Expanding on its traditional membership, CGMC continues to look to a more inclusive future

Jay Mantle will have a much better view for the next Columbus Gay Men's Chorus concert than he had for the last show in March. He sat in Row K before. He'll be in the baritone section this time around.

“They said anyone could join, and my ears perked up,” said Mantle, who is transgender. He's one of about a dozen singers — trans men, lesbians and straight allies — who represent an evolution beyond the chorus' traditional gay-male makeup.

“I thought this could help me face my stage fright, but the more I do it, I get choked up,” Mantle said. “I know what it means to me, the fact we're all singing together.”

The chorus will perform two concerts on Saturday, June 29, to celebrate LGBTQ history and mark the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall uprising. They're scheduled for 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Capital University's Mees Hall in Bexley.

The chorus itself, and others like it across the country, are a big part of that community history. Many began during the worst days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and '90s. The Columbus Gay Men's Chorus will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year.

“A tremendous part of our history is the courage of our members,” said Tim Sarsany, who joined the chorus in 1998 and has been its artistic director for the last nine years. “People came because we were gay and we were out.”

Mantle came out as trans in 2014 and knew well what he calls the “iffy” history of support from the rest of the LGBTQ community for its transgender siblings. But he had been seeking ways to get involved, he said, “So I took a chance. They have been welcoming from the get-go.”

Executive Director Adam Burk said the chorus has had a goal of advancing the entire community since it began in 1990. Its membership has grown beyond gay men over the last few years, he said, and discussions have begun more recently about making that expansion more formal and proactive.

Sarsany said the June 29 concert features three parts and includes performances by the Capital Pride Band, the Columbus Women's Chorus and students from the Arts & College Preparatory Academy.

The concert opens with music from 1969 and includes a tribute to Judy Garland, whose funeral took place hours before the riots began.

The second part pays tribute to milestones of the LGBTQ movement, including the AIDS crisis, Matthew Shepard's death and marriage equality. Songs include Queen's “Who Wants to Live Forever,” Melissa Etheridge's “Scarecrow” and Carrie Underwood's “Love Wins.”

The concert ends with a look forward and features students from the Arts & College Preparatory Academy. They'll sing “Testimony,” a song that features lyrics from stories shared through the It Gets Better Project, a global movement to uplift LGBTQ youth.

“One of the most important things we can do in this concert is to project forward the things we need to do in the next 50 years,” Burk said. “We have the next generation that is literally raising their voices with us on stage.”