Last Monday Manchester Lesbian and Gay chorus (MLGC) along with many other local groups showed solidarity with victims of a homophobic attack on the Metrolink.
The event was in response to the homophobic attack on Jean-Claude Manseau, 25 and Jake Heaton, 19 on 1 November last Monday an event entitled ‘Safe to Sing’, a mass sing-along was staged on Manchester’s tram network.
It started with 80 singers on board city centre trams bursting in songs such as “Somewhere”, from West Side Story, and a “Canal Street” version of Petula Clark’s “Downtown”.
Volunteers at the event handed out rainbow coloured cupcakes from a box marked “cake not hate” to the passengers of the tram.
The choir was then also joined by counterparts from the Hallé ensemble, as well as Manchester Community choir, Blackburn People’s choir, the Manchester Bach choir and other groups from the North West.
Several hundred people then filled Piccadilly Gardens with West End hits. The campaigners concluded their sing-along in Piccadilly Gardens with a rendition of Wicked’s theme song, “Defying Gravity”.
Manseau and Heaton had been on their way to Canal Street, the heart of Manchester’s gay village, before they were attacked at Piccadilly Gardens.
They say the attacks began after they had been singing tunes from the musical Wicked, which prompted homophobic taunts from a man aboard the tram.
After getting off the tram at Piccadilly Gardens the pair were pursued and attacked by a mob of 15 men shouting homophobic abuse at them.
Manseau was knocked unconscious and suffered a black eye, a split lip and broken nose.
Heaton told the Manchester Evening News (MEN) “It’s completely shocking. Nowadays you think people are mostly accepting of people’s sexuality, especially in a big city like Manchester. We did nothing to provoke it. We were just having a laugh and a sing on the tram.
“It was definitely homophobic. Throughout it all they were hurling abuse at us. I don’t feel safe now. You feel like you can’t be who you actually are when there are people like this walking the streets.”
Manseau again speaking to MEN said: “It has destroyed every bit of confidence I have. It will be a while before I go anywhere on my own. I don’t know when I’ll feel safe to go into Manchester again.”
Neither Manseau nor Heaton felt up to attending the event. But speaking to the Guardian Manseau’s mother was moved to tears “To think that all these people have come out tonight for my son. It’s just a pity the rest of the world isn’t so kind.”
Kath Fox, MLGC co-chair said in a statement to the Guardian that the event was “a way for us to reach out to Jo and Jake and to assure them we will defend the right to safe passage on public transport for all people, especially those from the LGBT community.
“Out of the ugliest circumstances, the most meaningful and powerful messages emerge and that is what we hope to achieve with Safe to Sing.”
The producers of Wicked also sent a message of support to the victims: “On behalf of the entire Wicked UK companies, our thoughts and best wishes go out to both Jean-Claude Manseau and Jake Heaton, as well as their families, and we wish them a speedy recovery from the senseless and violent attack that took place in Manchester.”
Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd said the event was “the real face of Manchester”, not the “disgraceful” attack.
He added: “The Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus have organised a fantastic, positive response to an awful incident. I hope it will give the confidence to Jo and Jake – and the wider communities of our region – that when we say we will take a stand against hate crime, we mean it. This is about reclaiming our streets, reclaiming our public transport, reclaiming our city centre and showing that when we act together we are stronger than those who would seek to drive us apart.”