On Sunday, May 22, 2022, at the corner of Castro and Market Streets, the Queer Chorus of San Francisco had its first public performance under its new name. Performing under the direction of Artistic Director Michael Reilly, the chorus performed during the Harvey Milk Day Celebration. As a warmup, we had a dance party with DJ Carnita and then were introduced by MC Dulce de Leche. To conclude our performance, we led the assembled crowd in singing Happy Birthday for Harvey Milk and birthday cake was served.
Following a vote of its membership, the “Queer Chorus of San Francisco” is the new name of the chorus formerly known as the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. The Queer Chorus of San Francisco (QCSF), an independent, non-profit organization, is a community chorus based in San Francisco's LGBTQ+ community.
“This name change reflects the diversity of our chorus community and lets everyone in the SF Bay Area Queer community know that there is a place in our chorus for them to find community, make meaningful music, and have fun,” said Michael Reilly (pronouns he/they), Artistic Director of the Queer Chorus of San Francisco.
A group of members of the chorus formed a working group in the fall of 2021 and undertook a process of understanding the attitudes of chorus members, chorus supporters and members of the public towards the potential to change the name of the chorus. The group identified a set of principles to guide the selection of a new chorus name, including pride for the home in the city of San Francisco, unmistakable LGBTQ+ identity, and inclusivity for the spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities. After soliciting suggestions for a new name, the group produced a list of possible names that accorded with these principles.
Members of the chorus met on Thursday, March 24 to vote on the change, using a ranked choice voting system that provided members with the ability to choose among names, including the name "Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco." The name "Queer Chorus of San Francisco" received an overwhelming majority of the votes.
“To me, this change matches our name to who we have been for some time: we include members from throughout the LGBTQQIAA community, and our gender identities span a wide spectrum. And we are irreverent, creative, community-minded singers who want to shake things up and bring joy to our audiences. That sounds pretty queer to me. So now our name reflects who we are,” said Deb Cohler, an alto, who has been singing with the chorus for over 20 years.
QCSF has been at the forefront of the LGBTQIA+ choral movement since its founding during the years when dozens of gay choruses - and a good number of chorus both both gay men and lesbians - sprung up around the country. San Francisco’s mixed-voice chorus was formed in 1980 with the name "San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Men's Community Chorus," soon modified to "Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco." “Those names were not for shock value,” said Dale Danley (pronouns: he/him), a singing member who is also Treasurer of the chorus. “The intention was to signify the potential of lesbians and gay men to join together in harmony. Our founders knew we had shared interests, even though at that time, those communities maintained separation and distance from each other.”
The board of directors of the chorus unanimously affirmed the vote by the members of the chorus and amended its bylaws to change the name of the chorus to "Queer Chorus of San Francisco." Board President Rachel Pokorny (pronouns: she/her) described the overall process as a model example of member-driven change. “Initiated by our singing members at our annual town meeting, the working group oversaw a meticulous year-long process of surveys, interviews, information gathering and hard work that culminated at a special town meeting where the chorus membership overwhelmingly voted to change our name to QCSF. Supported by the elected Board at every step, the working group was a model for member-led organizational change.”
The board of the chorus also established a task force to implement the changes. “This is a big and courageous change for us,” said Michael Lucero (pronouns he/him), who is the chorus historian and a member of the chorus since the fall of 1984. Lucero worked with other members on the working group to bring the change to a vote, and is also on board for what comes next. In addition, Lucero is the chorus representative to GALA Choruses, a nationwide organization that supports queer choruses, and brings them together every four years for a festival. “Historically we were one of the legacy choruses who helped found the GALA organization. The fact that we have changed our name could move other choruses to look at their names as well.”