I am a nationally touring professional LGBT music artist who has been out from the get-go of my career. At the beginning of my career, some publications didn't cover me because I am the "gay artist" and my performances take place at gay bars and "that is not for the music section but the gay lifestyle section." I have been asked numerous times by mainstream media, "Do you feel like you are discriminated against because you are a gay artist?" Just that question shows me there is a stigma to being an out artist. I am usually the first to be asked to play benefits/fund-raisers/LGBT center events (and I typically do) for free throughout the year, and touring is what I do for a living.
But one day out of the year, there is an LGBT festival where every facet of the community comes out and celebrates our lives and culture. You would think that these events would celebrate out artists and use their budgets to secure awesome LGBT performers. But lately I hear organizers tell me and my fellow LGBT artists, "I'm sorry, we spent our budget on our big main act and have no money, but can you play for the exposure?"
Yes, we artists need exposure. Personally and thankfully, I gained a lot of exposure from LGBT media outlets early in my career because they wanted to promote new, out talent. But these days I am unsure that same spotlight exists anymore. In the past few years, regional LGBT newspapers have been dropping. Even one of the biggest breaks many of us had, Viacom's gay network Logo, ended LGBT-exclusive programming, which featured music videos from up-and-coming LGBT artists.
With fewer places to discover out talent, Pride festival entertainment boards have the power to showcase these underexposed artists by providing a stage to support those who support the community all year.
Successfully touring trans artist Namoli Brennet has been performing at Prides all over the country since 2003. Namoli said, "As out LGBT artists, the music we play is powerful, real, honest and rooted in our experience as LGBT persons, and we are worth supporting."
I feel like we out artists at times get pushed to the back of the Pride bus in favor of an act with more mass appeal instead of embracing the art and culture we are all there to celebrate. Many of the major Pride fests in the country focus on bringing in pricey, nonqueer talent with minimal interest correlation to the community. 'bob' Maureen, host of Spokane, Wash.-based radio program Queer Sounds, recently said, "Pride is about the LGBTQ community coming together and being a place for queer voices. Queer artists, particularly, deal with barriers just to be heard. They shouldn't be exploited through our own events and celebrations."
If there were very few out artists, I would understand, but this is not the case. Just ask J.D. Doyle, host of two radio shows, OutRadio and Queer Music Heritage in Houston.
"Obviously, producing two radio shows that focus solely on LGBT artists, I feel booking musicians from our own community should be the top priority, and there is no shortage of available talent, in many genres, to fill more stages than they could ever need," Doyle said. "This should always take precedence over hiring celebrity drag queens or straight disco divas. The crowds cannot appreciate our own talent if not given a chance to see it."
I have the honor of performing at many Pride celebrations around the country that honor LGBT artists and the history of Pride by welcoming only LGBT artists on their stage. Yet I've noticed that some celebrations are becoming less of a peaceful protest to a beer-soaked dance party, therefore shutting out rock, folk, rap, and country artists.
So I am sending out the word to Pride fests around the country — actually, the world: Treasure those who bring the message of acceptance from within our community and pay them! They are the ones who support you year-round.
And my message to the community: Communicate to your Pride festival organizers that Pride is our chance to showcase the amazing LGBT talent we offer to the general public, and we should be proud to showcase them.
As the members of the queer hip-hop–pop–soul duo, God Des and She told me, "It saddens me when so many Prides hire former '80s and '90s stars (who are not queer) when there are so many talented LGBT performers that our community would love and support if they had the chance. If we can't even support artists in our own community, who will?"
As 'bob' from Queer Sounds said, "If more LGBTQ community members asked their pride organizers how much they pay LGBTQ entertainment compared to non-LGBTQ entertainers, we might start seeing and hearing more of our history, present, and future onstage, through our words and our talent."
ERIC HIMAN is a gay musician. EricHiman.com