“Chet Ridenour – An Ally’s Win-Win Perspective”
My brother, sister and I grew up playing piano through high school as my mother kept alive the family tradition that her mother had instilled in her. Through the trials and tribulations of teenage love and heartache, I started putting pen to paper and singing original lyrics to reflect the feelings I was experiencing in life. That continued on in college and beyond as I started to realize while I had a passion for songwriting, I lacked mastery of my own voice and an instrument.
Fast forward to 2012. I had committed myself to “Project Trece” – 13 actions/goals this year that will lead me to making 2013 the best year of my life (thirteen is my lucky number, and I speak Spanish). Two of those goals were to significantly impact the LGBT equality movement as a straight ally, and advance my skill set on my journey to become a singer-songwriter. In late December, Bruce Reedy, a long-time local friend of mine, and I got together for a bite to eat in the Short North. We caught up on each other’s lives, and I shared with him my goals, my passion for music, and that I was thinking about joining a the Harmony Project chorus to work on my voice.
Bruce told me he worked with the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus on the audio/visual side, and asked if I had thought about joining them. I had heard of the group previously, but it was not actively on my radar. When I responded that I didn’t think that I was “qualified” to be eligible, he let me know they had an open charter, and have had straight men and even a woman before. And there it was: a chance to get more involved in the LGBT community, learn about a proud part of our Columbus culture, and train my voice with some experienced singers – it seemed like a win-win all around. I had my audition with Artistic Director Tim Sarsany, and could follow the sheet music changes and beats well enough for him to give me a chance. And as it turns out – I was a Baritone 2 – I’d made it!
This winter we had a retreat on a snowy Saturday, Jan. 21st, up in the Dublin area. I was only a couple weeks new, and still didn’t know if this was going to be the right fit for me, but many of the guys had warmly reached out encouraging me to attend, so in the spirit of “going hard or going home,” I headed up. Membership lead Jason Guthrie opened the floor that afternoon for members to get up and share how they joined the group and some of their experiences. I had met a lot of new faces by that point, but only knew a dozen or so names, and had even fewer deeper conversations with other chorus members. While some learned that I heard about it from Bruce’s recommendation, those that hadn’t may have likely assumed that I was gay as well. While considering if I was going to get up and share my story, I leaned over and asked Mark Lankford who had seemed a very genuine, trustworthy person, if I should mention my sexual orientation as part of my story – and he thought it was indeed an important piece.
My heartbeat went through the roof, as questions swirled through my mind. How were the guys going to take it? Would they accept me for who I was? Would they feel like I had deceived them? I have rarely, if ever in my life, been more scared and nervous to share and tell the truth to a group of relative strangers. Somehow I mustered up the strength to get up, put myself out there, and let the chips fall where they may. I managed to get through it, was true to myself, honest with the guys, and everyone was amazingly supportive. During and after the later breaks, guys came up to me, thanking me for opening up and welcoming me again as part of their brotherhood. That weekend I made the decision to commit to be part of a truly special group of guys.
Before joining, I was not aware of the amazing talent, voices, direction and reputation that this amazing group had already earned across the country. I didn’t realize how many extraordinary people I would meet, new friends I would make, nor the tight bonds that would come from working together on these concerts. Having now successfully completed my first concert, Home and Country (a perfect initiation thanks to my intense love for this great town as part of our Bicentennial), and working towards our Cher and Cher Alike summer performance, I can say from experience these guys put in very professional work and long hours finely tuning their craft to spread the awareness and message of their mission: Voices Raised, Lives Changed.
As I look back at the retreat, and the moment I opened up to the group, I realize that I “came out of the closet” as a straight man in a gay chorus. I don’t pretend to consider my leap of faith there to be anywhere near the courage it takes for the LGBT community to share their true self with friends, family and co-workers, but it may just be the closest experience I’ll have in my life. It has given me so much more respect for the LGBT community and perspective on what they have had to and continue to deal with in their lives.
As I’ve come into my own in life, people have often wondered if I was gay, whether because of my colorful personality, extreme openness or reputation for pushing physical boundaries between close friends and sporting teammates. Even more so recently, due to my increased equality advocacy efforts, new and old acquaintances ask my best friends and family if there’s some hidden secret about my sexual orientation – as if there had to be “something else” about me to motivate me to get so actively involved with this civil rights equality issue.
Thanks to the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus, I’m learning about more than just singing, I’m learning how important it is to raise our voices, loudly and proudly. And I’m realizing first-hand just how song can change the lives of singers, and seeing how those singers are then able to go out and change their world. The connections I’ve made here have reminded me to return to and rededicated myself to my goals this year. So on two of those thirteen points, be on the lookout for the allies group STR8NOUT (“Straight and Out – of the Supporter’s Closet”) coming soon locally, and for songs like “My Columbus,” “Take Me Back,” and “My O-hi…” to showcase a straight voice honed from a gay chorus – a fitting combination to celebrate all of our pride in this great town, in this great state.
This group has led by example treating me as an equal, with the same rights and opportunities as any other member, regardless of my sexual orientation. The CGMC has already changed my life for the better, and I’m bound and determined to pay it forward and work towards creating a better world for them and future generations as well.
When we sing together, we win together … so SING-SING guys – it’s a WIN-WIN