On our last night in Hanoi, we’re having an early dinner before heading to the airport, and reflecting on the past week, the people we’ve met, what we’ve learnt, and what comes next.
People and organisations the world over are big on curating ‘listicles’: your top products, your best skills, your strongest reasons for action or thought; the list goes on. In the quiet of the hotel restaurant, we compile our own top 5 list: a list of what we can achieve by bringing Pacific Pride Choir to Vietnam.
1) We can inspire the first LGBTQI+ choir in Vietnam. If we can bring 40 singers to Hanoi, iSEE has undertaken to found a Diversity Choir. This is one extra choir on the planet - and one extra LGBTQI+ choir, to boot - added to our diverse international choir family. We have a deal, or at least an in-principal agreement: if we bring singers to Hanoi, there will be singers there to welcome us.
2) We can help iSEE kickstart their new era of fundraising to assist with advocacy for LGBTQI+ people in Vietnam. Some of iSEE’s main funding sources are about to expire, meaning they need to build a profile around crowdfunding and philanthropy to keep doing the work they do. A formal concert, with an international choir, in an elite venue like the Vietnam National Academy of Music, will draw high profile celebrities, and the audience’s attention.
3) We can assist in raising the visibility of the LGBTQI+ community in the general community by giving free public performances in places with a lot of foot traffic.
4) We can provide a free concert for members of the LGBTQI+ community who won’t go to elite concert venues, who feel like such spaces, and the music in them, can’t possibly belong to them. These are some of the most marginalised people in the city. Maybe we can even provide an opportunity for some of them to perform, with a bit of mentoring first.
5) We can meet and make friends with a surprisingly large network of LGBTQI+ folk, who are passionate and articulate. Some people have expressed doubt that we’d find community to connect with in Vietnam. By now, shouldn’t we all have figured out that LGBTQI+ people are everywhere? For a few days next July, we can be a focal point for queer folk to unite, and, probably, party.
There’s no doubt it would be easier if we toured to countries with established queer choirs, or if we joined in with long-running festivals. These choirs and festivals already have an existing network of supporters, and supportive venues.
But what marked Sarah's time with Sydney Gay & Lesbian Choir was outreach. We sang for people and communities that didn't get much love: the children detained at Pontville in Hobart, detainees at Villawood in Sydney. It didn’t matter that we were LBGTQI+. We were a choir and we were willing to spare a few hours for anyone who wanted to listen. We remember at Pontville, we were told not many of the boys spoke much English, and most of them would have no idea what we were singing. But one boy broke into song during ‘Seasons of Love’. He knew every word. And he was Vietnamese.
There are other kinds of outreach, too - the kind where you sing for churches, synagogues, nursing homes, hospitals, in public parks, at public events, anywhere where the general public will see you, and understand that LGBTQI+ people are, in some ways at least, ordinary human beings.
This kind of work is the foundation of Pacific Pride Choir. It’s about putting the goals of the people you’re travelling to meet on par with your own desires as a tourist. There's a certain immunity that comes with being a traveler in a choir, too. At the end of our trip, we’ll get to head back to our own communities.
What we want to do isn’t easy - as far as we can tell, there’s no choir quite like Pacific Pride on the planet - but when you’re looking people in the eye, and seeing them light up as you talk about the project, and what we may be able to do together, you remember what it's all for.
We have huge support from our dear friends Oliver and Michael and all the staff at KIconcerts. We’re grateful that they make it so easy for us, and believe in what we’re trying to do.
Everyone says travel changes you; that people travel so they can be changed. We prefer the kind of travel which offers a little change in return.
So, the question is: what kind of a traveller are you?