‘GenOUT: Youth Invasion’ sings of safety to be true to oneself

A found family in music for LGBTQ+ students who have had the blessing of a 'rainbow over their head.'

The air in the lobby at Atlas Performing Arts Center is already buzzing with an audience that seems to be familiar and comfortable with each other. There’s laughter and recognition between people. The collegial sense is that this event is more of a reunion or celebration than anything else. This is an audience that is here to support their children, their niblings, their family members, or the younger colleagues who make up the GenOUT Youth Chorus, the outreach ensemble of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC (GMCW).

The GenOUT Youth Chorus is a vocal ensemble that provides a platform for LGBTQ+ and allied youth to express themselves through song and connect with their community. According to their website, it was established with the dual mission of empowering LGBTQ+ and allied youth by giving them a voice through music, as well as fostering connections within the community through their performances. The chorus has performed at the Lincoln Theatre, the Kennedy Center, the Washington National Cathedral, the White House, the Library of Congress, the GALA Choruses Festival, and the American Choral Directors Association National Conference.

This performance was a collaboration with the Jackson-Reed High School Choir, with each group selecting songs from their repertoire that also included GMCW classic songs and anthems mixed with a few modern ones.

As the chorus director, C. Paul Heins, enters with a score of the 13- to 18-year-old members of GenOUT, I’m left wondering what it must have been like to grow up in a community that was this supportive of LGBTQIA+ youth. I’m wondering how an audience in a different community would have responded to these kids. The song selection reflects these questions. “On Children” and “Always a Place for You” just set the stage that this will be a safe landing for the performers to shine.

“Rainbow Connection” (a classic for GMCW to play) sets a strong emotional tenor to be followed by the modern Kacey Musgroves’ “Rainbow.” That choice is not lost, where we’ve transitioned from a world of searching for connection to ensuring safety. “Everything is alright” for these students who have had the blessing of a supportive “rainbow over their head.”

And yet, even from this “safe space,” this is a group of socially and environmentally conscious people who are pressuring themselves and the adults in the audience to try to protect a breaking world. The performers share calls to action between songs. “The Times They Are a Changing,” as a multi-harmony vocal piece, reverbs more fully than Dylan’s mournful protest.

TOP: The GenOUT Youth Chorus performing at the 8th annual edition of ‘Youth Invasion’ under the direction of C. Paul Heins; ABOVE: The GenOUT Youth Chorus and the Jackson-Reed High School Concert Choir perform at ‘Youth Invasion.’ Photos by Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.

While the messages from GenOUT resonated, the Jackson-Reed High School Choir and director Ronté Pierce sing a similar message with a larger ensemble. The raw emotions of being able to be oneself in a community shine in these selections. “One World, One Voice, One Song” is the introduction to how this group of people is each others’ found community. “Sanctuary” and “Remember Where You Are” follow this same theme. In this group and throughout the show, soloists Devan Mehta, Isabelle Posner-Brown, Camilla Reinoso, Innea Kersey, Henry Brylawski, and Alisa Ostovitz elevate each song.

These are personal songs for spaces where the students can be themselves: growing, learning, awkward, and enthusiastic. One of the choir members couldn’t help themselves and waved to their family from the stage. The students for Jackson-Reed honor their choir directly and share their gratitude for their found family.

That feeling of support ends with the ending songs that involve alumni from the GenOUT group and the GMCW. “Make Them Hear You,” the GMCW anthem, is sung with alumni from the group, nearly half the audience, and leaves the air brimming with emotion as the show comes to a close.

Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes.

GenOUT: Youth Invasion performed April 28, 2024, in the Lang Theatre at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC, as part of their spring season performance. They have a total of 15 to 20 outreach performances throughout their season, which goes from September through June. C. Paul Hein and Ronté Pierce are the chorus directors for the GenOUT and Jackson-Reed High School Choir, respectively. For more information about the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, go to gmcw.org.


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