When Ben Proffer moved back home to Kansas City from New York, he wanted to find a community of friends to connect with.
He didn't expect to join the Heartland Men's Chorus, a predominantly gay men's choir that sings for civil rights. After all, Proffer had not sung since elementary school.
But it turned out to be exactly what he was looking for.
"I'm pretty sure the Heartland Men's Chorus is in the top two things I'm doing right now," he said. "The top thing giving me the most pleasure and with the most community outreach means a stronger community to not only the gay community, but the Kansas City community at large. It's one of the most inclusive and powerful groups I've been in."
Proffer’s family, who also belong to the choir, share that sentiment.
"It's gratifying to be a part of this cause," said Proffer's younger brother, Alex, who is straight. "Being there with him is even cooler. It's a definite bonus."
The boys' mother, Molly Proffer, serves on the board.
"We're a very close family," she said. "This is just another thing that we can share. This is really a pleasure."
On Wednesday, the brothers boarded one of two charter buses for their first performance. Leaving Kansas City at 8 a.m., the choir took their show "And Justice for All" to the state Capitol in Jefferson City, singing during a lobbying event to raise funds for the arts.
That same afternoon, the choir drove north to Columbia to perform at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. The event was hosted by The Center Project, mid-Missouri's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community center. For their efforts, the choir was welcomed with a Valentine's Day dinner at the United Methodist Church.
But not everyone was as friendly.
A small group touting signs adorned with homophobic slurs protested the show. But a larger group of counter-protesters mocked the signs across the street.
"When they're here, they put a face on the hate that we sing to counter," said chorus executive director Rick Fisher. "They make hatred and bigotry look so ridiculous, it helps the work that we do be received even better by the audience."
Overall, Fisher said the choir received a positive response.
"The praise of the work and the thanks for us for coming to Columbia were overwhelming," Fisher said.
More than 12 hours after their day began, the group finally made its journey back to Kansas City.
"It was exhausting. It was more singing than I've ever done in my entire life," Ben Proffer said. "I was kinda on a choir high. We sounded better on Wednesday than I've ever heard us sound before. If that's any indication of things to come, it's just gonna get better and better."