October 11th is National Coming Out Day, a day meant to reassure lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people that there is a safe place for them in the world. The date was chosen to commemorate the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights which occurred in 1987. I bring this up today to talk about an occurrence I have never heard spoken about in the handbell community. Even with the religious basis of our community, the handbell world is incredibly accepting of LGBT musicians.
I’m not the only one to notice this phenomenon. While chatting with my friend Jeff Johnson from Bell Appeal, he made the assertion that, “The community is often older and religious, and sometimes those demographics can be less accepting of the LGBT community. I have not really found this to be the case. In fact, the majority of the men that I have played with over the years have been gay. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any animosity from other ringers regarding sexual preference.”
It is true. When ever I go to a bell festival or conference I am always surprised by the number of LGBT ringers, directors, clinicians, and composers I find. Even more impressive is the lack of care anyone gives. In light of recent news out of the classical music world where several prominent male conductors denounced their female counter parts saying that females can not handle conducting to the level required for true classical music, I am proud to be part of a community where issues like gender and sexual preference are left out of the conversation about creating music. When I asked my friend and fellow ringer Sean TenBrook his thoughts on writing an article about the LGBT community in the handbell world, he commented, “I think it doesn’t get asked often or isn’t brought up because frankly, it doesn’t really matter when it comes to playing music.”
So to anyone in the LGBT community who is looking for a safe place to come out an be accepted, join your local handbell ensemble. You will gain a safe place and a family of musicians that spans the country.
If you are a director or ringer and have LGBT members who are struggling with their sexual orientation, the Human Rights Campaign website has many great resources you can use to help them. You are also welcome to reach out to me and I can help put you in touch with the resources you need.
Together we can keep making the handbell community a safe and inclusive place for all musicians to express themselves.
Leave your stories about coming out in the handbell community in the comments below.
Here is “If You Were Gay” from the smash hit Avenue Q, arranged by Jen Hayes and performed by Bell Appeal.