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When we were contacted regarding Ty Herndon, Billy Gilman and the anticipated reception of each coming out as they did, (read the article here), the writer and I had a lengthy conversation about country music, LGBT people, the industry and the community. You can see by the comments in that article how quickly opinions are based on assumptions and theory and don't really take into account the real lives that are involved everywhere. What I told him:
Neither Ty nor Billy has risked much by coming out now. It's a good thing and a bad thing. A good thing because neither of them are actively selling something, which would take away from any sense of genuine need to come out on this specific day. If Chely Wright did anything wrong, I told the reporter, it was that she coordinated her coming out with a book and album launch, and she dared the country music industry to shun her before it even got the chance to do it.
I saw a generational difference between Ty and Billy's coming out statements. Like Chely, Ty Herndon coordinated his coming out via Entertainment Tonight and People Magazine and — even though his coming out has received more mainstream acknowledgement — it takes away from the genuine feeling that should come along with officially coming out. By comparison, there was Billy Gilman, just a few hours later, inspired by Herndon's media event, picking up his smartphone, hitting RECORD, and within minutes the world knew.
They risked little by coming out last week and it was a good thing and a bad thing. A bad thing for two reasons: one, because both are largely irrelevant as far as the mainstream country industry is concerned, and there isn't much chance either of them can effect change from the inside. Because they're not on the inside anymore. Two: because they're not as relevant today, only the mainstream and LGBT media would be able to run with this story and the accompanying narratives are already pre-written ("country is so backward, look how backward it is").
Chely Wright's Emotional Coming Out Story youtu.be
Is country music homophobic?
As an institution, perhaps. As a collective of people who work in the industry, no. The country industry is a business, and so it directs its product to a target audience, which for a long time has been assumed to be suburban women between 30-45 years old (and only recently has that assumption been changed to Females 18-24). If those women, in either and both age categories, have been trained to believe their male country stars have to be sex symbols as much as the female country stars have to be non-threatening, then there is conceivably no place for a gay male country performer.
Focus on the word "trained" above. With it, consider this statement from New York Times music writer Jon Caramanica in a recent Popcast podcast. The conversation was regarding Taylor Swift and the 1989 album:
Part of what's made Taylor interesting is this idea that she's been pushing back against this very hidebound organization, if you wanna call country music or Nashvile or Music Row an organization. You know, it's like Black Ops. They're just out there being like, "You will like Luke Bryan now" and all the sudden everyone likes Luke Bryan. "You will not like Chris Young" and Chris Young will falter for years and years, sputter for years and years. Her working against that, and triumphing over it is a great narrative. It elevates her beyond being just a writer and singer of great songs. But it elevates her as someone with a purpose, someone who is interested in change. Someone who's interested in pushing back against institutions that have a fixed idea, and forcing their doors open and forcing them to accept new things. All well and good. Now she has no one to fight.
So while there is no Black Ops or Wizard of Oz, the collective of people who work in the industry make the assumption that a gay country star is not viable based on its target audience. And thanks to that collective assumption, no major label in Nashville appears willing to take a chance on an openly gay country performer. (Note that Brandy Clark's recent signing to Warner Bros. Records is based out of Los Angeles.) Having said that, there remains hope.
Look at 2014's CMA Awards ceremony. If the members of the Country Music Association, an organization made up of individuals who work full-time in the country music industry, were homophobic then they would not have awarded the Kasey Musgraves single, "Follow Your Arrow," Song of the Year, a distinction that acknowledges songwriters. In this instance, not only was the content of the song one of acceptance ("kiss lots of boys/or kiss lots of girls/if that's what you're into") but it was co-written by Musgraves with two LGBT songwriters, Brandy Clark (who recently signed with Warner Bros. Records out of Los Angeles) and Shane McAnally.
Kacey Musgraves - Follow Your Arrow (Official Music Video) youtu.be
Though the single received little support by way of radio airplay — it peaked at #43 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart — it was thanks to digital single sales and streams on sites like Spotify and YouTube that helped the song reach the Top 10 in the cumulative Hot Country Songs chart. So even if the industry is homophobic, the writing is on the wall: there are enough fans somewhere in America who really like this song despite the absence of it on the radio.
So it is ironic, then, that the biggest push toward LGBT acceptability in country music has come from Kacey Musgraves releasing a song on a major label and the industry trade organization awarding it Song of the Year.
In the slow walk toward country music fully embracing LGBT people, Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman's coming out amounts to two more voices in a growing chorus. Sure, we'd love for them to have come out during the peak of their careers, but unlike with our legislators, who we can take to court and force to make good on claims of equality, we have to face the free market as it is, and though it may seem to be moving slowly, it also seems to be working out fine, in it's own way and on it's own time.
