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Music man: meet Chris Verdugo, director of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles.

Verdugo's leadership, "a activism and passion for music have led him td meet people like music icons Emilio and Gloria Estefan and actress Reese Witherspoon.

"No other gay men's choir does what we do in terms of advocacy," the executive director declares with pride.

Chris Verdugo is a music lover.

Maybe he was born that way.

"I was hooked on music probably from birth," he says.

Born in Florida, Verdugo grew up listening to tropical rhythms at home-his father is Cuban, his mother Puerto Rican. He pursued singing in college, but dropped out to perform on cruise lines and try other ventures.

Today, music still rules his world but with a twist. Verdugo, 43, is the executive director of the ; Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles.

With about 300 members and a $1 million budget, the group is one the largest of its kind in 0 , the U.S. And Verdugo, GMCLA's first Latino director, is one of the main reasons behind it. & *

When he took over in 2011, GMCLA had around 170 members and a budget of a half-million dollars. The group has increased its popularity under Verdugo, too. "We have raised the profile of our organization, growing our brand both artistically and from an advocacy standpoint," he says.

GMCLA has been featured in television shows like I am Cait with Caitlyn Jenner and Parks and Recreation, the VH1 Awards, and the Academy Awards, when they were hosted by comedian Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame.

Recently, the group's It Gets Better: True Colors video, featuring the choir performing Cyndi Lauper's classic hit, surpassed one million views, according to Verdugo. He says the 2010 video inspired an even bigger project, the It Gets Better Tour, an ever-expanding, one-week residency program that visits high schools and middle schools in Southern California and across the nation to promote the prevention of bullying against lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual persons. But it also tackles racism, obesity and even climate change.

"No other gay men's choir does what we do in terms of advocacy," the executive director declares with pride.

Some projects speak to Verdugo's Latino roots. This year he brought Mano a Mano, Cuba's first and only men gay men's chorus, for their first performance ever in North America.

His leadership, activism and passion for music have led Verdugo to meet people like music icons Emilio and Gloria Estefan and actress Reese Witherspoon. I This summer he met presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. I

And in early October he got to shake hands with President Barack Obama. I What did he say to the leader of the Free World? I

"I thanked him for what the White House has done for LGBT youth and ' equality and what that means to our community," he says. "I also told him about what GMCLA's anti-bullying campaign has done."

Those are some big accomplishments for someone born in predominantly Cuban municipality of Hialeah, Florida and who grew up in Opa-Locka, one of the poorest and most violent cities in the state.

"I never imagined that a poor kid like me would one day be where I am, meeting Obama, Clinton and the Estefans, he says. It almost seems unbelievable."

Maybe music led him down this path. Tropical sounds serenaded his childhood--a grandfather led an orchestra called El Combo de San Juan and Verdugo's mother was a singer.

Majoring in singing was his goal in college, but he dropped out to perform and produce shows for cruise lines for a decade. He then worked as a nightclub promoter for a time before turning his attention to nonprofits.

The latter line of work took him to Los Angeles in 2003, working for gay organizations like Equality California in support of same-sex marriage. Yet, he still longed for singing.

So he joined the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles in 2006 and toured internationally with the group. He feels especially honored to have performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall during the 2008 "Summer of Love" that turned the tide in favor of gay marriage.

Verdugo later became part of the organization's management, moving up the ranks until landing the top job.

While same-sex marriage is now legal in the U.S., Verdugo says total equality is still elusive for gay Americans who can be discriminated against for housing and employment.

But he plans to keep opening up minds with GMCLA.

"Music," he says, "is an amazing vehicle to promote social justice."

GETTING TO KNOW CHRIS VERDUGO

Chris is The director of Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles

His specialty is Music. He lives for it. He has raised the profile of his organization

Chris is originally from Florida He is from Cuban and Puerto Rican origin. He pursued singing in college but dropped out to perform in cruise lines.
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Author:Arredondo, Cesar
Publication:Latino Leaders
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Oct 1, 2015
Words:800
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