February 14, 2019 at 1:05 am PDT | by Karen Ocamb
Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles Survives

It’s been a rough couple of weeks as in-fighting among members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles spilled out into the press with a tornado of accusations of sexual harassment thrown against GMCLA Board Chair John Duran and Executive Director Jonathan Weedman. The ugliness was frustrating for GMCLA board members who had ordered full, thorough and independent investigations with a final report concluding that the claims had no merit. But the reports were filed with Human Resources, which demands privacy.

The ugly tornado of controversy became an existential threat as about 50 members tried to push the two leaders out of the gay legacy organization, with board members, reliable donors and corporate givers following behind. It looked like the final curtain was about to come down on the 40 year old LGBT institution.

But on Wednesday night, Feb. 13, at a rented office space at 9200 Sunset Boulevard, the GMCLA board held a special meeting and by a vote of 11-0 with two abstentions, decided to continue as an organization and rebuild the camaraderie that is home to so many.

Before the vote, at the invitation of new board member Deborah Villar (Antonio Villaraigosa’s sister), the board heard from about dozens of chorus members who attended the open portion of the meeting. Why did they think GMCLA should continue? Some spoke about homelessness, others about the HIV/AIDS crisis.

“This is a home. It’s not just any other organization,” said one, as if speaking for all.

“They spoke very eloquently from the heart,” Duran later told the Los Angeles Blade. A big cheer went up with the unanimous vote.

“It was a very unifying moment,” says Duran.

The singing members then left as board members moved to consider HR issues.

But first, board member Steven Hamilton said he wanted to get something out of the way.

Duran recalls the moment etched indelibly into his heart. “John Duran – what you’re going through right now, on behalf of our organization, is so terrible to watch. You’re bearing the brunt of all the bad PR,” he recalls Hamilton saying.

“Your colleagues are going to take away your mayor’s title and it’s upsetting that they know nothing of the facts. We all know everything about the facts because we reviewed all the reports and the claims and determined that there is nothing here to support any of these allegations,” Duran quotes Hamilton as saying. “And I think it’s important for you tonight that we give you a full vote of confidence to continue as our chairman.”

Duran was grateful. “It means a lot to me because sometimes I wonder if I’m getting in the way with all this negative publicity floating out there,” he told them. “They all spoke up and said, ‘Absolutely not! We know the truth. People are entitled to their ignorant opinion without knowing any of the facts. But we know the truth.’ And so they voted unanimously with a full vote of confidence for me to continue as chairman of the Gay Men’s Chorus.”

Duran says the “mob mentality” that has been out to get him was disconcerting. But he forced himself to rally and fight back, posting a long message on Facebook that articulates his side of the controversy.

Duran fumes just a little. “Just because I’m the serving mayor doesn’t mean I have to give up my humanity or my sexuality,” he says. “I’ve never hidden any part of my personality from anyone. If you’re paying attention, you know I’ve had very strong attitudes about being sex-positive and is part of my being a leader in this movement for 40 years.

“We created a culture, we created a subculture and part of that has been that there is no shame in our sexuality or presenting it for full public observation,” he continues. “For so many decades, we were told be silent, don’t come out, don’t ask, don’t tell, keep it in bedroom. Those were all the messages we got as if the demonstration of our human sexuality was something to be embarrassed over. That sort of shame has probably caused more alcoholism, suicide, and mental health bills than anything else in the LGBT community so there’s no room for that.”

Duran says GMCLA’s major Voice Awards fundraiser will probably be recast as a smaller-scale event to lift up the unity and brotherhood felt at the end of the meeting.

“We’ll work through” the financial situation, Duran says, noting that the organization has faced dire financial situations before. When he first joined the Chorus in 2008, the organization was $500,000 in debt.

Duran expects the next big concert in April to celebrate their 40th anniversary will be important to the community. Aside from fundraising, he also says the board has to figure out how to fit GMCLA into the greater civic life of Los Angeles since so much of LGBT culture is now assimilated. But that will be figured out by the next board since, after 20 years, he plans to leave at the end of his term in late summer.

But, Duran says, “I won’t leave them leave if they’re financially unstable.”

As to the gang of 50 who worked so hard to oust him, Duran says that anger is “tempering off.” One of the rebel leaders approached him during a members meeting on Monday and apologized. Both said they hoped to “figure it out” and pull the Chorus back together.

“We’re like a family,” Duran says. “We got into a squabble and we’re figuring it out.”

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