What happened when country singer Chely Wright came out in 2010 makes it no wonder there was such a brouhaha earlier this month when Carrie Underwood stated her support for marriage equality.
While we consider k.d. lang a pioneer, we also think of her as primarily a pop vocalist, and Wright was the first notable country musician to come out publicly. The singer received some death threats and hate mail from conservative fans who couldn't accept her sexual orientation. Overall, though, Wright says the response was "really positive." Although no male country performers offered her encouragement, a few women expressed support, though not publicly. "Privately — Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, and Naomi Judd," Wright revealed to SiriusXM host Michelangelo Signorile. "I think some of the artists really have a fundamental belief that there's something wrong with me," she added. "But I think most of the artists don't want their fans to know that they're supportive of me because they don't want to lose a record sale. "The only ones who supported me publicly are Mary Chapin Carpenter, LeAnn Rimes, and SHeDAISY," Wright said.
Although it's two years later and Underwood touched on the marriage issue, she is actually not alone in speaking out for LGBT equality. On the following pages, learn about some of the other country performers who have publicly expressed their support for LGBT causes.
The musician won a GLAAD Media Award in 1993 for his song "We Shall Be Free," with lyrics such as "'Cause we shall be free / When we're free to love anyone we choose" that helped turn it into an LGBT anthem.
Laura Bell Bundy
The performer, who earned a Tony Award nomination for Broadway’s Legally Blonde, has released two country albums. In 2010 the Kentucky native discussed her relationship with LGBT friends. “Gay people have taught me there there’s really no ‘right’ way to live — it’s all OK,” she said. “That’s helped to bring me to the place I’m at now where I’m not afraid of anything anymore. I’m the most fearless I’ve ever been. It’s interesting for me to be in the country music community — you don’t know how open-minded people are going to be. But I think it’s important to treat people equally, regardless of color, sexual preference, or religion. I love people from the South, and I love traditional values, but I will not repress my love for gay people. It makes me really happy that my music is being marketed to the gay community. It’s like I’m getting my own coming-out party.”
The trio could write a textbook on a backlash from conservative fans following their remarks in 2003 criticizing then-President George W. Bush. In 2010 sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison formed a side project Court Yard Hounds and released “Ain’t No Son,” a song about a young man coming out to his judgmental father.
Robison discussed her inspiration for the song. “I turned the TV on, and it was A&E or one of those documentary kind of shows about these poor teenage kids who are devastated that their parents won't let 'em stay in the house because they found out they were gay,’ she explained. ‘The lines 'You ain't no son to me / Eight pound baby boy I bounced on my knee' were around from the very beginning. That idea, how can you have kids and love them so much and one day decide not to — it just boggled my mind.”
When the powerhouse vocalist was criticized by Christian fans for performing on a gay cruise in 2005, she spoke to The Advocate about the controversy. “Honestly, when that mail started, the first thing [I thought] was, Fear is a terrible thing,” she said. “I’m a Judd, not a judge. My job is to lighten the spirit and love the heck out of people who feel really unloved.”
Last year the country superstar told CMT Insider that same-sex marriage doesn’t bother him and opponents are wasting money trying to stop it. "That whole gay issue thing, that's never bothered me," he said. "I've never seen what that affects and why anybody should care — and they never do affect me."
He added, "First of all, we're going to stop somebody from getting a marriage license because they're gay? You won't stop them from living together, so what have you accomplished? ... Wasting a lot of money here and a lot of time that could be spent working on this deficit that we're under ... I never saw the reasoning behind getting in people's personal lives."
In 2009, Out magazine asked McBride if she’d consider telling her conservative fans to be more tolerant of LGBT people. “Honestly, I just have to do what's right for me, and what I would tell people is what I believe, which is that I feel like tolerance is very important,” she replied. “I have three daughters and that's what I teach them. I think we should all be tolerant of each other and embrace each other's strengths and differences and uniqueness and beauty.”
In 2009, Out asked the singer-actress about conservative fans who might not support LGBT equality. “I just try not to judge,” she said. “Don't judge me, and I won't judge you. And that's what it says in the Bible — 'Don't judge.' Keep an open mind. That would be my voice. I have gay friends. I have a lot of straight friends. I don't judge them. I take them for what they are. They're my friends, and I can't defend my feelings for them, other than I like 'em.”
