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How a religious outcry against the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus’s show in Turkey backfired

Jun 22, 2015

When the the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus announced a concert date in Istanbul as part of the city’s gay pride celebrations, Yıldız Tar, the 25-year-old editor for a local LGBTQI news site, thought his team should do a story on the show. What he didn’t foresee is that what seemed like a routine Q&A with the group would end up helping stir an international controversy.

The issue wasn’t the article that was published on Kaos GL, but the fact that it caught the attention of what he called Islamist newspapers, including a prominent one called Vahdet. The conservative press began covering the planned concert with what Tar labeled a “hate speech campaign.”

“[The BGMC] were under attack in a very systematic way,” he says.

Kaos GL had nothing to do with the event, but also became a target of the attacks, which begun emphasizing that the concert and the pride celebration were planned during the muslim holy month of ramadan.

The rhetoric did work, at least temporally. A change.org petition was started demanding the company organizing the concert call off the show. Soon afterward, ticket sales were cancelled at the venue scheduled the host the event, The Zorlu Center. The Boston Globe covered the brewing scandal with an article whose subhead read, “Boston Gay Men’s Chorus braces for a hostile reception.”

But it wasn’t just the conservative press that was paying attention.

“The Zorlu Center was ecstatic to have us until there was a backlash in a lot of the conservative press about this ‘deviant group of homosexuals’ coming over here, trying to change our good Islamic people,” says Reuben Reynolds, director of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. “What was amazing to me is the number of places we had immediately offering, saying, ‘Come sing with us instead.”

One of those that offered to help was the LGBTQI studies club at Bogazici University, which issued a statement saying the school could host the show and that, “Freedom will always prevail against pressure from hateful, discriminating and censoring minds,” Kaos GL reported.

Soon afterward the university offered the chorus a free, public space to perform, and a new date was set for June 27.

Lost in all the controversy is the innocuous and uplifting nature of the concert itself.  

The BGMC commissioned composer Joshua Shank to create a piece that will be performed on the tour. Chorus members were asked to complete the phrase, "I was at peace when..." and submitted hundreds of responses -- "...when I told my mother I was gay," "...when I stopped drinking," "...when I held my son's hand in the incubator as he died" -- which were then woven together to create a composition appropriately titled "Peace."

Meanwhile, Tar says Vahdet and other conservative media are still editorializing against the show, but he’s confident that their campaign has backfired.

“I think the [conservative] newspapers have made a free advertising campaign for the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus and that event. Because now, everyone knows them! … If they didn’t have that hate broadcasting, maybe like 50 or 100 people would go to the concert in a concert hall. And people would listen to them and go back [home],” Tar says. “Now, we are having a very public concert in a very open place.”


From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International