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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Column: More gay singing cowboys please

    Celebrities coming out can feel so passé, especially in the entertainment industry. Sports figures such as Michael Sam or Jason Collins shock our sensibilities and judgments about what the gay community looks like, but no stink is made when stars such as Lady Gaga or Ricky Martin publicly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The attitude seems to be, “So what? Who cares?” Or maybe, “Duh.”

    But how does that change when the celebrity who comes out works within an industry whose values align more with social conservatism than progressivism? Is it more important or less? Do we even care?

    I say yes, we do.

    The recent coming out of two country music stars, Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman, is a vitally important event within the country music community. Herndon, who has been married (and divorced) to two women, revealed his sexuality in interviews with People and Entertainment Tonight at the age of 52. Gilman, who was signed with Nashville’s Epic Records at the age of 11 and is now 26, took a page from the books of celebrities such as Tom Daley and Troye Sivan, and took to YouTube for a more personal, intimate coming out dialogue with his fans.

    The two men are at very different stages in their lives and careers, and this has been reflected in the aftermath of their coming out.

    “Being a gay, male country artist is not the best thing. … I knew something was wrong when no major label wanted to sit down and have a meeting and listen to the new stuff,” said Gilman, referencing his recent struggles to find a major music label.

    Herndon, though, claims that he has gotten nothing but support from the Nashville community.

    “I was met at the back door of the Ryman with love and hugs from peers, from other artists, and affirmation and love by the Nashville community,” Herndon said.

    He also cites country artist Chely Wright, who came out as a lesbian in 2010, and the CMA song of the year “Follow Your Arrow”, which serves as an anthem for LGBTQ approval, as signs that the industry is changing. Herndon has hope.

    And while I look at these revelations as brave and important for a younger generation to see, there are some who argue that it is not good enough — that watching another straight-acting white guy come out is not the best way to test an industry’s “inclusion.” Greg Daniels, the co-director of student affairs for LGBTQ Affairs, said that though this has been a stride forward for homosexual visibility within the country music scene, its general audience consists of “white, cisgender, heterosexual people of middle class, and conservative in values,” and it is not necessarily enough of a stride.

    “While I love that more celebrities are continuing to come out, I want to acknowledge that many identities in the queer community continue to be eclipsed and rendered invisible by the more well known L, G and B identities,” Daniels said. “While lesbian, gay, bisexual-identified folks enjoy the perks of coming out, many asexual, pansexual, two-spirit, questioning, aromatic, demisexual, genderqueer, intersex, agender and countless other identities are shoved to the background and thus become less celebrated or acknowledged.”

    Although Daniels is certainly correct (When was the last time a celebrity came out as asexual?), my belief and hope is that the courage it takes to come out in communities such as the country music industry will inspire those who may feel like they exist on the periphery of an already marginalized group. In a sense, celebrities such as Gilman and Herndon can pave the way for those LGBTQA+ members who have fit more in the T, Q, A or + areas.

    “Celebrities that come out have the power of publicity,” said Danie Kaplan, student assistant for LGBTQ Affairs. Artists such as Gilman and Herndon have had the power to start dialogues, even in homes that may not traditionally support gay rights. Whatever conclusion those households come to, at least it’s the beginning of something.

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    Paul Thomson is a senior studying BFA acting and Africana Studies. Follow him on Twitter.

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