Despite pressure from activists to cancel, singer, actress, and LGBTQ ally Kristin Chenoweth said today she’ll go ahead with planned Christmas concerts with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Fred Karger, a gay Republican activist who works to bring attention to the homophobia of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known informally as the Mormon Church, called on Chenoweth to bow out of the concerts. He did so with a commentary piece in The Salt Lake Tribune and a campaign on social media through his Rights Equal Rights group.
But Chenoweth told the Tribune today that she will neither back out of the concert nor back off from her activism for LGBTQ rights.
“Lots of times in my industry, I work with people that don’t believe like me,” she told the paper via email. “I do think music is a healer and brings people together who might not normally see eye to eye.”
“For sure I am an LGBTQ lover and activist. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir knew this when they asked me to sing,” said Chenoweth, best known for her roles in Wicked on Broadway and Pushing Daisies on television. She has won Emmy and Tony awards for her performances, and awards from GLAAD and the Trevor Project for her activism.
She is also a devout Christian, and she said she hopes to display “nothing but love” in the concerts, adding, “That is who I think God is.” The shows are set for December 13-15 at the church’s Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
Karger, who made headlines in 2012 as the first openly gay person to seek a major party’s presidential nomination, had said Chenoweth’s appearance at an LDS Church facility was an effort by the church to disguise its homophobia.
“Although Chenoweth’s paid performance with the Tabernacle Choir was unexpected, the invitation by the church was not,” he wrote in a Tribune commentary published six days ago. “The church often uses smokescreens to appear accepting of LGBTQ people, while at the same time increasing its cruelty toward LGBTQ Mormons by its words and policies that cause immeasurable harm, especially to vulnerable LGBTQ youth.”
While the church has never been accepting of same-sex relationships, it amped up its anti-LGBTQ ways with the so-called November policy, announced that month in 2015. The policy denies baptism to children whose primary residence is with a same-sex couple; once a child reaches 18, he or she can be baptized, but they must stop living with those parents and denounce same-sex relationships. It also lists such relationships under the definition of apostasy, the rejection of church teachings. The policy has been blamed for a sharp increase in suicides by LGBTQ Mormon youth in Utah, the church’s home base. It is “the cruelest example” of the denomination’s homophobia, Karger wrote.
He also wrote a letter to Chenoweth saying her “participation in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2018 Christmas concert … is an affront to the LGBTQ community and especially to all the LGBTQ young Mormon Church members who face bigotry, bullying and hate coming from their Mormon Church leaders on a daily basis.” Supporters of Karger’s campaign spoke out on social media, using the hashtag #BowOutKristin.
After Chenoweth announced her decision to go on with the concerts, Karger urged her to change her mind. He issued the call in an email responding to The Advocate’s request for comment: “Come on, Kristin, don’t turn your back on the LGBTQ community. Do the right thing and bow out now. Don’t sing with the Tabernacle. If you perform, you’re just sanctioning the decades of hate by Mormon Church leaders toward LGBTQ Mormons and the LGBTQ community.” He noted that Chenoweth will be appearing on the same stage from which LDS official Dallin H. Oaks said in October that LGBTQ activism comes from Satan.
Some LGBTQ advocates were more accepting of Chenoweth’s decision to perform at the Tabernacle. “Well, it’s clear that gays and Latter-day Saints both love Broadway divas,” Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams told the Tribune. “Kristin is a true ally and friend to our community. ... She is the perfect example of how one can be both a person of faith and radiate unconditional love to LGBTQ Utahns.”