Raising LGBTQ+ Voices
By Lauren Stash
For 42 years, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., (GMCW) has been redefining what it means to be a chorus.
With performances that span genres, honor musical milestones across the decades and shine a light on the LGBTQ+ community, they like to say, “You’ve never seen a show like this.”
And for Carnegie Mellon alum and GMCW Executive Director Justin Fyala, the GMCW’s mission of “equality and inclusion with musical performances and education promoting justice and dignity for all” inspired him to create a supportive environment that allows performers to practice their art at the highest level.
“I think music on its own is, of course, wonderful, but when you put music in the context of loftier ideals like love and service and empathy, you can start really communicating with people,” says Justin, a 2011 graduate who holds a Master of Arts Management degree, a joint program between the College of Fine Arts and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy.
GMCW performs "The Village"
The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C., performs "The Village" at their 2018 concert, "TransAmerica."
Now in his seventh year as executive director and with previous roles at The Youth Choral Theater of Chicago and Chicago Fringe Festival — as well as a fascination with choral music that began as a young child — Justin commits his professional and personal energies to bringing the gift and joy of choral music to as many audiences as he can.
The more than 250 singers who make up the GMCW take part in more than 125 outreach concerts and events each year, and the organization also boasts three vocal ensembles, a youth chorus and a dance ensemble. They have performed for two presidents — Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — and in venerable venues like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Carnegie Hall.
At GMCW, performers can focus on bringing their best and fullest selves to the stage with the confidence that the organization they love is growing and thriving under Justin’s leadership.
“I break my role into four main pillars — finance, fundraising, operations and connections,” Justin says. “I connect with members of our surrounding communities, too. It’s important to make sure we are linked with other choruses, as well as with other LGBTQ+ organizations, both locally and nationally.”
Those efforts ensure that the GMCW is both affecting audiences in Washington, D.C., and part of a larger impact being made by LGBTQ+ arts organizations around the country.
Justin credits much of his confidence in promoting the organization’s mission to his days as a Tartan.
“The most significant thing that I can make a connection to is having learned how to energize large groups of people,” he says. “Participating in group projects and meeting so many new people in my classes gave me the skills to get people with differing perspectives and opinions on the same page. Now, I help our members, audiences and community of supporters understand that no matter what, our mission is always at the forefront.”
Justin credits a Heinz College presentation skills class with former teaching professor Pam Lewis with developing his poise around public speaking. Speaking to GMCW’s needs and goals in a professional but compelling way means getting the attention of the right people.
“I’ve learned how to guide an organization through where it is at present — learning everything you can about it and sharing what you’ve learned with people who can help push you forward — while looking toward and planning for the future.”
GMCW Performs "How Will I Know"
The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C., performs "How Will I Know" at their March 2023 concert, WHITNEY.
While Justin’s work provides support, guidance and direction behind the scenes, he draws inspiration from the talent that he sees on stage.
“I’m enjoying watching our group execute a four-year-long project called ‘Portraits,’” he says. “It’s a commissioned piece consisting of nine works of art accompanied by nine new pieces of music. Each piece will be choreographed for GMCW’s resident dance company. It’s really grown and gained shape over the few years it’s been in progress.”
The piece is set to premiere next June and represents a broad spectrum of sexual, gender, racial, ethnic and cultural identities. This sort of deep exploration is part of what Justin sees as the strength and depth of GMCW’s purpose.
“What organizations like ours can do is so important,” he says “Not only for our performers who are provided with a safe creative space, but for our larger community of audience members and donors who can watch one of our shows and get something they need. That can mean an escape from the outside world or a sense of community at a time when LGBTQ+ individuals can feel isolated.”