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

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  • fuzzy

    When Willie Nelson stood up for gay rights, he got panned. I know of at least one instance where they played “Cowboys are…” on the radio and then mocked it with filthy jokes. You can be gay in country as long as you’re not talking to the public, because the country-listening public doesn’t want to hear about fags.

  • Hephaestion

    The country music community is in its infancy as far as understanding gay people goes. But it’s slowly changing. They don’t boo k.d. lang off the stage or trash Garth Brooks for standing up for his gay sister anymore. It will change. It’s just 15 years behind the times.

  • Josh Childress

    Chely Wright’s career isn’t struggling because she’s a lesbian, it’s because her music isn’t very good. She’s released seven albums since Single White Female, and none of them have been a commercial success. It’s easy to say country music fans are just homophobic, but I don’t think that’s true.

  • Henry

    “Girls Who Love Boys Who Love Boys.” The title of this series is not gay-friendly, it’s bicurious-friendly.

  • CaliberGuy

    There is a differance bettwen the music industry, the labs and what the radio industry which is the radio stations will play. The record lables can’t make stations play their artist songs, they can sent them music to try to get them to play it, but for the most part unless the artist is alrady a hit or if the stations think that they will become a smash hit of are on the way to being a hit artist it is astranomicly hard to get them to play the music. I don’t blame the stations they need to make ad revinue and to do that you need to have listeners and hit songs and artist drive listiners.

    @Josh Childress
    I personally like Chely Wright’s music and own all of her albums (not best ofs compilations) I think that she is a great artist, unfortunately in the music industry great artist don’t always produce popular hit after hit.

  • FreddyMertz

    Yeah, what happened to Ty Herndon?…always thought he was a hottie. And, I don’t know if the idea of him being gay “stunted” his career..I think it was the reason he was exposing himself in a public park. Heck I’m a turned off by that.

  • jason

    I believe that Clear Channel – which owns many radio stations in the USA – has a policy of not playing the songs of openly gay male American singers. Someone ought to look into it for the purposes of launching legal action against Clear Channel.

    As for country music, it’s pretty much like all genres of commercial music. It’s OK if gays work behind the scenes but heaven forbid if a gay man should market himself as such. Overall, the music industry is one of the most homophobic industries in America as far as accepting the notion of the male homosexual or male bisexual as commercially successful and open about his sexuality.

    Interestingly, this industry has been far more accepting of females than males in terms of the mass-marketed musician. Women like Melissa Etheridge, KD Lang and various other bisexual females – including fake ones – have been marketed as such and have been commercially successful. Where is the male equivalent?

    Therefore, one can say that, not only is the music industry homophobic towards the concept of male-male sexuality in its protagonists, it is also sexist in its homophobia, discriminating far more against men than against women.

  • James

    Reason for the rap music comment? Queerty’s irrelevance strikes again!

  • Clamydia Jones

    I jus do not liktited cuntry music , it make me nervous. like a noose is gonna be a waitin for me on some damn limb of a tree an all dat.

  • codyj

    @jason…your so CORRECT…clear channel is owned by super-relig fundie nutcases

  • Henry

    “Clamydia Jones
    I jus do not liktited cuntry music , it make me nervous. like a noose is gonna be a waitin for me on some damn limb of a tree an all dat.”

    Just like Charles Rozier to think LYNCHING is funny. I’m disgusted I ever knew you.

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