other issues.

One of the Instagram posts that has drawn significant attention shows Black NYCGMC members wearing Blackface. The photo, which is not from an NYCGMC performance, has been criticized by members for lacking context and spreading false information. Alongside the post on Instagram, the site’s creator claims the image includes both former and current NYCGMC leaders, but the post does not mention that the play was created by a Black chorus member in protest of racial injustice in the chorus.

“Please do not sing with this racist Chorus. They do not care about BIPOC folks, women, or trans folks,” the NYCGMC_Nightmares wrote in a post, tagging Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Our Lady J, and Demi Lovato.

Since the page surfaced on social media, some members who spoke to Gay City News on the condition of anonymity have criticized it as an act of retaliation to stir controversy and harass others in the group. However, the platform’s creator, who is a person of color, said he’s trying to amplify their concerns.

“People don’t get to tell their stories, they don’t get to speak the truth about what they experience, and quite frankly, it’s mired by a majority of white voices,” the page’s creator told Gay City News. “I think that’s extremely unfortunate and I want that to change.”

Members are criticizing the creator of the Instagram page for posting this picture without context.NYCGMC_Nightmares/Instagram

The photo was taken in 2014 after a group dubbed the “BroMos” (Brothers Who Are Homos) performed the song “12-inches of Slave” during a retreat for the chorus community. The performance debuted during the retreat’s “No Talent Show,” which included similar satirical works calling out racial stereotypes. The four-minute musical number “12-inches of Slave” included an all-Black male cast and hoped to shed light on the impact of racism in the chorus and in the LGBTQ community at large.

In the wake of the allegations that surfaced in recent months, the Big Apple Performing Arts (BAPA) — which oversees the chorus as a non-profit management company — released a statement in late October that acknowledged rampant racism and other concerns in the chorus. A BAPA spokesperson said the chorus now has a new board of directors who are “aware of these issues and are deeply committed to making changes within the organization.”

“We begin by offering a sincere and unconditional apology,” the group said in a written statement. “There have been multiple incidents of discriminatory and racist behavior within our organization and the leadership simply did not do enough to rectify those harms or to ensure the safety thereafter of our members.”

Some of the changes include a faster way of handling grievances, implementing a new anti-racism policy, a scheduled open forum for members of color to discuss these issues, and a revamped Inclusion and Equity Team. The BAPA spokesperson declined to comment on the Instagram page but confirmed that the Blackface photo is from a sketch with an anti-racism message and is directed by a member of color.

“The sketch was at a private event and not an official or public BAPA presentation, therefore we have no further comment,” the BAPA spokesperson said.

In light of allegations of racism within the organization, some past and current members of the NYCGMC asked not to be named in the article, citing fears of retaliation from chorus leadership. In an email to Gay City News on November 11, the NYCGMC’s Board of Directors responded to these concerns.

“It is too often true and it makes sense that people who have experienced pain, discrimination, and harassment feel unsafe to come forward, and we deeply regret that this has been the case within our organization,” the NYCGMC’s Board of Directors said. “We offer both our apologies and a renewal of our promise to change. It is our hope that our new Grievance Response Process and Anti-Racist, Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy will help open these channels of communication, but we also know that trust is difficult where these offenses have occurred.”

The NYCGMC Board of Directors added that they are open to hearing these issues and have created public and private channels for members of color to share their experiences.

“We are grateful to so many members and leaders who have stepped up and are providing information about their experiences and the experiences of others, while also providing guidance and ideas about steps towards deeper systemic change,” the NYCGMC Board of Directors said in an email to Gay City News. “It will take time — we know that — but we are working to dismantle the problems of our past and create a safe, beautiful space of music-making for everyone.”

An ex-committee member for the chorus’ Inclusion and Equity Team who requested to speak on the condition of anonymity said the purpose of the play was to protest, not to mock people of color or denigrate them. The ex-member said he was asked to participate and wear Blackface, but he declined because he did not feel comfortable doing that.

“[The director] wanted to make a very pointed satire about racism in the chorus, and wrote this parody song related to this idea of minstrelsy and enslavement to talk about the Black experience in the chorus,” said the ex-committee member, who was in the chorus for seven years. “This is actually, to me, one of the first actions by someone in the chorus that in a very pointed way, but a little bit tongue in cheek, called out chorus leadership and chorus members for their engagement in racism.”

Furthermore, the ex-member said that this song was meant to hold chorus members accountable for sexual harassment, which includes allegedly grabbing members without their consent and talking about the size of their penis.

“It was to talk about the fetishization of the Black body in the chorus. Chorus members have had experiences where white members have been sexually aggressive,” the ex-committee member recalled.

The ex-committee member blasted the Instagram page as an act of retaliation to get attention from leadership.

“Some of the folks that have been very vocal about this have been burned so many times and are so emotionally invested that they’re hyperbolic,” the ex-committee member said. “I sort of resent this tactic of  posting inflammatory screen captures and images without context because it’s dishonest.”

In response to the criticism, the page’s creator apologized, adding that he did not alter the page’s submissions and would be “happy to contextualize [the photo] with any details provided.”

“We acknowledge the importance of context and are happy to provide it. However, regarding the posting itself, we are not an editorial, so we don’t provide context not given,” the page’s creator said in a statement to Gay City News. “We were representing the voices of at least one aggrieved BIPOC member who contacted us about the image.”

However, the page creator’s initial inspiration for the piece was co-opted and altered on social media as NYCGMC leaders continued to face criticism for dragging their feet to address racism. An unknown user tampered with the photo on Facebook, blocking out members’ faces and slapping an image of a slave next to it.

A current member of the chorus who also spoke on the condition of anonymity slammed the photo as harmful, noting that he has seen this image appear on a Facebook chorus group.

“There are some malicious actors…whose intentions are not [justified],” he said. “Why would you cover up everyone’s face in the photo — all the Black people and only show the Blackface?”

An unknown individual manipulated the photo on social media. Facebook

An internal diversity report conducted by the diversity, equity, and consultant firm the J.L. Solution and obtained by Gay City News revealed high levels of mistrust between membership and leaders, avoidance tactics when handling challenging issues, and a history of members leaving their positions out of frustration.

Johnathan Gibbs, a member who previously came forward with allegations about racism surrounding his termination-turned reinstatement, said he was kicked out of the chorus again for speaking with a journalist about his return. BAPA declined to comment on the conflict, citing the organization’s policy not to comment on former or current members.

According to an email obtained by Gay City News, BAPA accused Gibbs of violating the terms of his reinstatement by speaking with the media despite an agreement not to speak publicly until the terms of his membership were established. Gay City News could not confirm the terms of this agreement by press time.

In an email, Gibbs, who is not seeking to return to the chorus, said he is “slightly optimistic” about the new board following a special meeting the organization had on October 28 with members of color. However, Gibbs believes that the organization’s problems are a symptom of an even more significant matter.

“The core issue here is something that has been happening for literal decades in the LGBTQ community,” Gibbs said. “BIPOC queer people stand at an intersection in which they can still experience racism, fetishization, harassment, not be given the benefit of the doubt, white supremacy — they can be victim to all of that by gay white men, which the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus is majority comprised of. Yet [they] pretend to be the savior of the LGBTQ community.”

As for what the future changes mean for the organization, the chorus community remains skeptical of the board’s promises.

“At the organizational level, they’re saying the right thing, so that’s a positive, but the membership is still the membership, so, I don’t know that the culture will change,” said Jonathan Jones, a former NYCGMC chorus member and stage director. “When people speak up about concerns…they need to be taken seriously, immediately, and…in the 10 years I’ve been associated with the organization, that has never been how they handled anything.”

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