Broadway from iHeartRadio has spent the past eleven months asking country performers their opinion on this question: are we ready for an openly gay country music superstar? The answers were interesting, if not earth-shattering. Scroll down to watch the video, or read these edited quotes first.
What they said:
Chris Carmack (from Nashville): if you take the temperature of country music, it does not seem ready.
Kip Moore: That's not for me to talk about. I don't even think about that kinda stuff, to be honest.
Billy Ray Cyrus: In this world today there's not room for prejudice.
Jay DeMarcus (of Rascal Flatts): I think the city and business may not be that far behind as the show is portraying it to be.
Big Kenny (of Big & Rich): Love everybody! What other people wanna do or gotta do, if they're out there making music and country music, it's alright by me.
Lee Brice: I think it's getting close to time for that. It's just, you know, it's very accepted, very normal, you know what I'm saying so it's kind of a ... it's time, I bet.
Ty Herndon (from January 2014): speaking from personal experience, if you work hard and you live your life in a good way, that shouldn't matter ... it's gonna be the right place, the right time, the right person, and the right music.
Cole Swindell: I'm not one to judge anybody so ... and, you know, wish everybody the best who wants to move to Nashville.
Parmalee: If people like the music, they like the music, I mean, that's the way it is.
Charles Kelley (of Lady Antebellum): I certainly would accept it. i think at the end of the day its all about great songs. I understand it is a touchy subject for a lot of people.
Thomas Rhett: Maybe for the majority of country fans, maybe that's something new for them, and maybe it'll take awhile to accept that. I don't really know.
Trisha Yearwood: I think it would be naive to say we've never had a closeted gay country artist. I don't think that's humanly possible! Like in everything else that's happening in the world, that day is coming.
Eric Paslay: I think it'd be good if people just loved people regardless of what your preferences. The biggest thing is don't judge people and love them for who they are and it's not our job to judge them. I'd hope that someone who's talented enough and had a good heart and had something to say and good music that people wouldn't judge them for something like that
Scotty McCreery: I try not to weigh in on that kinda stuff. I'm just out there, focused on my music and career.
Gloriana: In general I know there's always pressure for an artist to be a certain way and I think it's a great thing when an artist can be themselves, you know what i mean?
Cary Barlowe: If people really believe in the artist and believe in the music, it shouldn't be about their personal stuff, I think.
Kellie Pickler: I don't think it matters. A great song is a great song and a great artist is a great artist.
Sheryl Crow: I think it's a very individual decision who you listen to an for what reason.
Jon Jones: I think it really would take someone just being upfront and honest, i don't think the industry would shun anybody, I don't really see that happening.
Danielle Bradbery: I would hope they would be accepting and respectful. I don't know. People a long time ago kinda didn't care and now, people are judgmental now.
Lucy Hale: I personally think that we're in a day and age when that shouldn't be a question.
Transcribed quotes are one thing, but you really have to watch and listen for yourself:
Rumble Boxing, the boxing-inspired group fitness studio, opened its doors for the first time in Nashville on June 20 at 609 Overton St, Nashville, TN. The hottest workout on the block is hosting its official grand opening from August 4th-7th with daily classes, membership specials, and prizes from local vendors. The new Rumble Boxing studio is currently offering a buy one class, get one free promotion for the Nashville community.
Rumble Boxing delivers 45-minute, 10-round, strength and conditioning group workouts, crafted around teardrop-style aqua boxing bags and high-intensity strength training circuits. This brings all fitness levels together to experience what Rumble is known for: combining the sweet science of boxing with high energy and positive vibes.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
This boutique fitness brand offers serious benefits like increased stamina and strength, with cardio that’s actually fun. The seasoned trainers at the new studio are thrilled to serve their local community while offering this fun, new modern approach to boxing and welcome members of all fitness levels to the Rumble family.
The new Rumble Boxing studio is owned and operated by Blake Baskin and Antonio Compton. With their background in the fitness industry, this dynamic duo is excited to bring their passion for boxing and group fitness to Nashville. As business and life partners, Blake and Antonio aim to create a strong community within their new Rumble Boxing studio and share their message of non-apologetic inclusivity.
Black and Gay-Owned Business
Rumble Boxing Store with Dolly Parton Mural
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“We own who we are, and this brand aligns with that perfectly,” said Antonio. “This is what we want to create and bring to this community: a fitness class that is designed for anyone and a place for people to be who they are. As a Black and gay-owned business, we want to help lower the division we see in the world right now. Our goal is to bring people together through Rumble, set everything aside, and have fun.”
