Gay Men’s Chorus artistic director, Tim Seelig, never imagined he’d be returning to the south where he was banished from the church due to his sexuality, but when the opportunity rose to dissipate misconceptions in a documentary, he knew he had to participate.
“In 1978 I was married with two children in a Southern Baptist Church, so I never imagined I’d be doing this,” Seelig told ET Canada. “It’s been a lifelong progression for me as a chorus conductor, and ultimately when I came out, as a LGBTQ activist, none of this was ever imagined.”
“In fact the chorus was looking towards the 40th anniversary, and when the chorus was three years old, it did a national tour of nine cities across the United States, starting gay choruses and encouraging gay choruses that had just begun, so touring was part of it’s DNA,” he added. “So at year 40, we were going to be the first gay man’s chorus to go to mainland China, and as the days of planning kept going, we realized we weren’t going to make a big impact because of state on media, and then the 2016 election happened, and literally within two days, our board chair, who is from Birmingham, Alabama, called and said we should go to the south, and that was it. Everyone just knew that’s what we needed to do.”
Audience award winner at the Tribeca Film Festival, MTV’s Documentary Films’, “Gay Chorus Deep South” brings hope, acceptance and love to the small screen. Led by Seelig, and joined by The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, over 300 singers travelled from Mississippi to Tennessee through the Carolinas and over the bridge in Selma. They performed in churches, community centres and concert halls in the hopes of uniting Americans in a time of difference. The journey also challenged Seelig, who fled the South to confront his own fears, pain and prejudices on a journey towards reconciliation.
“I had not walked back into a Southern Baptist Church in 33 years. I didn’t want to, didn’t plan to, but as it turned out, our big, final concert was at a mega Southern Baptist Church, so walking in, was me facing my past,” Seelig said. “I was forced to deal with it and get over myself and unpack my luggage. I had to deal with some of the hurt that organized religion had dealt me, and go back into that and sort of let that slip away for the real part of the people.”
“I will say the chorus living in the San Fransisco bubble, also had misconceptions about the South, and those were certainly dissipated,” he added.
The conversations and connections that emerged offered a glimpse of a less divided America, where the things that divide us — faith, politics, sexual identity — are set aside by the soaring power of music, humanity and a little drag.
“Of the 300 people who went on this amazing tour, each of them has a different experience with it,” Seelig said. “Everybody comes to it with a different life situation, but I just hope people will listen, and that’s pretty much it. I mean, they’re going to watch, and listen, but I mean really listen. If you do that and allow yourself to see and empathize with the people whose stories are told, then you’ll come out a better person.”
While the subject matter is very serious and important, Seelig did admit the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus had a lot of fun along the way, and created some special memories.
“It’s beautiful what happened on the tour,” he said. “The great thing that happens is we’re ourselves. We’re on six buses and three vans with security at the front and back of this caravan, and probably one of the most fun moments was bus drag day, where they all had to bring whatever they needed to dress up in drag in a small carry-on, that was the rule because you can’t bring your roller bag. That day, we stopped between the state border of Alabama and Tennessee at a huge rest stop, and one of the drag queens went into the men’s restroom, and it’s just delicious. So there was a lot of fun along the way, and the humour in this documentary really breaks a lot of barriers.”
Watch “Gay Chorus Deep South” Sunday, Dec. 20 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Pop, Logo and Pluto.