Music Is About Freedom and Unity, Not Lee-gham Homophobia

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I love music (duh). And not only do I love music and making music of all varieties, I particularly love a cappella music. This might owe to the fact that the men of Ithacappella were some of my best friends in college. Heck, we had Rockappella (yes, the Rockappella (yes, the Carmen Sandiego one)) at our graduation picnic. (The pic at right is me with Rockappella’s vocal percussionist Jeff Thacher.)  I also love TV, and I love a cappella music on TV (duh and duh). So naturally, I am excited about this week’s NBC special, The Sing-Off.

Honestly, there are a lot of good things to report. First, Nick Lachey. Second, unlike American Idol (which I am not a fan of), the performances rest totally on the talent of the performers. It’s all a cappella (as Lachey reminds us too often), so the groups bear responsibility for all style choices and all mistakes. Third, it’s all happening this week and it’s going to be over instead of being long and drawn out. And fourth, some of the groups are pretty good (emphasis on “some” and “pretty”).

But Jeremy Hooper over at Good As You reminded us today that not all is not wonderful. (By the way, Jeremy, my headline today is a tribute to your wit.) Whereas Glee (which The Sing-Off doesn’t hesitate to compare itself to) has given us some wonderfully written story lines featuring gay character Kurt, this competition is not so gay-friendly. Of all the singing groups in the nation, two of the groups in this competition come from religious gay-unfriendly universities: Noteworthy from BYU and Voices of Lee from Lee University.

Every time I think about BYU, I think about The Real World: New Orleans. Poor Julie had been so sheltered, and Danny, being the amazingly warm and open individual he is, totally opened her eyes. If you’re unfamiliar with Brigham Young University and the way they treat gay students, Affirmation (Gay & Lesbian Mormons) has this list for you (10 Top Reasons to Stop Giving Your Money to Brigham Young University):

  1. BYU’s horrific history of forcing gay students to undergo electroshock/aversion therapy.
  2. Merrill J. Bateman’s appalling claim that he has not “been able to verify” BYU’s history of electroshock/aversions therapies.
  3. BYU’s long and infamous history of spying on and entrapping gay students.
  4. BYU’s recent lock-up of gay-related books.
  5. BYU’s current policies designed to harass, discipline, suspend, and ultimately expel any student, professor, or employee suspected of being gay or lesbian.
  6. BYU’s recent harassment and disciplining of gay students for kissing, holding hands, or accepting gifts from same-sex friends, thus showing a double standard.
  7. BYU’s funding, supporting, and condoning of the anti-gay activities carried out by Richard G. Wilkins, Lynn Wardle, and others at the infamous World Family Policy Center.
  8. BYU’s harassment or dismissal of the following professors: Thomas Matthews (gay), Jeffrey Nielsen (spoke out for marriage equality), D. Michael Quinn (historian), Cecilia Konchar Farr (feminist), David Knowlton (anthropologist), Gail Turley Houston (feminist), Brian Evanson (novelist).
  9. BYU’s current promotion of spying through the so-called “Honor Code” system.
  10. BYU’s annual sponsoring of the Families under Fire conference, where so-called “experts” discuss homosexuality as an addiction.

The ladies of Noteworthy make it clear that their Mormon faith and morals come first. (They never sing any song that has any curse words or innuendo—like that’s even possible these days.) The leading ladies’ mohawks might suggest they’re outgoing, but they still represent an oppressive institution of higher education.

Lee University isn’t much better. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Lee University is a liberal arts school in Tennessee affiliated with the Church of God that requires every student (and I would assume faculty and staff member as well) to sign a community covenant that governs their behavior in a variety of absurdly and repressively strict “Christian” ways. Jeremy points out that:

**According to Lee University’s ’06-’07 handbook (the last one they’ve posted online), “Personal, intimate behavior between members of the same sex is forbidden.” Not just sex — any displayed behavior.

There’s also this disconcerting letter from a Lee alum about being kicked out for being gay. (I’m pretty sure there are a few FERPA violations in there too.)

And tonight, apparently, Voices of Lee has the gall to be singing Freedom! ’90, a song commonly known to be an LGBT anthem. If the group made the song choice themselves, it’s kind of a slap in the face. If the editors’ chose it for them, then I can at least appreciate some schadenfreude watching them sing a song that totally conflicts with their oppressive beliefs. Those folks could use some loosening up. In their promo, they talked about how they aren’t straight-laced over footage of them playing ping-pong and rolling in the leaves. Hardcore, folks… hard. core.

I have to say, I’m pretty disappointed in NBC for this. It’s not that these groups don’t have talent (though neither is the cream of the crop), but it just seems like an odd choice. The Sing-Off repeatedly refers to Glee, a show immensely popular—and for good reasons—among the gay community, but highlights two groups who represent anti-gay beliefs and policies. Last night, 25% of the show highlighted these groups, and since both have moved on, a full third of tonight’s show will be about these faithful oppressors. I might remind you that this past summer, GLAAD gave NBC a failing rank for gay representation. This season, we’ve had Claire’s wanna-be lesbian lover Grace Sheffield on Heroes, stereotypical comic relief from Weeds’ Guillermo Díaz on Mercy, and that gay penguin episode of Parks & Recreation (which was admittedly pretty good). And now this? I’m totally unimpressed.

Still, I’ll be watching the rest of the week. I’ll be rooting for Tufts’ Beelzebubs (probably because they have the most character and remind me so much of Ithacappella) and Maxx Factor (because those barbershop soccer moms are fabulous). When it comes time to vote, I hope people really think about who they want to highlight on national TV. As much as I’d prefer the competition just be about the groups’ singing skills, I can’t ignore the consequences of positive national recognition for extremely unwelcoming institutions.

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