City Recital Hall’s CEO Elaine Chia has been inundated with messages of support following her open letter in response to homophobic comments on the venue’s Facebook page. The comments were attacking City Recital Hall’s decision to co-present Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite, with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The work was created by American singer and composer Holcombe Waller, and will see the Sydney Chamber Choir join with the Mardi Gras Community Choir, conducted by Sam Allchurch, in what is billed as “radical re-imagination of the formal Latin Mass that adds Queer voices to the canon”.

Elaine Chia, City Recital HallElaine Chia, CEO of City Recital Hall. Photo © Keith Saunders

“In the last week, City Recital Hall’s Facebook page promoting our co-presentation with Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite has been targeted by people who say that it is blasphemous and offensive to their religion. There was more said – vicious, discriminatory and hurtful words, including threats,” Chia wrote. “I expected there would be some who were not in favour of this concert, and of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but freedom of speech should never be discriminatory or abusive.”

Chia was adamant that the event will go ahead. “Let me be crystal clear. City Recital Hall’s stated values are to be inclusive, to champion diversity by engaging with all genres, all peoples, and all ideas. We celebrate the voices of the whole community. The spiteful comments have made it all the more clear that we need to present works like Requiem Mass on our stage,” she wrote. “We need to move past hatred, embrace dialogue and do our part to build a society where all people can express themselves without discrimination. This work is not a satire, nor is it disrespectful of anyone’s faith, including mine. It has been performed in venues worldwide, including churches and cathedrals. Music has the power to heal. That’s why this concert will proceed.”

The comments on City Recital Hall’s were not all negative, however, with many commenters coming out in support of the concert. “We received comments across the whole spectrum,” Chia told Limelight. “That’s generally a good thing. We don’t expect everyone to like or agree with our programming. We are all individuals, disagreement is expected, and everyone is free to express their opinion, even if negative. However, some comments were outright discriminatory and when the dialogue turned nasty and threatening, they crossed the line.”

As to why she felt the need to respond personally, “I feel very strongly that discriminatory behaviour must be called out,” she said. “Silence condones unacceptable behaviour. It saddens me that I had to write, but I felt compelled to.”

Chia’s letter – which has been shared widely – has prompted an outpouring of support, with commenters, including other arts organisations, praising her leadership. “We have been so heartened to see the strong endorsement for our position, and I thank every individual who has taken the time to express their support a like, comment or share. It means a lot,” Chia said.

Requiem Mass, A Queer Divine RiteRequiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite. Photo supplied

Among the many people who have praised Chia’s response is the composer himself, Holcombe Waller. “Thank you to City Recital Hall, and CEO Elaine Chia, for posting your response to the anti-LGBTQI sentiments posted on our event page on the City Recital Hall’s website,” he said in a statement to Limelight. “Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite imagines a world of Christian religion that is free from the discrimination, oppression and judgement of people of gender and sexual diversities.”

“In imagining this reality, it actually manifests it and asks the important question, ‘How has Christ’s unambiguous message of love and tolerance been so inverted to have caused so much pain for LGBTQi+ people?'” Waller said. “Even today, in Australian government, the Anglican and Catholic Churches resist Queer-affirming social policy and frame the unequal application of the law as ‘religious liberty.’ Thank you for taking a stand against those who would manifest anger and division instead of beauty and inclusion. And thank you for being a vocal ally; it takes all of our voices ringing out in harmony and unison. We look forward to singing the Requiem in your beautiful hall.”

Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite is at City Recital Hall February 21