twangin' tunes

Queering country: 10 LGBTQ+ musicians who have changed the genre, from Lavender Country to Orville Peck

While LGBTQ+ artists are making advances left and right, there are still some areas where not everyone is accepted, and those who identify as being part of the community face obstacles when they’re honest and open.

Country music is notorious for being closed off to anything other than what it’s used to—white, Christian, cisgender, and straight. Musicians who don’t fit that mold in any way are often not given the same opportunities, and they usually don’t reach the heights of their counterparts who do adhere to the “norm.”

That being said, things are changing for the better. Sure, country music is moving more slowly than other sectors of the entertainment industry, but any progress is good. Those in positions of power seem more open to accepting all different types of artists these days, and there are now a handful of acts who have shown that an LGBTQ+ musician can make it big and do incredible things, even in the conservative world of country music.

Here are LGBTQ 10 musicians who show that a country artist can be anyone:

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile is one of the most successful LGBTQ+ artists in not just the country music scene, but the entire industry at this point. She’s achieved remarkable commercial success and earned widespread critical acclaim, which not everyone can claim. With nine Grammys already under her belt, she consistently garners numerous nominations whenever she releases new music. Known for her Americana-leaning sound, the singer-songwriter recently ventured into rock, further expanding her artistic repertoire and garnering additional accolades in the process (and showing she can really do anything).

Throughout her career, Carlile has remained open and unapologetic about being a lesbian. She and her wife Catherine Shepherd have been happily married for over a decade and together they are raising two daughters, creating a loving and supportive family unit. They even introduced Carlile this past Grammys when she performed in what turned out to be an incredibly sweet moment.

Brandy Clark

Much like Carlile, Brandy Clark has been making major moves in the world of country music as a lesbian. Although she may not have achieved the same level of commercial success, Clark has captured the hearts of industry insiders. Despite being a seven-time Grammy nominee, she has yet to secure a win, but the fact that she is consistently recognized speaks to the immense respect her colleagues have for her. She was even nominated for Best New Artist in 2015, and since then, many of her releases have received nods in the country music sphere, further solidifying her influence.

Adding to her accomplishments, she is currently nominated for a Tony Award for co-writing the score of the musical Shucked. Like Carlile, Clark fearlessly embraces her same-sex attraction, embodying a sense of authenticity and openness in her artistry, while not letting it define her.

Chely Wright

During the mid-to-late ‘90s and early 2000s, Chely Wright emerged as a rising star in the country music scene. She achieved success with several memorable hits on Billboard’s country chart—most notably her single “Single White Female,” which reached the coveted No. 1 position.

Behind her growing career, Wright grappled with a deeply ingrained belief that her sexual orientation was immoral due to her devout Christian upbringing. From a young age, she made a personal commitment to never pursue relationships with women. Despite this promise, she later revealed that she did not strictly adhere to her own rule, but chose to keep her true self a secret.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Wright made the courageous decision to come out publicly, choosing People magazine as the platform to share her truth. Prior to this pivotal moment, she endured years of internal struggle, battling with her identity to the point where she contemplated suicide, but since then, she’s lived a healthier life and continued to make music.

Lavender Country

Lavender Country stands alone on this list as the only true band featured. In the realm of country music, groups are not particularly prevalent, and those with openly gay members are even rarer.

Their self-titled album, released in 1973, holds a significant place in country music history as the first known gay-themed album. Given the prevailing attitudes of the time, no one thought it would be a success—and they were right. Only 1,000 copies of the album were initially pressed. The LP featured tracks such as “Cryin’ These C*cksucking Tears,” which still wouldn’t be readily embraced by mainstream audiences today, let alone decades ago.

The Seattle-based group—another rarity in country music—disbanded after the release of their debut album. As societal attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community evolved, Lavender Country’s name resurfaced, and their music found a new audience. In a remarkable turn of events, nearly 50 years after their debut, the band released their second album, Blackberry Rose, in 2022. Tragically, their frontman, Patrick Haggerty, passed away in the same year, and it seems the band has once again split, though their legacy is discussed more today than ever before.

Lil Nas X

Whether Lil Nas X counts as a country artist has been a debate ever since he arrived. His breakout hit “Old Town Road” blurred genre boundaries by combining elements of country, hip-hop, and pop. In March 2019, the song made history by simultaneously charting on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. However, the company controversially removed it from the country chart, essentially saying that it wasn’t “country enough.”

The decision faced widespread condemnation, but Nas X chose to laugh it off and move forward. “Old Town Road” went on to break the record for the most weeks spent at No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart, a title it still holds. The song also earned him two Grammy Awards, and set him up for future success. Since that groundbreaking smash, Nas X has ventured beyond country music, and he has charted several more No. 1 singles and received numerous additional Grammy nominations.

