A chorus in Boston is helping transgender singers find their voices in more ways than one.
The Butterfly Music Transgender Chorus provides the supportive community needed to help its trans, gender-nonconforming and queer students find the confidence to live and tell their truths and stories, according to founder and voice teacher Sandi Hammond.
Hammond, who is not trans herself, told ABC News she started the chorus last year after realizing there was a lack of resources for her trans students, especially for those transitioning and going through a change in their vocal range.
She realized many trans singers also felt out of place in traditional choruses, usually split by a strict gender binary. Women are usually assigned to soprano, mezzo-soprano or contralto parts, while men are usually assigned to countertenor, baritone and base.
In the Butterfly Music Transgender chorus, there is no gender binary. Hammond created more genderqueer-inclusive vocal types labeled "lower, middle and upper parts," and students can choose whatever part they feel most comfortable with and can change at any time.
Singer and member George Hastie, 46, told ABC News that the chorus has given him "a sense of joy" and that the group, which has grown from three to over 20 regular members, has helped him socially and personally in affirming his male identity.
"I definitely feel that we're not only finding our voices in terms of our singing voice, but also our voice to talk about our journeys and our personal stories publicly," Hastie said. "We recently had a small concert at a church, where I got to share some of my personal story, and then afterwards, I was asked to speak at a hearing for a trans rights bill at the Massachusetts state house. It was really exciting."
Hammond added that she promised the group "total confidentiality" to members who were concerned for their safety or who were "not fully out."
"I wanted to provide a totally safe space for singing and community, so we haven't had any public concerts yet, only a friends-and-family recital, and attendance at concerts are not mandatory and up to the student," she said. "Even when we were invited to a church to help educate the congregation about trans issues, no one was allowed to create flyers or post ads."
Hammond emphasized that her students' safety and comfort was priority.
The chorus' first concert, which is open to the general public, will be held at the First Church in Boston on April 9, 2016.