The Turtle Creek Chorale staging 24-hour marathon to support the trans community

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Anyone looking to Ethan Avanzino for a dramatic transition story just won’t find one. He is the poster child for how things should be.
The Southwest Airlines employee produces audio and video training materials for the company. He’s been there five years, and a year-and-a-half ago, he decided to transition on the job. He had started his medical transition earlier in the year and came out to coworkers in December 2015.
“Let’s see how this goes,” he said he told himself. “Everyone was supportive.”
Anyone who had questions came to him and asked. Working with trainers for the company, he said he learned how to educate adults.
“My story should be how it is for everyone,” Avanzino said. “Family. Friends. Job. Everyone completely accepting.”
He’s seen other transgender people lose their jobs, lose their friends and family, lose their homes.
“I didn’t experience that,” he said, but “I’ve seen it and it breaks my heart.”
Avanzino thinks it’s important to share his story and be a visible model of how things should be for the trans community.
“We go to work,” he said. “We eat. We sleep.”
That certainly is news to members of the Texas Senate, who passed a bathroom bill last week.
Avanzino was in Austin to testify before the committee hearing the bill. “They’re all for privacy and protection,” he said, “yet they want to put my privacy and protection on the line.”
In his testimony before the Senate committee, Avanzino explained that he had his gender marker changed on his drivers license but not his birth certificate. So if the bathroom bill becomes law, he’d have to use the ladies’ room.
He spoke briefly before asking the senators on the committee what questions they had for him. Looking at the hairy, bearded man in front of them, one meekly asked, “You have female on your birth certificate?”
“They don’t see trans men when they write these bills,” Avanzino said.
Avanzino chairs the Trans Council, an advisory group at Cathedral of Hope. Along with Lambda Legal, Trans Council has been designated as a beneficiary of the 24-hour Turtle Creek Chorale sing-a-thon, called Sing for Dignity, being held at the church beginning 6 p.m. on Aug. 11.
In 1999, the chorale sang for 22 hours to earn the world record for the longest choir concert. Turtle Creek Chorale Artistic Director Sean Baugh said Sing for Dignity isn’t meant to set a record; it’s purpose is to draw attention to a cause.
At press time, Baugh was still frantically putting the 24-hour marathon together and said he expected the main concert to begin at 6 p.m. and continue for several hours. Beyond that, the chorale will sing, rehearse, entertain and even offer some open mic time.
He expects the overnight portion of the concert to be more casual. In the morning they’ll sing for BACH — the Breakfast at Cathedral of Hope that usually attracts about 200 people who rely on the church’s generosity.
Other singers include Denise Lee, Amy Stevenson and Jody Crawford Wright.
A number of speakers, including Avanzino, will talk about their own experiences.
Baugh said the chorale addressed a number of issues this season. The season finale in June included a segment about crystal meth abuse in the LGBT community. A number of audience members talked to representatives from agencies that had tables in the lobby.
“And two people from the chorus sought treatment,” he said. “I didn’t know they were struggling.”
When the governor of Texas just wouldn’t let the bathroom bill die and the U.S. president decided to change current military policy to propose a ban on trans service personnel, Baugh said he knew he needed to do something. While a number of chorale members have lobbied their representatives in Austin, that’s not what the chorale does as a group.
“We don’t march,” Baugh said. “We sing.”
He called music the great unifier: “It affects you emotionally.”
Baugh said he looked for some trans-specific music, but found in looking through the chorale’s repertoire that pieces they’ve done that spoke to the gay experience are applicable to any person who lives on the fringes of society.
“Life is hard, but there’s a light,” he said.
Baugh said there aren’t any trans members of the chorale currently, but membership is open to anyone who is male or identifies as male, and the group has had trans members in the past. He said the chorale may not have given those trans members the best welcome simply because they didn’t know the experience.
“When you don’t know about something, you need to learn about it,” he said.
The lies in the Texas Senate hearings and on the floor of the Legislature as well as the president’s tweet about transgender people in the military — which contradicted statements from military leadership — made it apparent to Baugh that the chorale needed to be better allies with the trans community.
And, he said, when the chorale has addressed communities they feel distant from, “we found out we’re not so different at all.”
Cathedral of Hope is a co-presenter for the 24-hour event.
Baugh laughed at himself for suggesting such a monumental task as staging a 24-hour concert with two weeks’ notice and keeps finding things the community can help with. He said he’s looking for people to offer printing, because, no, the chorale will not memorize 24 hours worth of music in advance. He needs food donated because if chorale members are going to stick around for that long and just catch quick naps between segments, they’ll need to eat.
Starbucks has already pledged the coffee.
Anyone who wants to donate services or goods to the event can call 214-526-3214.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 4 2017.