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Photo Credit: Sydney Cohen

Celebrating 35 Years of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus

By Denny Patterson

Founded in 1986 by Dr. Gary Keating during the uncertainty and tragedy of the early AIDS era, the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus (FTLGMC) became the first established gay performing arts organization in the state of Florida. 

Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the chorus continues to help its audiences and members thrive and flourish. Together, they have built one of the most vibrant LGBTQ communities in the world. 

“This is a very exciting time,” FTLGMC President Justin Knight says. “Like everyone, we are coming out of a very difficult period right now with COVID, and then losing a member and dealing with the difficulties that happened at Stonewall Pride a year ago, we are very happy to celebrate our 35-year history and we are looking towards the future. We’ve heard feedback that people think that the concept of a chorus is outdated, but in a lot of ways, we are still serving the same purpose that we always have. There’s as much need now, if not more than ever, because people feel so isolated and our community is under the same attacks we’ve been dealing with for the past 35 years. Our job is to bring communities together.”

According to Keating, a business trip in New York City inspired him to start the FTLGMC.

“I was walking by Carnegie Hall and there were posters for the NYCGMC,” he says. “I bought tickets for the next night. It was totally sold out, and the proud response of the audience was overwhelming. I have a Masters in choral conducting and wasn’t using it, and there wasn’t anything really happening in South Florida. We were still recovering from Anita Bryant. So, it just hit me that this could be a great thing for our community, and it turned out to be true. Our first concerts, one at Gusman/Olympia Theater in Miami and Parker a week later were oversold. We had to turn people away for every concert for the first four years.”

In addition to sold out concerts, the FTLGMC also sang at several funerals during its early years.

“We sang at 31 funerals for our members, plus some other services for gay community leaders who died of AIDS,” Keating recalls. 

Knight joined the FTLGMC 15 years ago when he was new to and introduced to the chorus through friends.

“I have musical experience in my background and I was interested in exploring that and having an artistic outlet again,” he explains. “I was also joining a family, a brotherhood where we could share that experience of creating music together. The impact that we’ve had on the community being South Florida’s first performing arts organization, we’ve paved the way for all the others that exist now. We created a culture and an environment where people who are in the gay community or support the gay community can have a home and be artistic.”

The more well-known the chorus became, people began to change their minds about the gay community.

“Changing hearts and minds – the chorus did it and they are still doing it today,” Keating says. “Just our existence is a political statement. The fight never seems to end.”

On Saturday, May 7, 2022, the FTLGMC will have a 35th anniversary celebration concert entitled Why We Sing! at United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale, located at 2501 NE 30th St. The performance begins at 8PM. 

“Audiences can expect a program that contains some of our greatest hits over our 35-year history,” Knight explains. “It’s music that we’ve performed before and it will include pieces from the very first concert to pieces we’ve done over the last few years. Uplifting songs, political songs, fun and campy songs, and we will have a musical ensemble of instruments supporting us. Additionally, we are going to have a museum type display of artifacts and memorabilia from our past so attendees can relive our history and see what we’ve all been through together.”

The concert will also include a section where previous FTLGMC members will be invited to sing with its current members.

“We want previous members to know that it’s not just about celebrating the members that are in the chorus today,” Knight says. “We want to include people who may not be singing with us right now but are still a part of our family. We will have numbers that they’ll recognize and we’re going to ask them to come up and join us during the show.”

Moving forward and looking towards the next 35 years, both Keating and Knight hope the FTLGMC will continue to be a support mechanism, home, and surrogate family for even more people in South Florida’s LGBTQ community. 

“By doing that, we are able to further spread our message of love, inclusion, and support across communitie because that’s our mission,” Knight says. “We bring communities together through high quality musical performances. We’ve had thousands of members at this point. Some of them are still with us, while some of them are not, but I hope we’re able to touch even more people in the future.”

“In states like Florida, Texas, and others where attacks on our community are growing constantly, the community will still need groups like the chorus,” Keating adds. “But for individuals, it will still be vital to have choruses to join and feel community and have an artistic/creative outlet.”

Stay up-to-date and connect with the FTLGMC by following their Facebook page @theftlgmc, or visit their official website, FTLGMC.org. Tickets for the 35th anniversary celebration concert can be purchased online, or call (954) 832-0060.