"Do you hear yourself? Because that doesn't make any sense," Jennifer Hudson says when asked what she would say to anyone who tried to tell her marriage equality isn't a family value. "Family is not based on sex or your partner. Family is defined by love."
The opportunity to battle LGBT bigotry across the nation is one of the main reasons the Grammy and Academy Award-winning artist says she "jumped at the chance" to harmonize with W Hotels and the Human Rights Campaign for the Turn It Up for Change initiative. The joint effort aims to amplify the fight for LGBT rights, including marriage equality and employment protections.
In an effort to kick off the campaign on a high note, Hudson performed at the Turn It Up for Change launch event at W New York -- Union Square last night. Over the course of the next year, Hudson will also make surprise performances at select Turn It Up for Change events around the country and she'll donate a portion of the proceeds from downloads of her forthcoming "I Still Love You" remix single to the HRC.
W Hotels Worldwide has also committed to donating an evolving percentage of the proceeds from each Turn It Up for Change event to the HRC based on the number of states (currently 32) that have marriage equality.
"The gay community has meant so much to me throughout my life, and there have been many gay people who have been positive influences for me," says Hudson. "From my best friend to many of my teachers, my first producer, and more -- there have been so many. That's why I feel like this campaign is a perfect fit, because it's something I'm fully supportive and passionate about. I'm glad to be a part of it."
Though the Baptist-raised performer says she didn't come from an LGBT-supportive background, her experiences led her to question antigay attitudes at an early age. "I kind of went against [my upbringing]. I always questioned it," she says. "The older I got the more [LGBT people] became a part of my circle and my friends. That's when I began to see the prejudice against it. I didn't understand what the difference was between [same-sex] relationships and straight relationships. So I made up my own mind, because I'm a firm believer that we're all individuals and we shouldn't allow ourselves to be subjected to ignorance. "
Hudson's decision to embrace the LGBT community in her youth earned the entertainer a loyal gay fan base long before she became a household name on American Idol. "I grew up singing in gay clubs, and drag queens used to be the ones who would dress me up," Hudson says with a laugh. "That's why I always say I'm a queen on the inside too. "
In fact, the 33-year-old says she feels most at home when she's around LGBT people. "It's funny, because I don't go out and party a lot," she admits. "And my team always says, 'The only time Jennifer will go out is if she's got a bunch of gay boys to talk to.' And they're right. That's the only way I will stay late at a party or event."
Hudson also reveals that one of her biggest thrills is watching drag queens who use her as muse. "I live for those moments. It's my favorite thing in the world," she says. "Anytime there's a drag show and someone is performing as me in it, I always think, if I can get there, I'm going, because I need to see it."
Hudson's love of queer culture shines through on her latest album, JHUD, which includes several dance tracks that she says were written with the atmosphere of gay clubs in mind. "This album is made up of me in every way, and that is a part of me," she says, acknowledging that dance music has been a longtime cornerstone of LGBT pop culture as well as her own experience. "Those songs are what came out in the making of the album. When I started singing, that's what I grew up around and all that is coming out through the music. It's a reflection of me."
The album also includes the song "He Ain't Goin' Nowhere," a collaboration between Hudson and hop-hop star Iggy Azalea, who recently told The Advocate she believes "homophobes need more gays in their lives." It's a theory with which Hudson agrees. "Iggy's absolutely right," she says. "It's ignorance that makes them afraid. If they experienced [being around LGBT people] and became familiar with them, a lot more people would understand. Because what is there to fear? I don't understand."
When asked why she thinks antigay groups such as the National Organization for Marriage continue to battle against equality despite the supportive shift in public opinion, Hudson shakes her head. "People are stubborn," she says. "Love is love and people are people. It's not bothering you. You shouldn't be concerned. So why stand in the way of that? What is the purpose?"
She adds, "As long as people continue to get behind marriage equality, then they'll have no choice but to give in. It's as simple as that."
Hudson also says her heart breaks for LGBT youth who are negatively affected by the hateful messages of antigay groups battling against marriage equality. "Don't listen to the hate and don't be afraid of who you are," she advises. "Know that it's other people who often make us insecure about things in ourselves. But it's not about them. Be you. Do you. Own it and live in it."
Hudson is sure she'll continue raising her voice for the community that has been like family to her. "I think the straight community can be so bland and boring, but the gay community is so interesting and colorful," she says. "They live, and I find that so inspiring."
For more information and a schedule of Turn It Up for Change events, visit the official website.