For Orlando Gay Chorus, Pulse shooting was personal

Group stepped up for LGBT community after June 12 tragedy

ORLANDO, Fla. – Their shows are a labor of love, a celebration of singing. The Orlando Gay Chorus has been performing for 27 years and since day one, the group has been challenged.

There were times when the chorus was ignored or rejected. Ten-year group member Debbie Drobney remembers those times.

"They actually wanted them to say 'Can you just go with 'Orlando Chorus?'" Drobney said. "Absolutely not. The whole point of the Orlando Gay Chorus was to say there are gay people in the community and it's OK. It's completely OK."

OGC music director James Rode said the group would often run into walls when it came to funding or corporate sponsorships.

The group has faced down homophobic comments and slurs on social media with love.

[Read more News 6 Pulse one year coverage at ClickOrlando.com/Pulse1year]

"Watching our social media, you'll get some homophobic comments of 'Why do they have to be here? Why does it have to be gay?'" media relations director JD Casto said. "And then you perform there and it's just smothered with love. That to me, that's what we do. It's so empowering to change people's perspective by coming together as a group, unified behind one voice."

But chorus' resolve to perform had never been tested like it was last June, following the mass shooting at the gay nightclub, Pulse. To the group, the attack felt extremely personal.

"This is my city. These are my people. This is my community," Rode said. "This is what we do in OGC. We represent the LGBT community."

Before the June 12 terrorist attack, Pulse was a safe space, chorus member Shea Callanan said.

"It was the first room where I could just be openly gay and not get weird looks or reprimands, not have to hide anything and so, it was a safe space in more that I can describe in words," Callanan said. "That was very much taken away from us."

Members of the Orlando Gay Chorus describe themselves as a family and said the greater Orlando community is just an extension of that.

"When we were attacked, it was all of us," member Bill Blackwell said.

Right after the shooting, the chorus acted immediately giving raw and emotional performances. A year later, the group has performed in more than 100 outreach events. 

Their mission to change people's perspectives has come a long way with the increased visibility, but there is still more work to be done.

"I would say once you're done listening to our music, please, also, listen to our words," Callanan said. "Listen to the words of not only us but everyone in the LGBTQ community who is trying to convey to the public what struggles we're going through right now."

In the meantime, the Orlando Gay Chorus will continue to stand front and center and sing with joy, purpose and pride.

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