Annette Coffey, far right, sings with Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, appearing at SF Pride on June 30. (Courtesy photo)

Gospel singers make room for LGBTQ community

‘Interfaith’ in Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir includes Pride

Members of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir exemplify how historically African-American Christian music can reverberate at San Francisco Pride.

On Sunday at noon on the main stage, Terrance Kelly, artistic director of OIGC, will lead the choir as altos Cheryl Espinosa-Jones and Annette Coffey sing, “Open your mouth, say something.”

What those words mean to each of them, and what they’re experiencing, comes from unique places.

“We use gospel music as a medium to show people that even if you are of different faiths, of different walks, gender identities or whatever you might have — you can still get along, sing this music and do well at it,” says Kelly, 56, who has led the choir since its inception in 1986.

For Espinosa-Jones, 65, a grief counselor, radio host and novelist, the personal significance as to why she’s onstage is much more direct.

“I’m lesbian,” Espinosa-Jones says. “I’ve been at pride since 1971, so it’s thrilling that we’re going to be onstage. At this point, with what’s going on in the world and what has been for a long time, movements need to come together and support each other.”

Even after developing an “allergy to the name Jesus” while growing up in a religious household with her minister father, Espinosa-Jones was able to find her own harmony between the words, her identity, and spirituality through gospel music.

“It takes me to a place that is very transcendent, and no matter what the words we’re singing — that’s God to me,” Espinosa-Jones says. “But then some words really do touch me and move me, sometimes surprising ones that I wouldn’t think would move me.”

Coffey — who first heard the choir on a Linda Ronstadt recording and was determined to join ever since — says the group proves that her own polarized ethnic backgrounds (Japanese on her mother’s side, and Irish, German, English and Scottish on her dad’s) and religious upbringings can coexist.

“I have found a sort of spiritual hole within OIGC that allows me to embrace both of my racial and religious backgrounds in harmony,” Coffey, 62, who works in biotech when she’s not with the choir, says. “And I think that’s the thing that really attracted me to the choir. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your beliefs may be, you’re still welcome here.”

IF YOU GO

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir

Presented by San Francisco Pride

Where: Main Stage, Civic Center Plaza, 335 McAllister St., S.F.

When: Noon Sunday

Price: Free, donations accepted

Contact: (415) 864-0831, www.sfpride.org. oigc.org

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