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Champions of Pride 2023: Country Singer and Fierce LGBTQ+ Ally Kelsea Ballerini

Champions of Pride 2023: Country Singer and Fierce LGBTQ+ Ally Kelsea Ballerini

<p>Champions of Pride 2023: Country Singer and Fierce LGBTQ+ Ally Kelsea Ballerini</p>
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for CMT

While the far-right continues to criminalize drag queens, one of country music’s biggest stars puts her heel down.

Champions of Pride 2023: It’s our annual celebration of some of the fierce, fearless change-makers and creatives who continue to make the world a better place for LGBTQ+ people — and this year, we’re focusing on the beautiful diversity of our community.

Country music fans have been loving on Kelsea Ballerini since her first single, “Love Me Like You Mean It,” debuted nine years ago. Now, at 29, she’s a seasoned staple of the Nashville scene who’s using her respected profile to influence the industry she conquered. Case in point: During April’s CMT Music Awards in Austin, Tex.,Ballerini co-hosted the event for the third time and performed her single, “If You Go Down (I’m Goin’ Down Too),” with a quartet of drag stars flanking her. Whimsically dressed in early 1960s housewife regalia, RuPaul’s Drag Race queens Kennedy Davenport, Olivia Lux, Manila Luzon, and Jan Sport swirled around Ballerini until all five strutted down a catwalk and danced as rainbow confetti and lights rained down.

Ballerini’s choice of single wasn’t arbitrary — “If You Go Down” is an ode to friendship and loyalty; the reassuring feeling of knowing someone has your back and you have theirs. Ballerini made sure to point directly at her backup queens as she sang the tune’s chorus, cementing the point that the appearance of Davenport, Lux, Luzon, and Sport wasn’t simply a publicity stunt or mere window dressing.

Kevin Mazur/Getty ImagesLEFT TO RIGHT: Manila Luzon, Kelsea Ballerini, Jan Sport (behind Kelsea), Olivia Lux, and Kennedy Davenport performing at the 2023 Country Music Awards.

Ballerini was messaging that drag queens are friends and fellow entertainers, not the enemy, as politicians in her home state of Tennessee and at the nearby state capital of Texas have claimed, with Tennessee passing a law banning certain drag performances and Texas considering similar legislation. Making a progressive statement to country music fans against such bigotry is definitely a risk — just ask the Dixie Chicks.

While Fox News jumped on the story, the blowback has been minimal. The limited response doesn’t dull the courage of Ballerini’s allyship. Teasing the performance beforehand, the Grammy nominee told People, “There is a surprise tonight. It is glittery, it is bright and it is celebratory. It is important.”

Having friends is also important, especially when they speak directly to many people who need convincing that queer people are not threats and deserve dignity. Ballerini’s delivery of that message brings to mind the subtle lessons bestowed by her musical forebear and fellow ally Dolly Parton, who famously said, “If I hadn’t been a girl, I’d have been a drag queen.”

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