"Which way do we face?" asked someone in the crowd.
"Straight ahead," answered Bill Bowersock, of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles's production team. "You're singing to all those bullied kids alllll across America," he continued, with a sweep of his hand toward a row of empty bleachers. I think every chorus member there got a lump his throat.
And so began the video we recorded for the It Gets Better Project. The camera pulled back from a tight shot of tenor Chris Etscheid singing "You with the sad eyes" from Cyndi Lauper's anthem "True Colors." He was soon flanked by two chorus members, then six more. Within the next dozen measures, some 100 of us were singing to those kids -- perhaps even back in time to the kids we had been. The music swelled, and another 100 members of the community joined in, singing of true colors shining through. Together we raised the virtual rafters and faded into the song's final, pianissimo "rainbow."
Everyone present knew that magic had happened that Sunday afternoon, in a humble gym (the irony!), in a humble church (another irony!) in L.A.'s Koreatown. Yet none of us could have known the impact we were about to have. After a lightning-quick edit job by John Lavin (and a mere five days after the idea was conceived), the video was posted to YouTube that Tuesday. "When the view count hit 15,000 within the first 24 hours," said Jim Geiger, GMCLA member and webmaster, "we realized that this was really something quite special. It absolutely defines 'viral.'"
Count me infected. I monitored the numbers with a fervor other people reserve for sports scores, election results, or the Oscars. By Thursday, I could barely sleep. We were at 135,403 views, number 1 in YouTube's nonprofit category and in the top 10 in dozens of other countries. Many viewers watched it over and over.
"If that's not a message that flippin' delivered, I don't know WHAT is!!" one chorus member posted to Facebook. "This video may just have been the push I needed to come out to my parents," wrote a YouTube reviewer. "My pastor showed this to us in church tonight. There was not a dry eye in the place," wrote another. I stopped counting reviewers' references to tears after the first 100. Even Cyndi Lauper cried, as we learned through the executive director of her Give a Damn Foundation.
Viewers included friends and fans, neighbors, long-lost relatives, and complete strangers as far away as Saudi Arabia. We received messages of inspiration, hope, and, as trite as it may sound, love. It's a tribute to the ability of song to inspire without even a word being spoken. Message delivered indeed.
That Friday night, I ran into B. Daniel Blatt of the gay conservative blog GayPatriot. He and I rarely see eye to eye, yet even he waxed enthusiastic about the video. Just after our conversation, I checked my BlackBerry for the view count. We had just broken through 200,000.
- In photos below...
Top: Members of Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles and Friends.
Bottom: Co-director Bill Bowersock and Bobby Buchanan (on ladder) conduct members of the chorus.