To echo their message of acceptance and inclusion, Blake and Antonio commissioned a local Nashville artist to paint an 11 X 6-ft. mural of Nashville icon and philanthropist, Dolly Parton. The massive portrait features the country star in Rumble Boxing gear in the lobby of the studio.
The excitement and buzz around Rumble allowed Blake and Antonio to recruit top-tier trainers to head up the new studio, including Head Trainer Oronde Jones, a well-known celebrity trainer in the Nashville market.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“Compared to other fitness classes, Rumble is a class you can truly get lost in for 45 minutes. With the dark room, you don’t have to worry if anyone is paying attention to you. The music is awesome and inspiring, and the beat drops right when you need it the most. Also, with boxing being a sport you can never truly master, you’re always improving and crafting your skill. On the floor, you’re consistently doing something new, which prevents you from ever hitting a plateau.” Said Oronde Jones about his favorite part of Rumble.
Rumble has massive brand loyalty and widespread appeal, partly thanks to attracting top names like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Jason Derulo, David Beckham, and Kevin Hart to its studios.
About Rumble Boxing
Founded in New York City in 2017, Rumble is a group fitness concept delivering a mix (or combination) of boxing-inspired circuits and the transformative power of resistance training. Pro and amateur fighters glove up together, no matter their fitness level or skill, to reveal their inner fighter. The experience is a 45-minute, 10-round, full-body cardio and strength workout crafted around specially designed water-filled, teardrop-style boxing bags. Rumble was founded by Noah Neiman (former Barry’s Bootcamp Master Trainer, and cast member of Bravo’s Work Out New York), Eugene Remm (Co-Founder of Catch Hospitality Group (Catch Restaurants, CATCH STEAK, Lexington Brass), Andy Stenzler (Co-Founder Cosí, Kidville), and Anthony DiMarco (13-time IRONMAN, former Managing Director, Google).
Who would have thought that we would have to get through a pandemic in order to appreciate the small things we have, such as the ability to simply pack our bags and hit the road?
For two years, there’s been nothing left for us travel junkies to do but sit at home and try to find new destinations that we will conquer once we defeat what appears to be the biggest villain of the 21st century. But once that happens, hold your bags tight because we will be up for some of the most interesting travel experiences. Take a look at some ideas for your post-COVID traveling plans:
A Gay Cruise
One of the best options to have in mind when all of this passes is a good, nice and long (pun intended) gay cruise. Or cruise in general, for that matter. Bear in mind, social distancing will still be a thing in the post-COVID world. But COVID-19 likely doesn’t mean that cruises will cease to exist. On the contrary, though cruise ships will probably keep the number of passengers smaller than before, it is believed that they will become an even bigger hit in the following period, especially because they are all going to go a lot more environmentally-friendly. On the bright side, is there any better way of celebrating the end of the pandemic than by cruising around some magnificent seas, stopping by at great cities and having romantic dinner nights at nice restaurants?
A getaway in nature
On the other hand, there is always the option of stepping away from the hustle and bustle of large cities, and spending some time in a place that’s not only healthy, but also beautiful. Some of the destinations that plenty of people will look for are the ones that can cater for both peace of mind and amazing things to see or do. One such destination is New Zealand, one of the greenest countries on Earth right now. Not only will you be visiting the magnificent country that gave us the beautiful Shire from Lord of the Rings; this is also a destination that’s excellent for everyone who prefers relaxing to partying. If you’re up for some partying, you will be able to hit Auckland, while if you’re for something calmer, there’s plenty of amazing places that you can see and visit.
Dancing Around at Pride
Pride parades are also events that you want to have in mind for the post-COVID world. Such events have always been quite important, but it seems that they are now more important than ever. The virus has canceled more than 75 Pride parades all around the world, which is one of the reasons why we must support the ones that will see the light of day once the pandemic stops. Truth be told, the upcoming Prides will perhaps be the best Prides ever organized. Give the gays a couple of weeks of quarantine, then let them outside and see what kind of party they are able to throw!
A road trip
If you’re, as well, waiting for the day to wake up and say “long gone are the days when we were not allowed to go wherever we wanted?”, and if staying at one place gave you a lot to think about, then your first post-COVID travel experience should definitely be a nice road trip. You can practically choose which country you want to tour, and you can either take your own car (you have probably missed it so much), or rent one at your destination. Australia is an amazing country for this, though, as it offers the possibility of seeing the Great Ocean Road, which is an amazing thing to see and experience. On the other hand, if you do not want or cannot leave your country, you can also choose to go on a domestic road trip – there are amazing things to see in your vicinity as well.
