Amelia Olson
November 21, 2014 2:14 pm

When Chely Wright came out in 2010 as a lesbian, she was one of the first major country artists to publicly identify as queer. In an industry built on good ol’ boy attitudes and the perceived power of the heteronormative existence, it was a massive step in changing the landscape of a genre.

You see, country music is about storytelling, but a lot of those stories are about men and women deep in the throes of romance with someone of the opposite gender. Especially with today’s bro-country environment, hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity are part of country music’s backbone and deviating from that path just hasn’t quite happened much yet. One glimpse of the Will Lexington storyline on Nashville will put that all into hyper-focus.  

Over the years a handful of country music artists have bravely come out, but that number is very low. This week, however, solidifies the changing tide in country music, as not one but two mainstream performers came out as gay. Those two men are Ty Herndon and Billy Gliman. Their coming out is a big statement, and hopefully a sign that country will continue on it’s path to being a more inclusive musical genre. Herndon, who was mega popular back in the ’90s, told People Magazine, “I’m an out, proud and happy gay man.” He continued saying that a large reason why he was making his sexuality public had to do with young closeted fans. “Telling my story is an opportunity to help just one of them,” he said. Other great moments in the interview? He mentioned how proud he was of country music for accepting LGBT friendly songs like Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow.”

Singer Billy Gilman, who had his first hit “One Voice” back in 2000 when he was 12, credited Herndon’s coming out with giving him the confidence to come out as well. Gilman came out via YouTube saying, ““A fellow country artist and friend made it easier for me to make this video.” He goes on saying, “”Being a gay male country artist is not the best thing. 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 . . . knowing that I’m in a genre and an industry that’s ashamed of me for being me.” 

What is clear is that country artists are ready to change the norm in the genre, and to be role models for young fans. For those fans that do not identify as queer, it is a prime opportunity to become supportive allies and help encourage all people, without exception, to exist bravely as they are.  It is our responsibility as allies to support, in any capacity, the needs of this still vulnerable community. And while there is still so much change that needs to happen regarding the rights and safety, both physical and emotional, of queer identifying folks, Herndon and Gilman have made the country music world one step closer to becoming a safe and supportive place for all of its contributors and fans. Hats off.

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