When people come to Winnipeg, one of the first things they comment on is the diversity of the cultural community. But in 1999, when Jeff Staflund of the Prairie Pride Chorus in Regina came to visit Rob Lindey in Winnipeg, he couldn’t believe there wasn’t a gay and lesbian choir.
“At first we just placed an ad in Swerve, an LGBT paper that was around at the time, just to see if anyone was interested,” says Lindy, original and current accompanist of Rainbow
Harmony Project (RHP). “The response was positive so at Pride we set up a little booth with a sign-up sheet. We couldn’t believe it when 50 to 60 people signed up.”
RHP is a choir of LGBT2SQ* community members and allies that have, for 20 years, celebrated diversity, relationships, acceptance, and community through the power of song. What makes RHP unique is that it is a non-audition choir. Meaning, you don’t have to be a trained musician to join. People of all ages, backgrounds, and skill level join the choir.
“It’s been a safe place for many who use the choir as a way to meet like-minded people, it has become like an extended family,” Lindey says, recounting the many people in the 20 years he’s been accompanying the choir on the piano. “The group has been through a lot of life experiences together, from coming outs to road trips, choral festivals all over North America to hiking trips in British Columbia.”
In the 1990s, affiliated with EGALE, Lindey was directly involved with getting sexual orientation included in the Federal Human Rights Act. Activism, not just accompaniment, is something Lindey takes very seriously.
“RHP has developed an outreach program, called Diverse Harmony, for youth in schools in
Manitoba,” says Lindey. “We go to schools and allow kids, with their parents’ permission, to sing with us. They can come to the workshops and some have even participated in concerts. Given the option of singing only a couple of songs, most youth participants eventually end up singing all of them.”
Last year, the choir signed the Winnipeg Indigenous Accord. RHP has been working closely with elders to incorporate First Nations culture into their events. “We’re trying to find ways to be allies or partners: we’ve had elders open concerts, their songs or teachings are performed, and they’ve come to our workshops.”
Lindey and RHP recognize the fight for LGBT2SQ* rights is far from over. He says, “We have it pretty good in Winnipeg but all you have to do is go into Southern Manitoba to see there’s still a lot left to be done.” The group is hoping to use connections they have to get involved in Steinbach as a way to get their message into a community that is in the beginnings of
Back in 1999, after those first 50 to 60 people signed up, the choir partnered with choirs from Regina for a premiere at what is now the Walker Theater. Lindey remembers thinking, how would they fill a theater of that size? He was amazed by the support of the community when 800 people came to that original event.
This year at Pride, RHP is celebrating 20 years since that initial sign-up sheet. “We were all in our 30s and 40s back then,” he says. “Here we are, 20 years later, everyone’s a little bit older but with concerts throughout the year, traveling to festivals, and developing socially-conscious initiatives: the choir is strong.”
Come join RHP as they celebrate their Platinum Pride: 20 years of acceptance, community, and voice. The concert will be a reunion of choir alumni, past directors, and special guests. The event is Saturday May 25th , at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, 525 Wardlaw Ave.,
Winnipeg, at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at McNally Robinson Booksellers, The Happy Cooker, or at www.rainbowharmonyproject.ca/tickets/platinum-pride-concert. Be sure to join the choir for a special event at Buccacino’s on Osborne Street afterward, see online for details.