It was in that moment, when his star was shining brightest and no one knew whether he’d be a one-hit wonder or become the next big thing, that he decided to come out. It was a bold move, and one that could have hurt his career, but instead, it helped make him one of the biggest musical stars in the world.

Lily Rose

Lily Rose stands out on this list as an up-and-coming artist, poised to become one of the prominent names in the next generation of country musicians. Despite writing and performing her own music for years, she struggled to find success in country, even after relocating to Nashville in pursuit of her dreams.

It’s entirely likely that her sexual orientation or her unconventional appearance—which deviates from the stereotypical image of beautiful, blonde, white women often celebrated in country music—may have contributed to her challenges. Country music has a few archetypes it loves, and anything different is often regarded warily.

Everything changed for Rose during the pandemic when her single “Villain” went viral on TikTok. Initially, she had intended to offer the song to other country stars, including Keith Urban, but she eventually decided to keep it for herself. The song’s instantaneous fame led to a record deal with Republic, putting her on the same label as Taylor Swift, which undoubtedly amplifies her exposure and potential.

Orville Peck

Orville Peck was meant to be an artist, though in his early life, he seemingly didn’t know what kind of art he wanted to focus on. He initially explored various artistic avenues, including ballet dancing and acting on the West End, but once he embraced country music he discovered his true passion and achieved significant success.

In an odd turn of affairs, Peck openly embraces his sexuality, but he conceals his face behind a signature mask, which adds an air of mystery to his persona. The mask covers his eyes in a masquerade-like fashion, while tassels shield much of the rest of his face.

Despite having only released music for a few years, Peck has garnered immense praise from critics for his artistic output. His music has resonated with both country music enthusiasts and the LGBTQ+ community. With each new release, his popularity continues to soar, reflected in his recent presence on the Billboard charts.

Shane McAnally

While there was a brief moment where Shane McAnally was an artist, he has made a much more significant impact as a songwriter and producer. In the past decade or so, he has solidified his reputation as one of Nashville’s most sought-after talents behind the scenes. Over the years, he has collaborated with notable artists such as Sam Hunt, Kelsea Ballerini, Walker Hayes, Lady A, and particularly noteworthy, Kacey Musgraves.

His collaboration with Musgraves, who herself is regarded as a gay icon, has yielded remarkable success for the pair, earning McAnally three Grammy Awards and numerous nominations. Additionally, alongside Brandy Clark, he finds himself in the running for a Tony Award as a co-writer of the country-themed musical Shucked, which has become an unexpected success story on Broadway.

McAnally has been married to his husband Michael Baum since 2012, and they are currently raising two children in Nashville.

T.J. Osborne

T.J. Osborne’s coming out as gay in 2021 took place after he and his sibling John—together known as The Brothers Osborne—had already established themselves as one of the most promising new acts in country music, charting hits for over seven years.

His courageous revelation made him the first openly gay male artist to be signed to a major music label, breaking new ground in the industry. Unlike previous artists who came out after their peak moments, Osborne took a significant risk by being open about his identity, as it’s entirely possible Nashville might have turned its back on the siblings. 

Now, not only is T.J. living his life authentically, but the duo continues to thrive in their musical journey. They won their first Grammy in 2022 for the tune “Younger Me,” which claimed the Best Country Duo/Group Performance award. During his heartfelt acceptance speech, T.J. became emotional, reflecting on the song’s personal significance as it delves into his past struggles and the wisdom he wishes he could impart to his younger self. In an incredibly touching moment, he also acknowledged his boyfriend while on stage, which elicited applause from the crowd.

Ty Herndon

In the 1990s, Ty Herndon showcased his talent as a solo star, following his initial foray into the country music scene as part of various groups. He achieved success with several well-received albums and secured multiple No. 1 hits on Billboard’s most important country chart. At one point, it appeared that he might become the next big star, but as time went on, his popularity declined, overshadowed by personal struggles that consumed his life.

Throughout this period, Herndon was not open about his sexual orientation, though he was already aware of his same-sex attraction. He battled with mental health issues and addiction, likely due to his hiding his true self. In a highly publicized incident, he was arrested for allegedly engaging in an illicit encounter with an undercover male police officer in a public setting, which had all of Nashville talking.

It wasn’t until 2014, through an interview with People, that Herndon finally came out as gay, making him one of the most prominent country music artists to do so. He isn’t nearly as popular as he once was, but he is still working in Nashville, and a quick look at his socials makes it seem like he’s much happier these days.