Even over the phone, Carol White has a commanding presence. Her voice communicates the years she has spent conducting choruses and fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community—two of her favorite things.
In the tail end of 2016, not long after Trump was elected into office, Carol White attended her first Indivisible Denver meeting. Indivisible Denver’s mission is to empower citizens to advocate for progressive values through nonviolent political activism and community-building. It had been a while since she stood in a room of activists all passionate about one singular goal—bettering their community.
Оverfilled with passion, White took to the stage and started belting out “America the Beautiful.” Soon, the room of nearly 350 people had joined to help her finish.
No stranger to the spotlight, White clearly knows her own power to affect change, and her story shows how she has taken the initiative to use this power time and time again.
“Gay and lesbian people have always had a song,” she said. “The tragedy of it is that for so many years, we were never able to sing it, and the beauty of it is that now we can. So we sing because we have a song; we sing because we can sing it now, and because we can be out enough.”
Growing up in Louisiana during the 1940s and 1950s, White was unable to express her identity through song, as she hid her gayness from everyone, including herself.
From 7th grade onward, she knew that she was attracted to girls and not boys, but still was not able to come to terms with her homosexuality until she was in graduate school at Southern Methodist University. As a religious young woman, White’s first reaction was to think she needed to be fixed.
“I started going to a psychologist because I knew that I was homosexual and I did not want to be. I wanted him to cure me and I wanted to get over being gay, but instead he helped me to accept myself for who I was,” White said.
This time of self-acceptance came after White had graduated from SMU with dual Master’s degrees in Conducting and Sacred Music, and had taken a job as the minister of music at a Methodist church in Houston.
After working for four years at the church, the minister found out about White’s sexual orientation and fired her. Without a job, money, or a support system, a massive overhaul of her life was required. She let go of music, a difficult choice, since it had been her love and her passion for many years, became a court reporter, and eventually settled in Denver in 1973.
In 1980, White began feeling the draw to give back to the LGBTQ community in a more substantial way. At that time, PFLAG was just getting started in Denver. White joined and involved herself as deeply as possible. She served on the board from 1980 through 1984, regularly attended meetings, and made many, many lifelong friends.
Through the support of PFLAG, White was also able to find the courage to come out to her parents. She wrote them a letter and sent it, along with five others written by friends of hers at PFLAG who were parents of LGBTQ people.
Most importantly of all, though, PFLAG brought White back into music after 16 years.
In the early 1980s, the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus was just getting started. Watching the success that they were having, White decided she wanted to give LGBTQ women the chance to sing as well.
She organized a new chorus to perform a massive show at the 1984 PFLAG National Convention that brought 70 women in to sing with the 70 men who made up the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus. After the concert, these women became the Denver Women’s Chorus. White conducted this chorus until 1986. Before resigning, she took them to the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses Festival, where they were the only women’s chorus.
White didn’t leave the Denver Women’s Chorus because she wanted to leave music, but because she saw other projects that needed her attention.
The first was the World Choir that sang at the Celebration ‘90: Gay Games and Cultural Festival. White spent four years organizing this group of hundreds of men and women from all over the the world. During the festival, which was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, the World Choir got to perform at the opening and closing ceremonies, and during a special concert.
When White returned to Denver, she immediately got to work on another group. This time, she saw the need for a mixed choir in the city, and in 1991 founded Harmony. Harmony, which is still going strong today, is open to all members of the LGBTQ community as well as their allies.
The Denver Women’s Chorus also still preforms, and although White retired from conducting in 1996 when she left Harmony, she goes to many of their shows, as well as concerts by other LGBTQ choruses. She has also been asked to conduct a song on significant anniversaries of her Denver-based projects.
White came of age during a time and in a place where even the idea of homosexuality was barely acknowledged. Still, she was not only able to accept herself but also help hundreds of others find their voices through song.
White stopped working as a court reporter in the early 2000s and has since been enjoying retirement with her long-term partner Judith. She goes to many concerts and is enjoying the experience of being in the audience, which she finds as moving as being on stage.
Her legacy lives on through the choruses she started, but for this powerful woman, that is not enough. She continues to push for what is right, and, of course, to sing.
“Keep fighting, keep working, keep loving, keep empowering yourself and others. Stay in the fight and work for everybody’s rights, your own included,” she said before hanging up the phone.