Thursday was a milestone day in country music with singer Ty Herndon choosing to come out publicly as a “proud and happy gay man." And on Friday, it was reported that another singer, Billy Gilman, chose to come out, and he talked about his decision via a YouTube video. This is not only a big deal in both of their personal lives, but also in the country music landscape as out and proud singers are extremely rare in this genre of music.
Gilman explained this in his video post, saying,
It's difficult for me to make this video, not because I'm ashamed of being a gay male artist, or a gay artist or a gay person. But it's pretty silly to know that I'm ashamed of doing this knowing that I'm in a genre and an industry that's ashamed of me for being me.
It is sad to say that he is not exaggerating with this statement. The country music industry has had a long history of homophobia and intolerance. Hopefully Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman choosing to come out will help move country music in the right direction toward tolerance and acceptance. With other sectors of the entertainment industry and society as a whole being more progressive, it's time for country music to catch up with the rest of the world and move away from its storied past of negativity.
While some country musicians have taken a stand, others are still more apprehensive. Here's a look at what some of country's biggest stars have had to say about the LGBT community and it's relation to country music.
Jennifer Nettles, a straight country artist, was rumored to be gay and addressed the rumors in tactful and respectful manner:
I think a lot of people assumed, too. Whenever they heard a woman with an alto voice playing an acoustic instrument stylistically reminiscent of those wonderful icons you counted, Ani DiFranco and Indigo Girls — and especially with the audience I had in my 20s — I think a lot of people just assumed [that I was lesbian]. So those lyrics — "Crotch propaganda/ Bat for both teams/ And it's me not choosing sides standing in between" — I definitely related to because it's like, who cares? Why choose sides? And why do you have to?
Nettles reaction is great because she doesn't brush off the speculation in a shameful way.
Garth Brooks won a GLAAD Award in 1993 for his song "We Shall Be Free." The lyrics "Cause we shall be free / When we're free to love anyone we choose" really spoke to the gay community. Rolling Stone described Brooks's 2014 single "People Loving People" saying, '"People Loving People' isn't exactly provocative, but it taps into similar themes: fighting war and addition, embracing an "Imagine"-esque world where loving each other is the cure to all that ails humanity. It's as innocuous or contentious as whoever listening makes it out to be — and with Brooks' open support of the LGBT community, that's sure to be part of the narrative."
When country singer Kenny Chesney's short marriage with Renee Zellweger ended in 2007, she cited "fraud" as the reason. This made many people wonder if Chesney was actually gay. In a Playboy interview, Chesney responded to the rumors, "That is the most unbelievable thing in the world. 'Because Renee cited fraud, Kenny’s got to be gay.' What guy who loves girls wouldn’t be angry about that s---? I didn’t sign up for that. I think people need to live their lives the way they want to, but I’m pretty confident in the fact that I love girls. I’ve got a long line of girls who could testify that I am not gay." Then he explained that he has slept with over 100 women. Instead of just saying that he is not gay it came off like he was trying to defend himself against a shameful rumor.
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