Singing for a cause

Singing for a cause

Boston Gay Men’s Chorus to perform benefit at Latchis for Brattleboro Retreat’s LGBT program

BRATTLEBORO — Konstantin von Krusenstiern promises that next weekend, Brattleboro will be a party town.

More than 100 gay men from Boston are coming up to Southern Vermont to help raise funds for the Brattleboro Retreat's program that serves lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals.

On Saturday, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m., the Brattleboro Retreat presents a rare Vermont performance by the Boston Gay Men's Chorus at the Latchis Theatre.

One of New England's largest and most successful community-based choruses, the Boston Gay Men's Chorus (BGMC) is celebrated for its outstanding musicianship, creative programming, and groundbreaking community outreach.

“It's going to be a great night,” says von Krusenstiern, the Retreat's vice president for strategy and development. “The chorus varies in size, all the way up to 150 members, and as the singers heard about what we do here at the Brattleboro Retreat on our LGBT unit, more and more keep signing on to come.”

The Brattleboro Retreat, a not-for-profit psychiatric hospital and addictions treatment center, provides a full range of services for individuals of all ages and their families. Its LGBT program offers specialized mental health and addiction treatment in a safe and affirming inpatient setting.

According to von Krusenstiern, this concert has been a couple of years in the making. The concept, he says, was that of Bette Abrams, the Retreat's board chair:

“But the Boston Gay Men's Chorus hesitated because its singers thought Vermont was too far away and that BGMC booked its performances so far in advance.”

Von Krusenstiern says Abrams persisted, impressing BGMC with what a special place Brattleboro is and how dedicated the Retreat is in providing services through its LGBT unit.

“A concert such a this, a fundraiser to benefit the LGBT community, is especially aligned with the Chorus's mission to inspire change, build community, and celebrate difference,” von Krusenstiern told The Commons.

One and only

According to von Krusenstiern, the Retreat's LGBT program extends care to those identifying as LGBT for acute depression and other mood disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, co-occurring disorders, anxiety, grief and loss issues, sexual and gender identity issues, trauma, self-harming and suicidal behaviors, and other mental health issues.

To date, the LGBT program at the Brattleboro Retreat reports it has has logged more than 2,300 admissions.

Eileen Glover, a LGBT program representative, said she has been part of the team for the LGBT unit at the Retreat since it began in July 2011.

“I began as a nurse but become the clinical manager of the unit a year later. The unit is designed for anything from emergency and acute care, to short-stay care for patients who identify as LGBT,” Glover said.

The unit is dedicated to supporting and affirming a patient's identity, however he or she defines it. When patients come to the unit they are asked how they wish to be called, which may be different than the outside world where gender can be a game of masquerade.

“From making sure we are using the pronoun a person prefers to having advanced medical understanding of people transitioning genders, we work very hard to be as sensitive and knowledgeable to their circumstances as possible,” Glover said. “This allows people struggling to address their mental health or addiction challenges without these barriers they faced in the past.”

Established in 2011, the unit meets the growing need for specialized mental health care services, allowing LGBT-identifying individuals to receive psychiatric and addiction treatment in an environment where they feel understood and accepted by the medical staff and by their peers.

Patients who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered frequently deal with issues around coming out, and around family rejection.

“Our unit is both rare and very needed,” Glover explained. “There is certainly no other place like this in New England, and perhaps [there is] only one other in the whole country.

She added: “With so much data on the health disparity of people with gender issues from the general population, our unit works to rectify some of those problems. We provide assistance with culturally competent staff who treat patients as they deserve, that is as full humans. People who identify are subject to hidden discrimination and abuse, and we work to provide them with a safe space they often do other places.”

Glover said that she is “beyond proud” of the work being done at the Retreat's LGBT unit:

“It is my passion to inform other service providers and health care professionals about what we do. I go to conferences and speak at schools, anywhere I can be effective. I am especially excited about this event at the Latchis because it helps spread the word to the larger community what we are all about.”

Celebrating life

The BGMC concert will open with a brief new film about the LGBT unit at the Retreat. According to von Krusenstiern, this is a good public introduction to the unit's work. But, he added, the concert is about more than the Retreat.

Any performance by BGMC shares its message that everyone has the right to celebrate life.

“If you're like me, you'll find that the program for the evening's show will not be what you might expect from a large chorus. Yes, there are some traditional holiday hymns, but added to the mix are songs by Lady Gaga and George Michael. There will be something for everybody,” he said.

Since ticket sales are strong, von Krusenstiern said he feels guardedly confident that the concert will sell out.

“There is nothing like the thrill stepping into the Latchis when it's filled to the rafters,” he said. “All kinds of people have been buying tickets, so I believe it's going to be a really diverse crowd showing up for this event, from Rotarians to hip young kids. There will be the full spectrum of the Brattleboro community.”

Most of the the singers will be coming up from Boston in two buses. “But as more and more members of BGMC, to our delight, wanted to join this occasion, we found ourselves with the problem of where to feed so many people,” von Krusenstiern, said. “Then the Boys and Girls Club offered its space, and so we will be giving a big meal for more than 100-and-counting singers.

“Furthermore,” he said, “some BGMC members have even decided to spend the night at the Latchis Hotel so that they could explore the area in more depth. I have the feeling that this weekend Brattleboro is going to be one swinging party town.”

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