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  WINDY CITY TIMES

LGBT music groups help Russian youths with 'Beautiful' project
by Gretchen Rachel Blickensderfer
2014-06-25

This article shared 3064 times since Wed Jun 25, 2014
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This month, LGBTQ communities and their allies across Illinois are celebrating a major step forward in the achievement of equality. Spectator numbers for the Chicago Pride Parade have grown exponentially with each passing year alongside the exuberance of LGBTQ participants and the number of companies, churches and political figures walking in solidarity with them.

Fewer than 5,000 miles away, those who dare to show their LGBTQ colors run the risk of fines, imprisonment, violent assault and murder. Three days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, a federal law was passed in Russia that essentially denies that country's LGBTQ community and their allies the right to answer dehumanizing speech or assertions—a law ultraconservative groups in the United States support. According to Russia President Vladimir Putin, the law was designed as a safeguard to Russian children.

A U.S. State Department warning to LGBTQ travelers in Russia reads: "Violence against the LGBT community has increased sharply since the law was passed, including entrapment and torture of young gay men by neo-Nazi gangs and the murder of multiple individuals due to their sexual orientation."

Further laws have been proposed that would remove children from LGBTQ families. Earlier this month, The Daily Beast reported that "Russian authorities are putting pressure on all kinds of institutions—banks, landlords, employers—not to do business with LGBT people and LGBT organizations."

The Nuremberg laws passed in Germany in 1935 began with the gradual erosion of Jewish liberties in order to "safeguard the future of the German nation."

In December 2013, the It Gets Better Project launched "You Are Beautiful," a campaign aimed at emboldening LGBTQ youth in Russia with videos containing voices of support. Moved by the stories coming out of Russia while—at the same time—wondering about the path down which the the anti-gay laws are taking that country, the Windy City Gay Chorus and Aria Women's Chorus ( known collectively as Windy City Performing Arts, or WCPA ) collaborated with Chicago filmmaker Jason Knade to create a song and video for the campaign that resounds with the message "You are beautiful, just the way you are."

The project began in early January when Windy City Gay Chorus member Tedd McTee brought up the "You Are Beautiful" campaign to WCPA Artistic Director Paul Caldwell during a discussion about the situation in Russia. "We don't know what life is going to be like for the Russian LGBTQ community," McTee told Windy City Times. "We can't really tell them it's going to get better. All we can say is 'no matter what happens, we're here and we believe in you and love you.'"

Caldwell wrote the song that was then translated into Russian by a musician friend of his—a task that proved more difficult than Caldwell had imagined. "He came back to me and told me that there are no Russian words for 'gay'," Caldwell recalled. "He said that the words that exist are so derogatory that they cannot be used in this setting. So he had to call us 'The Chicago Choir of Non-Traditional Sexual Orientation.' That was shocking to me."

"How does love get wings? How does love get wings?" Caldwell's song asks. "Love gets wings when the world sees and starts to sing."

Knade created a story line for the video and recruited Lucas Segovia and Graham Maverick—two dancers from the Joffrey Ballet—as performers. He shot it over the course of two days in locations across Chicago. It begins with a frightened man sitting alone in a living room. Slowly he comes to the realization that he is beautiful and begins to dance, gradually reaching greater and greater heights. He meets another man in a park and the pair move in synchronicity with each other. The images of the dancers are intercut with the chorus members, each of their faces coated in an expression of hope. Fear is finally replaced with joy.

When Caldwell watched the final product, he was awestruck. "I felt like it was the most beautiful thing I had ever been a part of," he said. "All I did was write a song and teach it to the chorus. Jason and the dancers were able to take that and run with it. That's the amazing thing about artistic collaboration."

"I read the lyrics and loved the whole metaphor of letting a voice be heard and singing for everyone to hear," Knade recalled. "I wanted to accomplish that visually. The dancers are adding on to that metaphor by expressing themselves in a physical and visceral way."

Knade added that, although he was honored to be a part of the project, he was also overwhelmed by the importance of it all. "I knew I really had to do it justice," he said.

Christy Hasselson is an alto with the chorus who contributed her talents to the song. "The whole situation over there is bigger than me. Bigger than us," she said. "An admonishment of the Russian government in the media is just not going to do it and Putin doesn't care about sanctions."

"When the Olympics games were going on, everyone was talking about it," McTee added. "Now I feel like people here in the United States have gone back to talking about marriage rights and not about how LGBT people in other countries are being treated."

The video has been uploaded to YouTube and the You Are Beautiful campaign website. Caldwell also transmitted it to a media source in Russia. However—to protect that source—he asked Windy City Times not to reveal any further information about it. "Russian Americans who I know are telling me that Putin is eventually going to curb access to websites," he said. "I've even heard that you won't be able to check Facebook without first leaving the country."

"Just because no one is talking about it doesn't mean it's still not an issue," McTee said. "Things over there are getting worse."

The song and video can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxgLHLx42o0.

For more information about the It Gets Better Project's "You Are Beautiful" campaign go here: www.itgetsbetter.org/content/russia .


This article shared 3064 times since Wed Jun 25, 2014
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