Last Wednesday, the Country Music Association announced that Mike Huckabee, along with country music star Chris Young, were to become the two newest members of its charitable foundation's board of directors. Less than 24 hours later, Huckabee resigned amid outrage and backlash among members of the CMA and Nashville's music industry as a whole.
Here is the core mission of the CMA Foundation: Guided by the generosity of the Country Music community, the CMA Foundation focuses on improving and sustaining music education programs everywhere while supporting worthwhile causes important to the Country Music Association. Inspiring a love for music in people around the world through the charitable giving of the Country Music community is our vision... Music Education has proven to be an effective and invaluable tool by influencing student's academic achievement, social development and increased participation in activities.
One of the first people to step up against the CMA's decision to appoint Huckabee was Jason Owen, a prominent manager in town, who works with artists including Faith Hill, Little Big Town, and Kacey Musgraves, all artists who have been in support of equality. Owen is a gay man, and he and his husband have a son. If Huckabee had his way, this would not be possible.
Over the years, Mike Huckabee has been vocal about his anti-LGBTQ positions. The outrage among Nashville's music industry had nothing to do with religion or politics, but with Huckabee's mission to exclude the LGBTQ community from society.
Huckabee made his resignation letter public, focusing more on himself than the issues that led to the push for him to resign. He said he was being attacked for his religious and political views, when in fact that was not the case at all. The board of the CMA Foundation is made up of many conservative Republicans, many of whom are also of the Christian faith. He neglected to mention his stance on LGBTQ equality, the one issue that caused Nashville's music community to vocally condemn the decision to place him on the board.
When I first relocated to Nashville just seven years ago, a lot of Music Row -- this is the term we use for the music industry -- was closeted. Sure, gay people held jobs in the industry, but it wasn't as open and accepting to them as it is today. Music Row has evolved tremendously, as have the views of many country artists, some of whom have vocally supported same-sex marriage. Carrie Underwood, LeAnn Rimes, Tim McGraw, and even Toby Keith have expressed their support. This is in addition, of course, to artists like Chely Wright and Ty Herndon, who were among the first country artists to publically come out as gay.
About four years ago, I began publishing a gay magazine called UNITE, which I ceased publishing in 2016 so I can focus on my publicity work. When I launched the magazine, people told me it would never work. Despite their warnings, I made it my responsibility to educate Nashville about our community. Within a year, local corporations including Nissan, Cracker Barrel, and Dollar General were among my advertisers.
It all comes down to education. We as a community must educate those who don't understand our way of life, rather than condemning them. Of course, there are some people who don't care to be educated. We can't help the helpless.
Last year, I formed Agency33, the only public relations firm in Nashville that has a division targeting LGBTQ consumers. Since then, I have worked with companies as well as country musicians, all wanting to reach the LGBTQ community.
Music Row in 2018 is a totally different world compared to seven short years ago. I personally know people within every major record label who are openly gay at work. Agents, songwriters, producers, promoters, radio and television personalities are free to be who they are both in and out of the office. Nashville has evolved. Much of the country has evolved. But there are some people who like to hide their hate-filled messages behind their religious beliefs to. Mike Huckabee is one of those people.
Appointing someone like Huckabee to the board of directors of an organization that operates in an evolving industry seemed counterproductive. There are hundreds, if not, thousands of people who would have been a better choice for the Board seat.
In his letter, Huckabee tries to turn the decision into a battle cry and even ends with an open-ended threat to the entire music industry: "Until recently, the arts was the one place America could set aside political, geographical, racial, religious, and economic barriers and come together. If the arts community becomes part of the polarization instead of bridging communities and people over the power of civil norms as reflected in the arts, then we as a civilization may not be long for this earth. If the industry doesn't want people of faith or who hold conservative and traditional political views to buy tickets and music, they should be forthcoming and say it. Surely neither the artists or the business people of the industry want that."
In fact, the arts are still very much the one area where Americans can put our differences aside and unite. It seems like it is Huckabee's goal in his letter to create further division among us.
Mr. Huckabee, we will not let this happen. The arts are something that we hold near and dear to our hearts. They are a sanctuary for many of us. Arts programs were the one place we felt safe and accepted in school. We won't let you use the arts to spread your religious and political agenda. If you don't like it, you and Vice President Pence can start a nice little civilization where you can spread your hateful messages and advocate for gay "conversion therapy," because it sure as hell is not going to happen in Nashville.
JOEY AMATO is a Nashville-based travel blogger and publicist. Follow him on Twitter @justjoey33.