Behind the Music

Country Music Is Gay-Friendly—Unless You Actually Want To Be A Country Singer

We can’t recall any big country songs talking smack about the LGBT community the way, say, rap tracks often do. And we do like Willie Nelson’s “Cowboys are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other.” But we can’t say we’ve ever thought of the country-western music business as being particularly friendly to gays.

But it is, at least according to entertainment journo Chris Willman (Rednecks and Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music). In a piece for the Sundance Channel blog tying into the new Nashville-based season of Girls Who Love Boys Who Love Boys, he spoke with two cast members enmeshed in the C&W scene, Lady Antebellum songwriter Shane Stevens and his fag hag gal pal, singer/songwriter Sherrie Austin.

Willman writes:

“Whatever stereotypes might exist about country music not being a gay-friendly genre, “the Row” is chock-full of gay people and one of the most accepting businesses in which they could possibly land in the South… unless, of course, said gay person wants to be a country music artist – in which case that rhinestone ceiling is as hard as diamonds…

As far as the music business is concerned, I haven’t run into any issues yet,” says Stevens. “Everybody’s just a songwriter. I got my first BMI Award the other night [for “American Honey”], and everybody at the awards dinner was so excited and complimentary. I spoke to Randy Owen [of the group Alabama] for a bit, and he was like, ‘I’m just so proud of you.’ I haven’t hit (resistance), though I think maybe 10 years ago it was really different. Now. I’m not trying to be a country artist on the radio. That’s a whole other issue. They’re not going to play a gay artist on the radio.”

So its fine for hetero-identified artists like Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire to reach out to gay fans. But if you’re an out singer like Chely Wright, the options are pretty limited.  (Wright is now signed on Vanguard Records, a boutique folk label.) Willman’s piece also references Ty Herndon, whose arrest for exposing himself to a male police officer in the 1990s “blunt[ed] his career,” as one source says.

So how inclusive can an industry be if they only let you work behind the scenes?

Hmm, maybe we should ask Hollywood.

Girls Who Love Boys Who Love Boys debuts Nov 18 at 9pm on Sundance Channel

Images via Lisa Piper, Lunchbox LP