As told to the author by Stephen P.
I grew up in Disneyland’s backyard. Literally. My family’s home in Anaheim was close enough to the amusement park that I could watch fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. The whole idea Disneyland put before the world captivated me: it was the Happiest Place on Earth, a world in which everyone had friends, where busy fantasy lands thrived, where music permeated. Disneyland was where dreams came true. Disneyland was magical, and there it was, right there in my backyard.
I’ve always loved that word, “magical.” Magic is what I felt Disneyland meant to me then: a potion made of happiness, love, and music.
Fast-forward to November 5, 2008. I’m at a wonderful place in my life. I live in Los Angeles, and I’m pursuing my passion: a career in music. I’m music director of a Presbyterian church choir, a conductor of a children’s choir, and am in my fifth year as the music director of the Boys and Girls Club of Hollywood. I lead the proverbial Disneyland life: a magical one.
I’m driving down Santa Monica Boulevard when I hear on the radio that Proposition 8, the state ballot measure to prohibit same-sex marriage, passed the night before. The unwaveringly liberal California electorate had voted to kill same-sex marriage.
This is when my chipper life, full of chipper friends and chipper work, comes crashing down. I see immediately that Disneyland has been a lie all along, a cardboard backdrop hiding a villainous political game vicious enough to steal hard-fought human rights.
I feel as if I might careen off road, my shock is so brilliant. But I’m immediately engulfed in anger. There is no time for shock. There is no time for sadness. Disneyland has fallen. I decide in my Prius on the morning of November 5 that I will use whatever I have to help reverse this bullshit.
Cue the montage that recaps the next four years: I’m joining the Equal Roots Coalition as an activist, I’m directing three or four choirs at any given time, I’m volunteering time to activism, I’m teaching music, I’m volunteering more time to activism, I’m performing in musicals, I’m volunteering yet more time to activism, I’m helping behind-the-scenes in musical theatre, I’m volunteering more and more time to activism. And more and more time. And more. And more. And more. And more. I will stop at nothing, and I–
I’m suddenly the artistic director of the University Choir in Los Angeles. I have control over what content our shows will present. The Choir’s board gives me tremendous autonomy. With this power, I will combine music with activism.
It’s September 2012 when I accept this position. My first show as head honcho is in June 2013. It will be the musical event of my life. It will be a show not of GLBT equality, but of equality for all. It will be a show not of anger, but of love and peace.
Love and peace. Yes. The show will be Voices for Love and Peace. From this idea I develop the concert: it will begin in travesty, in war, in hate, and end in purity, in happiness, in peace. It will end in magic.
Nine months pass. It’s June 16, 2013. I’m standing on a stage in front of hundreds of audience members, about to present the most important concert of my career.
There are sounds of people settling in their seats. There are people quietly wrapping up conversations. There are before me hundreds of people of every race, of every creed, of every sexuality, all doing the same, mundane things. They’re sitting, they’re whispering, they’re settling. And I know that behind every face exists the same hope: that they are loved, that they are happy. There are faces of different colors, tied together tonight with a sense of common humanity.
“My name is Stephen,” I begin, clearing my throat. “I’m with the University Choir. Tonight’s show is about love and peace. By the time we take our bows this evening, I hope you’ve been moved in some way. I hope we’ve inspired you somehow, to think of love not as a political issue, but as a human one.”
We performed ten days before the United States Supreme Court abolished Proposition 8.
I grew up in Disneyland’s backyard. I grew up in the land of magic, in the land where dreams come true. And I still believe they do. But dreams do not come from Magic Kingdoms. They do not come from the Happiest Place on Earth.
Dreams come from you and me. And it is us who make them come true.
Stephen P. lives in Los Angeles.
In August 2010, US District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, thus setting into motion Proposition 8’s journey to the Supreme Court.