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It Gets Better, Musical Edition

As I’ve watched some of the “It Gets Better” videos, I keep coming back to a concert I attended back in the mid-90s. It was in an intimate venue in KC, and the performers were the gay a cappella group, The Flirtations. You might have seen and heard them in the 1993 Jonathan Demme movie Philadelphia; seeing them in person was something else.

The concert, quite simply, was a blast. The audience was overwhelmingly LGBT, and the Flirts lived up to their name, both in their songs and their interactions with the crowd between songs. The music went from over-the-top camp to political activism to pain (lead singer, co-founder of the Flirts, and AIDS activist Michael Callen had recently died) to joy, and after about 90 minutes or so, everyone was giddy and having a blast. The voices blended with such beauty, and the humor among the singers was infectious. (Their version of Mr. Sandman had everyone in stitches.) Whether folks were out or closeted, gay or straight, everyone was relaxing and enjoying a night of real pride.

Then at the end came the most powerful moment of the evening, which is indelibly printed in my memory. After the applause died down following a song, the Flirts told the crowd that we were coming to the end of the concert.

“BOOOO!!!! NOOOO!!!!” replied the audience.

“Yes,” said the Flirts, “Yes, we are.”

You could almost see people going back into their closets or back into their battles being out, putting on the armor they had taken off as the concert progressed. People were anticipating going into the night air, back to their homes, their jobs, and everything else, and it hurt. It had been such an incredible night, filled with joy and camaraderie and pride . . . and now it was almost over. Damn.

“Yes, we are,” said the Flirts, “but we want to leave you with a lullaby. Imagine how different you might be — how different the world might be — if more parents sang lullabys like this to their children.”

Then, in the stillness of the night, to an audience that almost dreaded leaving, they sang . . .

We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved,
washed the dishes and put them away.
I have told you a story, and tucked you in tight
at the end of your knock-about day.
As the moon sets its sail, to carry you to sleep,
over the midnight sea,
I will sing you a song no one sang to me;
may it keep you good company:

Then came the chorus:

You can be anybody that you want to be;
you can love whomever you will.
You can travel any country where your heart leads
and know I will love you still.
You can live by yourself;
you can gather friends around;
you can choose one special one
and the only measure of your words and your deeds
will be the love you leave behind when you’re gone. . .

There’s more to the song, and the lyrics are great, but they don’t convey the power of the music as it is sung by the Flirtations. That night, by the end of the song, the audience was singing along on the chorus, with tears of hope and joy streaming down almost every face in the room.

It gets better.

Fifteen years ago, when this concert took place, states like Colorado and Missouri were debating constitutional amendments that guaranteed the right to discriminate against LGBTs in public accommodations.

Today, LGBT teachers can be out and keep their jobs, and we are moving toward marriage equality, either via the courts or the ballot box.

It gets better.

Fifteen years ago, I had colleagues who were removed from the clergy roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for coming out as lesbian or gay.

Today, the ELCA’s policy has changed and they are being received back onto the clergy roster.

It gets better.

Fifteen years ago, people didn’t like to talk about suicide — especially if it was an LGBT person who killed themselves. (Keep it inside the family, and don’t let anyone know. Oh, the shame . . .)

Today, the suicides of LGBTs, especially teens and young adults, are reported with sympathy in the news, and people high and low are beginning to speak out against bullying, violence, and anti-LGBT attacks, replacing shame with hope.

It gets better.

Fifteen years ago, this song painted a vision of what a future might look like.

Today, it’s not just a vision, but more and more of a reality.

It gets better.

Have you sung to your kids lately? Or maybe I should ask: Have you heard folks singing to you?

It gets better.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.