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
In 2010, McGraw visited Grassland Middle School in Tennessee to speak out against bullying after a 13-year-old boy shot himself in the head after antigay bullying went unaddressed at his school. McGraw also appeared in the 2011 film Dirty Girl, a gay-themed comedy from out director Abe Sylvia. Chely Wright revealed that Hill, McGraw’s wife, was one of the few country singers to offer her support for coming out as lesbian.
On her acclaimed 2004 album Show Me How, Morgan sings against antigay bigotry on the song “Rocks.”
Interviewed for a 2010 profile for Parade magazine, Nelson, who contributed the song “He Was a Friend of Mine” to the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack, spoke out for equality. “Rednecks, hippies, misfits — we're all the same,” he said. “Gay or straight? So what? It doesn't matter to me. We have to be concerned about other people, regardless. I don't like seeing anybody treated unfairly. It sticks in my craw. I hold on to the values from my childhood.”
The iconic entertainer received an Academy Award nomination for her song “Travelin’ Through,” which she wrote for the 2005 transgender-themed drama TransAmerica.
While being interviewed by Joy Behar for CNN in 2009, Parton, a longtime equality advocate, had this to say about why she’s so accepting of her huge LGBT fan base: “We’re not supposed to try to change people. We should allow people to be who they are and love them for who they are.”
Pressed by Behar to voice support for marriage equality, Parton replied, “I always say, ‘Sure, why can’t they get married? They should suffer like the rest of us do.’”
The band’s “Love Who You Love” is considered an LGBT anthem. While promoting its release singer Gary LeVox discussed the song’s impact. “We actually have some gay people that work with us, and we have a lot of friends that are gay too, and I know that this song has inspired them,” he said. “I know that coming out was tough on their parents and on them and the whole entire family. For a long time, some of them didn’t get to hear ‘I love you’ from their dads or be accepted in that way. It’s helped a lot of our friends.” Bassist Jay DeMarcus added, “We don’t judge anybody’s lives.”
The sultry vocalist is a longtime equality advocate, having filmed an It Gets Better video, posed for the NOH8 campaign, and performed with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. “I believe in equality,” Rimes said in a 2010 interview. “Everybody should be treated exactly the same way no matter what their race, no matter what their sexuality.”
After a wrist-slapping from GLAAD following a tweet in which he rewrote Shania Twain lyrics in a way that seemed to deride gay men, the country singer and mentor on The Voice apologized.
In a series of tweets, Shelton wrote, “Hey y'all allow me to seriously apologize for the misunderstanding with the whole re-write on the Shania song last night... It honestly wasn't even meant that way... I now know that their are people out there waiting to jump at everything I say on here or anywhere. But when it comes to gay/lesbian rights or just feelings... I love everybody. So go look for a real villain and leave me out of it!!! @glaad hey I want my fans and @nbcthevoice fans to know that anti-gay and lesbian violence is unacceptable!!!!! Help me!!!! And DM me...”
The singer seems to address the antigay bullying epidemic in her Glee-esque video for the song “Mean.” In it, a boy reading a glossy fashion magazine is harassed by a members of the football team, as Swift sings, “You, pickin’ on the weaker man / Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.”
In 2009, Jennifer Nettles spoke about the gay fan base of the band, who has performed at numerous Pride events. "I've always had a large gay following," she said. "Particularly in the lesbian community. I am grateful for that ... It also means that I'm a cute girl singing a rock song in an alto voice!"
While publicizing her latest album, Blown Away, the Grammy Award-winner was asked her thoughts on LGBT equality. "I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love," she said, adding, "Our church is gay-friendly," she says. "Above all, God wanted us to love others. It's not about setting rules, or [saying] 'everyone has to be like me.' No. We're all different. That's what makes us special. We have to love each other and get on with each other. It's not up to me to judge anybody."
The singer is regarded as the first major country musician to come out as lesbian. Since coming out, Wright has written a memoir. Like Me; recorded an album, Lifted Off the Ground, and married her girlfriend, Lauren Blitzer. Wish Me Away, a documentary about her decision to come out publicly, is now playing in theaters.
In 2005, The Advocate asked the singer if she had advice for her gay fans. “My advice would actually be to people who are intolerant — get over it,” Yearwood said. “I can’t imagine living life and not being able to be true to who you are.”