BY: JOEY REAMS
June is national LGBT Pride Month, and to celebrate, we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to go back and see who was the first to come out openly. This brave move would influence and encourage other musicians in the future, to a point where the uncomfortable has become the new normal. No matter which way you look at this matter, the fact of the matter is musicians can be who they are with the help of a few brave individuals.
Early LGBTQ Pioneers in Rock
The idea of a queer artist once caused the public to become uncomfortable, primarily because of the HIV/ AIDS pandemic in the early 19th century. As the country progressed forward and social tolerance increased, more and more artists began to come out to the public. Some of the first to do this included Freddie Mercury from Queen, David Bowie, Indigo Girls, Lou Reed, The B-52’s, and Little Richard, nicknamed “The Innovator, The Originator, and The Architect of Rock and Roll.” Even when Little Richard was younger, his father would brutally punish his son when he was caught wearing makeup and women’s clothing, eventually being kicked out at 15.
“God gave me the victory,” Little Richard told David Letterman in 1982. “I’m not gay now, but, you know, I was gay all my life. I believe I was one of the first gay people to come out. But God let me know that he made Adam be with Eve, not Steve. So, I gave my heart to Christ.”
As society began to accept these new standards, more artists began to incorporate genderbending and cross-dressing in the industry. While most of these bands were synth-pop or new wave, they still played an essential role in the development of rock and roll music. Some of these bands include Culture Club, Wham!, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Dead or Alive. Another artist to push this envelope was Judas Preist frontman Rob Halford, who publicly revealed his homosexuality on MTV in 1998.
“It’s a wonderful moment when you walk out of the closet,” Halford said. “Now I’ve done that, and I’ve freed myself. It’s a great feeling for me to finally let go and make this statement—especially to The Advocate because this magazine has brought me so much comfort over the years. Obviously, this is just a wonderful day for me.”
Notable artists from the LGBTQ Community
By the 1990s, more members of alternative and indie rock bands were coming out to the public. A big reason for this increase came from pro-LGBT laws and an increase in anti-homophobic lyrics. Notable individuals who have come out as homosexual or bisexual include Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Joan Jett, Brandon Urie of Panic! at the Disco, Michael Stipe from R.E.M., Morrissey of The Smiths, and many others. This movement began to create its subgenre, known as queercore, led by Pansy Division and Tribe 8. This hardcore punk offshoot would solidify LGBT arts even further. Eventually, LGBT music would evolve into its genre, most notably from Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, RuPaul, Adam Lambert, and many others. As for rock, artists such as Dawnstar, Neon Trees, and Billie Eilish.
“I think I’ve always been bisexual,” Billie Joe Armstrong told The Advocate in 1995. “I mean, it’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I think people are born bisexual, and it’s just that our parents and society kind of veer us off into this feeling of, ‘Oh, I can’t.’ They say it’s taboo. It’s ingrained in our heads that it’s bad when it’s not bad at all. It’s a very beautiful thing.” 15 years later, Armstrong told Out Magazine, “there were a lot of people who didn’t accept it, who were homophobic,” said Billie Joey Armstrong during a 20210 The fact that it’s an issue is kind of phobic within itself. At some point, you gotta think, this should be something that’s just accepted. I don’t really classify myself as anything. And when it comes to sex, there are parts of me that are very shy and conservative.”
Rock Music Today in the LGBTQ World
Today, there is no surprise or shock when an artist comes out as either bisexual or homosexual. Artists such as Frank Ocean, Miley Cyrus, and Lil Nas X have all made a name for themselves by proudly coming out. Although it seems like pop musicians are more likely to come out than artists in rock bands, there are still plenty of musicians who have already done so. Perfume Genius, girl in red, Courtney Barnett, and Tegan and Sara are all a part of the LGBT community. At this point, the decision increases an artist’s popularity for being so inclusive. Although the progress is evident, there is still more that can be done.
A couple of artists have begun to pave the way for transgender artists. Laura Jane Grace from Against Me! became the first highly visible punk rocker to come out as transgender in 2012 openly. Another notable band member to do this was Rayna Russom from LCD Soundsystem in 2017.
“Right now, I’m in this awkward transition period,” Laura Jane Grace said in her 2012 Rolling Stones interview. “I look like a dude and feel like a dude, and it sucks. But eventually, I’ll flip, and I’ll present as female.”
Thankfully the rest of the rock community has supported both Laura’s and Rayna’s decision. “[Laura] is displaying extraordinary courage by coming out as transgender after already establishing herself as a rock star,” said Herndon Graddick, President of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “For many of the band’s fans, this may be the first time they’re thinking about transgender people and the bravery it sometimes takes to be true to yourself.”
Despite the massive progress made by the rock community, there is still plenty of work to be done. In about half a decade, society has gone from slight judgment to full support, creating a more welcoming environment for musicians. Today, the LGBTQ Community has strengthened their voices and has put the community on the map. Hopefully, the world can continue to progress and further create an inclusive scene in the music industry.