Holiday for a single guy
If you’re single, or you’re traveling someplace with another single friend, then you should definitely organize a nice vacation for yourself or for you and your single friend, and hit one of the best European cities. Europe has been greatly affected by the virus, which means that now it’s time to pay it back and get it back on its feet by traveling there and seeing all the amazing things it offers. Any city you choose in Europe – you will not make a mistake. Apart from being able to see great landmarks, you will also have the chance to have a drink at great gay clubs and pubs, and join unforgettable gay parties. And if the gay scenery is not your forte, worry not, as Europe indeed has to offer so many different and magnificent things.
This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.
When I was 14 years old, I surreptitiously made my way through the stacks in the local library until I came to the Psychology section. One after one, I took down the books whose titles I thought would provide an answer, went to the table of contents and, if there were any, I flipped to the pictures.
Eventually, I landed on one with a word I had never seen or heard: Transvestite. And on the next page there was a black and white photo of a man wearing a dress, looking like he had just crawled out from under a rock. I can still see the expression of guilt on his face.
Not long after that, the newspapers and TV broke the story of Christine Jorgensen, a former member of the U.S. Army who had gone to Denmark to have Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS). Of course, the majority of the reports were always accompanied by some sort of joke, such as “Christine Jorgensen went abroad and came back a broad!”
America's First Trans Celebrity: Christine Jorgensen youtu.be
But those two events rescued me. I learned that I was not the only person in the world with this “affliction,” this sense that something wasn’t right. And I got a word I could apply to it and maybe even hope for a cure. But it was too early. I knew that to say out loud, even maybe, that I should have been born a girl, would mean being ostracized, becoming part of the joke, so I chose the path followed by most transgender people of my generation. I put all of my energy into making sure that no one knew.
And that wasn’t easy. For no matter what I did, I couldn’t match the image of the all-American boy, so I became the class clown. If I wasn’t the John Wayne male, at least I could be Lenny Bruce. It was my way of deflecting the mismatch, and, to some extent, it worked.
Others like me took varying escape routes, becoming athletes, businessmen, or whatever role they could slip into and hide behind. Most married, had kids, and did whatever was necessary to survive, with varying results, but never with happy endings.
Segue to the present. The scenario I described above is, to a great extent, still being played out, but now there are exceptions. Transgender kids today can find some consolation on the Internet. They can learn early on that they aren’t “afflicted.” They can make contact with others like themselves. And they can read about transgender people who are proud of themselves and what they have accomplished as well as hearing about transgender children whose parents accept them and allow them to be who they are.
But the information highway is not all smooth driving. And naïve youth can get lost on detours and take wrong turns, winding up as prey to the trolls, predators, and religious zealots—as well as various other kinds of bullies—who inhabit the virtual world.
So is it any better today for our transgender youth? Most still have parents who reject them and peers who bully them. Nearly half of transgender teens have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having attempted suicide  compared to a rate of 1.6 percent for the general population.
It’s far from a perfect world. But I believe it is definitely better than the one I grew up in, because it’s a world where the President of the United States has condemned “the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender”; it’s a world where the parents of transgender children have publicly supported their sons or daughters and stood up to schools that would try to discriminate against them; it’s a world where the medical and psychiatric professions have come to recognize that being transgender isn’t a disease. All these things were inconceivable possibilities on the day I sneaked into the library.
Nina Simone To Be Young Gifted And Black youtu.be
When I was a teenager, Nina Simone had a hit record titled “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” that has since been covered by artists as diverse as Elton John, Rah Digga, and Faith Evans. A portion of the lyrics say, “We must begin to tell our young / There’s a world waiting for you / This is a quest that’s just begun.” That same message applies today.
To be transgender is not a curse; it’s a gift. As Derrick Moeller, a graduate student in Education at Iowa State University and a transman explains, “Having to contemplate what your gender identity and gender expression looks like is a privilege that most folks don’t have to go through” . Rather than being rejected they will know that they have been blessed, so that their plea “Why was I made like this?” will be replaced by a prayer of gratitude: “Thank you for making me like this.”
 Grossman, A.H. & D’Augelli, A.R. (2007). Transgender Youth and Life-Threatening Behaviors. *Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviors* 37 (5), 527-37.
 Tiffany Herring, January 28 2015 Iowa State Daily [goo.gl/YSL3SC].