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The name, even the frothy glam-rock beats suitable for a roller-skating romp, could fool a gay-dar ace. But for all their fruity foundation, My Dear Disco is pretty straight. Sixth-sevenths, exactly. We’re accounting for the lead singer and band’s sole female Michelle Chamuel, who has queer tendencies. Not for the guitarist, Robert Lester, who identifies as straight, but is an equal-opportunity flirt. So, has the band’s gay appeal led to some guy crushing on him?
“Yes,” the 24-year-old admits, deadpanning after a long pause. “But that was happening before I was playing in this band, so maybe it’s just something about me.”
The Ann Arbor-based group is one of over a dozen acts – including several recognizable speakers – raising awareness for LGBT rights this weekend during We Are Michigan, a three-day concert series from April 30-May 2 in Ferndale, Ann Arbor and Traverse City, respectively. And many of them – including Chris Bathgate, Who Hit John? and Moon Beam – are straight allies. Meefers.com knows LGBTs can’t fight these equality issues alone; we need support from our pals, which is why, besides the two gay founders, the online-only queer news site also has an ally.
“The role of the allied community is to not just assist in moving the straight community from tolerance to acceptance but toward the overall embracement of the LGBT community,” says Matthew DeWitt, vice president and co-founder of Meefers, LCC.
Lester wholeheartedly agrees that he’s an instrument, bridging the two communities together. “Without sounding arrogant, and definitely with humility, I think that people like me have a definite role in the gay rights movement,” he says. “It helps to show (heterosexual) people that the gay community is not really a marginal community – and that their issues are as important as any issues that face any straight people.
“So I’m certainly proud of my involvement with it, and I feel strongly in my support for it and genuinely disappointed when I meet people that don’t share that support.”
Miss California might’ve let him down then recently when she lost her crown, some say, because of her gay marriage beliefs, but it gives My Dear Disco more of a reason to make their pro-gay views visible. And, before their show tonight at the Magic Bag in Ferndale, they did just that in February with a gig at Homo/Sonic, a big dance party in Washington D.C. , where they tossed in some gay-loved anthems like “It’s Raining Men.” In June they’ll do Kentucky Pride: “That’s gonna be sweet, man,” Lester says, stoked. “We’re, like, playing between Tiffany and the Indigo Girls.”
The bubbly tunes on their latest disc, “DanceThink LP,” lay off blatant political and social references, dabbling mostly in relationships, but Lester won’t deny music’s power to unite and send strong messages: “It’s very powerful. Your opinion is going to be taken very differently if you just stand up on a soap box in the middle of the street and start shouting your opinions, but when your opinions and experiences form a foundation for the creation of your art, people become interested in that.”
Music connects regardless of who you are, says Micah Middaugh, 27, of Breathe Owl Breathe, an indie-Americana threesome – who makes “music to play Frisbee to,” he kids – that’ll perform with lesbian-duo Nervous But Excited on May 1 at Ann Arbor’s The Ark.
“Underneath all of us there’s hurt and love and people who are insecure and people who are bursting with creativity,” he says, “and that can’t be divided into any sort of groups of people. We’re all in this together.”
Maybe Madonna was onto something then when she said that music makes people come together. DeWitt adds, “A musical note is a musical note regardless of whether that note is being sung or played by a straight person or a member of the LGBT community.”
The Breathe Owl Breathe trio (which also includes cello player Andrea Moreno-Beals and Trevor Hobbs, percussionist) have befriended many in the LGBT community, including Nervous But Excited’s Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver. Middaugh met many of them while attending art school at Grand Valley State University – “there’s so much character” in the gay and lesbian community, he says. Bringing light to our issues only seemed natural.
“I think a lot of straight people recognize the need to raise awareness about these kinds of issues, so this is one way to be involved in it,” says Hobbs, 25. Middaugh learned tolerance from his late grandfather – a reverend who always exercised open-mindedness for all, he says, and believed strongly in gay rights.
As does Lester, who says, “A big part of it is just disappointment over this legislation. I think everybody in the band would agree it’s politically and culturally regressive.”
The members of My Dear Disco, who met while studying music at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, haven’t faced resistance because of Chamuel’s sexuality. Just ’cause her pants.
“It’s interesting to see how these things pan out in different parts of the country,” says Lester, who’s known Chamuel for five years (and found out a year into their relationship that she has lesbian tendencies, though she doesn’t care to label herself). “There are different attitudes about a woman who pretty much only wears pants and is not super feminine in that way, and so we have a lot of conversations about that.”
Working closely with her for so long has opened Lester’s mind to the queer perspective, including clueing him in to what he calls the unique emotional and interpersonal situations of LGBT family.
Says Lester, “Being creative with somebody who’s in the process of sort of coming out of the closet, to a certain extent, has been fascinating.”
With that, and their music’s gay appeal, he feels like a relative of the LGBT crew: “We feel pretty close to the gay community in many ways,” he says.
For him, close enough to flirt, at least.
We Are Michigan
April 30-May 2
Ferndale, Ann Arbor and Traverse City
For complete details, including the music roster, visit http://www.meefers.com or http://www.foxonahill.com. And for the 411 on My Dear Disco and Breathe Owl Breathe, check out http://www.dancethink.com and http://www.breatheowlbreathe.com.