- Associated Press - Saturday, June 18, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - It’s not controversial when the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus presents a show anymore.

The group sang at the inauguration of Mayor Madeline Rogero and Rogero has recorded an introductory message for when the chorus attends a conference of gay and lesbian choruses in Denver this summer. Regal Entertainment, which is headquartered in Knoxville, and Scripps Networks Interactive both sponsor the group and Prestige Tuxedo donates tuxedo rentals for the group’s Christmas shows. The group will make its annual appearance at Knoxville’s PrideFest on Saturday.

Sitting over breakfast at Pete’s on Union Avenue, KGMC board members and singers Kyle Schellinger and Josh Purvis speak about the group’s founding and goals.

“Our goal is inclusivity and to bring to the forefront that the LGBT community in Knoxville is a force,” says Schellinger. “We use our singing voices to do that. We’re not screaming about anything. Some songs have an LGBT slant. We have a song called ‘Testimony’ that is about coming out.”

The chorus was formed in 2012 and that year’s PrideFest appearance was the group’s second live performance.



“Bleu (Copas) and Chris (Hamblin) started with 12 guys singing under a tent at PrideFest and then it grew into over 50 guys,” says Purvis. “Now we’re shooting for 60 to 65 guys.”

The members themselves are a diverse lot. They range in age from 20s to 60s and drive from as far away as the Tri-Cities to be part of the group.

“We have guys from the Oak Ridge Playhouse and the Knoxville Opera … and we actually have straight people singing with us,” says Purvis.

“We have guys in the chorus who are very religious and participate in their church and we have guys who are not religious at all,” says Schellinger.

Schellinger and Purvis say some of the members are looking for a sense of family or community and find it in the chorus.

“I lived here for four years before I joined the chorus,” says Schellinger. “Sometimes it’s hard to find that community. I think the thing that kept me in Knoxville was the chorus.”

Both say that Knoxville has felt like a warm environment for the chorus to thrive in, but that isn’t always enough.

Purvis says the chorus contains people for whom coming out was difficult and those, like him, who had very supportive families.

“Guys hear stories from each other and have come out to their families because of it,” he says.

Still, says Schellinger, the group asks members before putting individual’s photos up on the group’s Facebook page.

“You come out to the extent that your life allows,” he says. “It could affect someone’s life negatively.”

And there is still a struggle to be seen as “just like anybody else” rather than a stereotype.

“Me and my boyfriend hold hands in public,” says Purvis. “That’s how things are going to change. Our relationship is no different than yours.”

“And it’s just one part of who we are,” says Schellinger. “We do our dishes and laundry and sometimes we love a person. That’s not something that should divide us.”

That’s part of the point of PrideFest.

At the event, the chorus will perform some of the same songs that the chorus presented in the recent “Chandelier” show at the Civic Auditorium.

“We try to do things that have more crowd appeal at PrideFest,” says Purvis. “At PrideFest people have had a few beers so you bring out the Lady Gaga!”

Now that the group has moved its rehearsal space to Church Street Methodist Church, the group hopes to attract more University of Tennessee students and downtown-bound participants.

Purvis says the group hopes to expand and have a women’s group and a youth group in the future.

“We also want to be a positive force in the arts community,” says Schellinger. “We want to do volunteer work. We’ve been embraced and we want to give back. … And if you come see us you’re going to hear great music performed really well by members of your community. We want to be seen as a voice for positive actions for Knoxville in general.”

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Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, https://www.knoxnews.com

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