Misha Cherniak

Our choir was founded in 2014. We were inspired by the example of so many LGBTQ choirs and choruses all over the world — I was present at one of the concerts of the New York Gay Men’s Chorus in February 2014, for instance. We knew that in Poland there are not many cultural initiatives for the LGBTQ community. And we also believed in the power of art to unite people above divisions and differences. Our first public performance was on International Coming Out Day, 11 October. When our initial venue turned us down, we used this as an occasion to highlight the situation of LGBTQ persons in the country, and took our performance to the streets. We performed three times that day, on three landmark squares in central Warsaw. It attracted a lot of media attention and quite a large crowd of viewers. That was our Coming Out Day.

Our first mission is to provide a safe space for the members of the LGBTQ community to realise their creative potential. Another part of our mission is to promote acceptance, inclusion, respect and solidarity in the wider society by means of music: we also raise our voices in other publicly important situations — against the anti-migrant position of the current government, for instance.

We have performed at the Warsaw Equality Parade, Poznan Pride March, Warsaw City Diversity Day, LGBTphobia victims commemoration vigil, the Campaign Against Homophobia’s Allies’ Gala, ILGA-Europe’s annual conference, pro-migrant political demonstration, private celebrations and many other occasions. When choosing our repertoire, we often start with the message, with the text of the piece. Protest songs or songs about hope for a better future are always high on our priority list.

While there are no legal restrictions on our activities, there is not much support infrastructure either. For a year and a half, we struggled with having no stable rehearsal space. When looking for a concert venue, we still encounter the same problems as in the very beginning of our existence. Some places can’t take us because we are LGBTQ and they are state-owned — which, under the current right-wing government, is an impossible combination. Everything we have to pay for is covered from our own pockets.

In general, culture is not high on anyone’s list of priorities. Even in the LGBTQ community, let alone in terms of business or governmental agencies. The unwritten rule of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is still very strong in Polish musical circles, both classical and pop. There are very few out-and-proud musicians. There is quite a lot of hypocrisy. And we keep being asked: is there a need in an LGBTQ-specific choir? Our answer is: since you are still asking this question, it means there is a reason. Someone has to show that we are here and we are not going anywhere.

Networking is helping us to see a broader picture and also not get too discouraged by the local situation in Poland. We also work closely with other LGBTQ organisations in the country, especially with the ones that focus on culture. These days are difficult for Polish democracy, for the rule of law, for human rights. And we stand closer to each other than ever. That is a source of strength in itself. We dream of the day that LGBTQ persons will not have to seek safe havens. And that, of course, applies not only to choirs but to the whole of society. One of our favourite songs is If I can dream by Elvis Presley. It has that wonderful line: “If I can dream of a better land where all my brothers walk hand in hand, tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true?”