From RuPaul’s Drag Race royalty Trixie Mattel and Brothers Osborne to other LGBTQ musicians who are making waves in country music, LGBTQ artists are making waves and breaking barriers with songs about loving who you want and breaking open new opportunities within this genre.
Chely Wright came out as gay in 2014 and has become an influential leader of Nashville’s LGBT community since. Each year she hosts an annual concert to spread love and acceptance – it continues to gain more and more momentum every time!
Chely Wright was one of the first major country music artists to come out as LGBT in 2010. She had long concealed her sexual orientation, but decided to come clean about her homosexuality through writing a memoir entitled “Like Me” as well as an album under that same title that year. Wright’s admission sent shock waves through both country music fans and her genre itself.
Over the decades, other openly gay country music artists emerged, such as Brandi Carlile, Lil Nas X and Brooke Eden; however at one time identifying as such was considered a death sentence within country and western music genres – even singers including same-sex love lyrics in their songs faced retaliation from industry members.
Tommy Atkins of Brothers Osborne fame became the first country artist signed to a major record label to publicly announce their sexual orientation as gay in 2021, when his single “Freedom” achieved six number-one hits across Europe and Britain. Additionally, Atkins founded Proud to Be Coun, an organization supporting LGBTQ artists working within country music genres – slowly making progress in becoming more welcoming genre overall.
Lil Nas X
Country music had long held an unfortunate association between homophobia and its genre: country singing itself. Gay country singers weren’t welcomed with open arms; singing queer love songs could even jeopardise their careers. Thanks to pioneers like Brandi Carlile and Lil Nas X who are changing attitudes about LGBTQ people within country music culture.
Carlile began playing country music as early as 8 when she began performing in local clubs; her debut album By the Way, I Forgive You reached number 80 on Billboard charts.
She has long been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights, citing artists such as John Prine, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves and Dolly Parton among her greatest influences.
Carlile joined Lil Nas X for the hit single, “Old Town Road,” which reached number one on both country and rap charts in 2019. Carlile then revealed himself to be bisexual on Pride Month’s final day – becoming the first openly gay artist signed with a major label when TJ Osborne made his announcement about sexuality on 2021.
Ty Herndon is one of Nashville’s best-loved country music singers, having scored three No.1 hits such as “What Mattered Most” and “Man Holdin’ On (To a Woman Letting Go).” In 2014, Herndon publicly disclosed his sexual orientation; although he knew as a child. At first, Herndon thought coming out would be career suicide; instead, it led him into working with LGBTQ organizations for events like Concerts for Love and Acceptance as well as recreating his breakthrough hit “What Mattered Most”.
TJ Osborne of Brothers Osborne became the first openly gay artist signed to a major country label when he publicly came out as gay in 2021, becoming the first openly gay artist on that label. Since then, several other queer country artists have followed his lead and found success without abandoning the music that has won them fans – but while nudie suits and pompadours may no longer be worn publicly by country stars, some songs like “Jolene,” wherein one character desires another for sexual fulfillment can still show signs of queerness such as in songs like “Jolene.” Other pioneering country artists include K D Lang who came out publicly in 2010 while her fame suffered immensely due to this public announcement; singer/songwriter Billy Gilman credits Herndon as having inspired him in making public announcement of his own public announcement of sexual orientation as well.
Orville Peck rose to prominence as a fringe-masked country singer renowned for reviving country music’s pro-queer legacy in 2019. He became the first openly gay male country artist ever signed by a major label with his debut album Pony released through Sub Pop and garnering Shania Twain’s attention.
Peck has endured plenty of criticism and hostility from within his industry, yet remains undaunted in his pursuit to push country music further by accepting his sexuality as part of his artistic identity.
He has successfully transformed traditional country songs about drag queens fleeing rodeos with cowboys or boxers as a form of escape, into something which celebrates LGBTQ+ people as people and celebrates the lives they lead.
As with Ty Herndon, Orville Peck shows that being gay needn’t be a barrier to success in country music and that out performers have always felt welcomed and accepted in its genre. As more artists like Brandi Carlile and TJ Osborne of Brothers Osborne continue to embrace their sexual orientation while pushing country beyond its limits, country will become a more accepting space for LGBTQ individuals.
Brandy Clark first emerged onto the country music scene as a songwriter without making much of a public declaration of her sexual orientation; rather, she approached it privately as something she brought with her into her work and respected award-winning artist who just so happened to be gay.
At first, she found it challenging to transition to Nashville as an openly gay artist; though she’d written songs for Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, and Keith Urban among others, it took years for the industry to accept her as a performer.
Now, Clark has made history again; her latest album Your Life Is a Record has earned nominations in both Best Country Album and Solo Performance categories at this year’s Grammys. As the first out LGBTQ country artist ever to receive these nominations in both categories, her music often challenges conservative values; for example in “Crazy Women,” which confronts misogynistic perceptions of female artists. By sharing her sexual orientation open up more diversity within country music genre. Let’s hope it continues.
Country music has long had an unfavorable history when it comes to homophobia, often leaving openly gay country singers vulnerable in terms of career advancement once their sexual orientation becomes known. Yet slowly but surely over the past decade there has been a quiet shift toward greater inclusion and diversity within its genre.
Billy Gilman has become the latest country star to publicly come out. Through a YouTube video posted Tuesday afternoon, he revealed he is gay and has a partner. At 12 years old he became the youngest singer ever to score a Top 40 country hit – “One Voice.” Before then his sexuality had been kept hidden until recent reports surfaced about it.
Gilman explained in a video posted Thursday that these rumors cost him potential record deals and nearly derailed his career entirely. To set an example for younger artists and show that being gay in country music shouldn’t be treated as something to fear, he made the decision to publicly declare his sexual orientation after a reporter saw them together at an event and snapped their picture together. His goal is to set an example by showing it is no big deal being gay in country music.
Harper Grae isn’t content with following the traditional trope of glorifying small town origins as she takes on life’s challenges head-on and faces them head on – whether those be familial discord or discrimination because of sexual orientation.
Grae is proud to have become the first openly lesbian country artist ever chosen for CMT’s Next Women of Country class, an outstanding achievement in its own right. She recently premiered her single, “I Think About You,” at a time when many states are considering anti-LGBT legislation or passing them. Through her platform, she raises both money and awareness for LGBTQ youth who have experienced harassment.
While country artists have traditionally been marginalized because of their sexual orientation, that trend is changing slowly but surely. From RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars winner Trixie Mattel to TJ Osborne from The Brothers Osborne and more – this list shows that country music is now more welcoming than ever and Warner Music backing artists’ breakthrough is imminent.