MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, one of the country’s longest-running and largest LGBTQ arts organizations, will have some star power for its 2021 gala fundraiser set for 8 p.m. Aug. 14.
Live-streamed from the Toluca Lake home of chorus board members Greg Weaver and Haig Youredjian, with limited in-person attendance, the hour-long show, hosted by Emmy Award-winning television personality Carson Kressley will include singer and 2021 Golden Globe winner and Academy Award-nominee (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) Andra Day; and Shoshana Bean, star of Broadway’s “Wicked” and “Waitress.”
Bean will perform several songs live while Day’s performance will be via a special video she created specifically for the event.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, continuing with its tradition of honoring a leader from the LGBTQ community, will present its annual Voice Award to Dr. Jerry Abraham, who is nationally recognized for his crusade to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccines to communities of color in South Los Angeles.
Abraham, 37, the director of the vaccine program at Kedren Community Health Center in South L.A., said the program is committed to vaccinating a high volume of patients against COVID-19, as equitably, fairly, impartially distributed and administered as possible.
When contacted about his upcoming award, Abraham said he was “honestly dumbfounded” by the news he was being honored for essentially “doing his job.”
“I became a physician to do what I’m doing,” said Abraham, who attended Emory University in Atlanta, Harvard University, the University of Texas, and USC. “I care about people. Getting this kind of recognition made me pause and reflect.”
Abraham said being recognized by the community for his contributions “says a lot.”
“It’s not about me,” said Abraham, who has received previous accolades from the health community. “I have not done this alone. One man can’t vaccinate 300,000. For this award not to be from the health sector says we are all in this together. It says that it does matter. It means people outside your field are recognizing this.”
Abraham first heard about the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles during Pride Month at his church.
“I learned about their history and what they do for the community,” he said. “ They are made up of members of the community. For them to be honoring me, I’m blessed.”
Abraham gained notoriety after speaking out about the racial inequities he saw when it came to vaccine distribution in Los Angeles.
Since COVID-19 made its way to Los Angeles, Abraham said he hasn’t “had time to think.”
“I’ve been working seven days a week, thinking about how to get vaccines out to my community,” said Abraham, a Houston native. “I literally haven’t had time to reflect how far we’ve come. I pause in amazement. We did do this. We got this far. We still have a long way to go, though.”
Abraham said about 400 volunteers have “helped get us this far.”
“The struggles,” he said. “The challenges. I’m only accepting it as the face, but this award goes to everyone who helped get people vaccinated and help get us all back to life, church, love, each other, and back to the chorus.”
Abraham and his team have now vaccinated more than 250,000 people in South Los Angeles.
An optimist, Abraham believes there is hope when it comes to COVID-19.
“Let’s pause, reflect, celebrate and look forward,” he said. “There is more to do. There is a long road ahead. We are not going to be paralyzed by it. There will be health equity in our community.”
Being honored by the Gay Men’s Chorus is apropos. Although he doesn’t sing as much today as he would like, Abraham used to sing in the church choir when he was growing up.
“I find that singing alleviates depression and isolation,” he said. “It’s also good for your lungs to sing.”
Abraham was also “all-state choir” in Texas. His favorite gospel hymns are “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Oh, Freedom.”
“‘Oh, Freedom’ is an incredible song,” said Abraham, a global injury epidemiologist, and medical quality specialist. “These vaccines are about freedom for our people and our community.”
Abraham is looking forward to the Aug. 14 gala.
“I hope everyone turns up, turns out and supports as much as they can,” he said. “There is a gay boy out there who sings, who wants to ‘come out.’ They will need the safe space of a place like Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.”
The gala is supported by a $50,000 challenge grant from Carol and Richard Weaver, with additional sponsorship from Morgan Stanley. All funds raised will support the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles reopening season and its return to its highly regarded high school music program, Alive Music Project.
In June, members of the chorus performed from the Getty Center for the ABC-7 LA Pride special, and additional chorus performances from the Getty will be unveiled at the August gala.
The chorus just completed its 42nd season with three virtual concerts and several special events. The virtual season was successful and reached thousands of patrons and new fans from around the globe.
Founded in 1979, during the emergence of the gay rights movement, the chorus’ stated vision is to sing for a future free from homophobia and all other discrimination, and its mission is to create musical experiences that strengthen its role as a leader among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and performing arts organizations, enrich its member-artists, support LGBT youth, challenge homophobia and expose new communities to its message of equality.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, which performed at Carnegie Hall in 2019, has spread its message of love and acceptance with concerts across the globe and has raised its collective voice in the struggle for equality, social justice, the AIDS crisis, the fight for marriage equality and for those seeking to find their own voice.
It’s free ticket program has provided access to concerts for thousands of low-income families over the decades and research-based education programs have served over 70,000 young people throughout the Los Angeles region.
During the pandemic, the chorus presented a full virtual season of concerts and special events, and school programs, which reached thousands of fans from around the globe including Ireland, Brazil and New Zealand.
Streaming live on Aug. 14 (or viewing until the end of August) is available for a donation of $75 or more per household. Sponsor packages with on-air credit and a home delivery of wine and goodies are $250, and a limited number of opportunities to attend the live taping in Toluca Lake are available, including a reception with Carson Kressley, the chorus members and leadership, and Dr. Abraham at $500 per seat. Sign up to stream and get all information at gala.gmcla.org.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to email@example.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.