Stories of Songs, Choral Activism and LGBTQ+ Rights in Europe


  • Thomas R. Hilder NTNU



Choirs, LGBTQ Rights, Musical Activism, Queer Ethnomusicology, European Citizenship


This paper attends to choral activism and LGBTQ+ rights in Europe. Drawing on models in a post-Stonewall US context, LGBTQ+ choirs have appeared since 1982 in urban centres throughout Europe, employing a range of repertoire, adopting innovative performance practices, and enacting public interventions. These choirs can affirm positive LGBTQ+ identities, create safer spaces, build local LGBTQ+ communities, offer sites of healing and sharing about different LGBTQ+ experiences, and increase visibility in the aid of LGBTQ+ rights (Balén 2017; De Quadros 2019; MacLachlan 2020). While LGBTQ+ rights may have  become “a powerful symbol of Europe” (Ayoub and Paternotte 2014: 3) in the popular imagination and in the EU public discourse, in the last decade, new nationalist formations, increased violence toward LGBTQ+ people, and divisions within an apparent LGBTQ+ community have rendered queer Europeans at a critical juncture just as the project of Europe itself begins to crumble. As an activist within, and researcher of a European LGBTQ+ choral music scene, I will share with this paper stories of songs, choirs, festivals and choral networks inspired by Rita Felski’s notion of “hooked” (2020). Drawing on several years of ethnographic research in the UK, Italy and Poland, I ask: How have LGBTQ+ choirs shaped and been shaped by the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights locally, nationally and transnationally? What stories do these choirs tell us about the power of songs to bring about wider social transformation? How might LGBTQ+ choirs offer models of care, community and advocacy in a continent in crisis? Discussing an array of issues and cases – the Various Voices festival, the London Gay Men’s Chorus and the Cromatica network – and the potentials of applied methods, I invite us to listen to LGBTQ+ choral singing as a form of activism that continues to transform European 21st century politics and society.

Author Biography

Thomas R. Hilder, NTNU

Thomas R. Hilder is associate professor in ethnomusicology at NTNU. His scholarship, pedagogy, and community engagement attend to musical activism, community music and well-being, shaped by feminist, queer, and postcolonial perspectives. He is author of Sámi Musical Performance and the Politics of Indigeneity in Northern Europe (2015) and co-editor of Music, Indigeneity, Digital Media (2017). In 2016 he co-founded the international LGBTQ+ Music Study Group. He was chair of Trondheim’s queer choir, Kor Hen, from 2017 to 2021.