Our People: Q&A with Ann Hooper

LGBT activist, breast cancer survivor

When Ann Hooper tells you music can change the world, believe her for she’s somewhat of an expert on what it takes to change the world.

Over the past 20 years, she has championed everything from LGBT rights organizations to breast cancer research.

Hooper and Kathryn Mahan, an accomplished musician and conductor and Hooper’s partner, recently teamed up on an anti-bullying project to benefit the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which promotes safe social environments for LGBT youth and their allies.

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Ann is also an avid hiker, with beautiful memories of extended treks along the Italian Riviera and up the slopes of Scottish hillsides.

Indeed, there is no mountain too high for Hooper to conquer in her quest to help others.

Tell me about your work in the LGBT community.
I started in the early ‘90s as a volunteer with the One Voice Chorus. It was sort of an exciting involvement in that many of the singers at that time didn’t even put their last name in the program. It was a time when people really weren’t out. They were still afraid of losing jobs. But, they realized the importance of our gay culture. Because of the association with the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses, we understood the importance of representing our culture through music. There were songs written specifically for the gay community that were performed by One Voice Chorus. It was an exciting time for people to gather in a big place, in a concert hall and hear our local chorus. I was also on the board of Out Charlotte and had the privilege of working with Dan Kirsch, who was a real mover and shaker in the ‘80s and ‘90s in Charlotte. I did a lot of training and helped put on a cultural event each year. Around 2002, I began doing some work for the Human Rights Campaign.

Tell me about your latest project.
I’ve partnered with Kathryn to share the power of the gift of music with people. On Sept. 3, we had the Stand Up, Sing Out concert. We wanted to raise awareness to the problem of bullying. It’s a huge problem that encompasses so many different things, most notably the suicides that can come from excessive bullying and even the raw emotional hurts that we carry our whole life. And, I’m not just talking about picked on on the playground. Picking on someone can build up. We’re just beginning to see some of the long-term emotional scars that people who’ve been bullied carry around. And, there are people who are bullies who, when they wake up out of those childhood and teenage years, think: What in the world did I do? How did I harm a person?  It’s not just an LGBT issue, but a huge percentage of gay youth are picked on or humiliated.

Do you sing?
No. [laughs] Well, I make up songs. I sing to my dogs. I hum around. I remember the lyrics of the songs from my teenage years. It’s just crazy how I remember that. I might not remember where I put down my reading glasses, but I remember [those songs].

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Why is music so important?
Music can change the world. We don’t realize how important music is in our life. We sing “Happy Birthday” on one of our most important days. We sing at weddings. We sing at funerals. It helps to define. Everybody remembers when they were teenagers the songs that they danced to. Some of the many, many beautiful songs that have been written to reflect the gay culture are going to be more and more important to us as we remember our roots, as we continue to become more assimilated into the general life.

Why is this work in the LGBT community so significant to you?
I learned a lot about social justice from my parents. My mother was a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. I grew up on the idea that everyone is equal, everyone is the same, treat others as you would want to be treated, that sort of thing. That wasn’t always present on my mind as I was trying to work or build a career. But, I do think I have reached a point…[pause] I have only so many years left. I feel like I’m slowly becoming — or maybe quickly becoming — one of the elders in our community. There’s only so much time to get the work done to make that difference. It’s important we all find [the time]. The equality and respect for our fellow human beings, it’s just astounding to me that we seem to be going backward. It’s hurtful to me. I feel pain about that.

As a breast cancer survivor, what’s the leading message you’d offer to women and men in terms of prevention?
The most important thing is to get people to do self-checks and have mammograms.

Tell me something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I have a deadly addiction to some reality television. I’ve watched every episode of “Survivor,” I have to admit. My taste in television can range from “Scandal” on Thursday evenings to my soap opera, “Days of Our Lives,” which I have kept up with. I don’t watch it every day, but with a soap opera you can tune in about once a month and figure out what’s going on. : :

 

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