PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In 1980, a group of gay men responded to a newspaper ad and got together to sing in Portland. They formed a group that still exists today and their mission extends beyond the music hall.

The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus is now 40 years old and is the 4th-oldest gay chorus in the United States.

Portland’s Gary Coleman was the man who placed the newspaper ad in 1980, encouraging gay men to gather to sing.

Gary Coleman. (Courtesy of the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus)

The chorus was modeled after the gay men’s chorus in San Francisco. The San Francisco chorus was still in its youth when Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay elected official in California, was assassinated.

“The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus was basically born out of that tragedy,” said Dana Busch, who’s been a member of PGMC since 1988. “So 2 years later, we organized a chorus here in Portland.”

The chorus has welcomed 1,400 members over the years. The group is currently 170 singers strong. They perform on stages across the Northwest and internationally. In 2018, the chorus became the first gay performing group from the West to tour China.

“You don’t have to be gay to be in the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus; you don’t have to be a man, either,” said Ricky Armendariz, the president of the chorus. “We advocate for social justice issues and issues important to the LGBTQ community.”

Harvey Milk. (Courtesy of the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus)

The group’s music is meant to do more than delight the ear: Armendariz said the singers hope to “push a message and advocate for something that we as an organization believe in.”

Despite some homophobia and harassment in the early days, PGMC wins over virtually every crowd with its incredible performances.

“It’s really great to feel accepted and also celebrated and get to make some beautiful music, as well,” said Nathan Rodman, who joined the group as a tenor in January.

The group also donates profits from ticket sales to many of the communities in which they perform.

PGMC is woven into the fabric of Portland and paves the way for other gay choruses.

“We’re just one of many and I feel each of them is important because we advocate for social justice issues from a lens you might not hear about,” said Armendariz.

The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus is holding a 40th-anniversary gala on November 2 at The Loft at 8th Avenue in Southeast Portland. Click here for more information, including how to purchase tickets.