Many tend to believe the country music genre is filled with majorly conservative fans with little wiggle room for LGBT acceptance, making it difficult for country musicians to come out of the closet. However, these five artists pushed past these stereotypes to become open about their sexuality without fear of backlash against their music.
Indiana Queen’s Kevin Thornton
Indiana Queen released an album Nov. 15, which included a song about what it is like to be a gay music artist in Nashville, Tennessee from the perspective of lead singer Kevin Thornton. The song, titled “Nashville Don’t Give a Damn,” premiered with a music video.
“I have no interest in pretending to be someone else. I don’t care if Nashville isn’t ready for it.” Thornton said, according to the band’s website. “The album is folk country, but let’s be serious there is nothing traditional about Indiana Queen.” The new album was recorded on a vintage Tascam 246 four track tape machine in Nashville.
Check out the music video here.
Ty Herndon came out in Nov. 2012 to People Magazine, making his first public appearance with his boyfriend just three weeks later.
“My mother probably knew I was gay before I did. I remember sitting down with her and having the conversation,” he told People. “She was more concerned about me having a happy life. You have to be able to do that in your own skin, and [my family] has seen me struggle with being gay my whole career.”
Out in public with his partner for the first time, Herndon felt whole. “This was the last piece of the puzzle to be authentic,” he said at the time. “Lies eat away at whatever you do, especially your relationship. So, now we’re pretty solid.”
One of the first well-known country artists to come out was Chely Wright, who revealed her sexuality in 2010.
“I actually decided to come out of the closet in 2007,” Wright told Billboard in an interview. “It took me three years to get everything together the way that I wanted it. I did start to imagine that I could have a full, balanced, and normal life. Had you told me in 2006 where I would be in 2016, I would not have believed you, but I did have plans to have the life that I wanted to.”
Her album, “I Am the Rain,” released this year and was shaped in part by her coming out story. Slate reports the album’s opening song, “Inside,” is a lullaby she wrote for herself as she prepared to come out publicly.
Wright married Sony Music’s director of marketing, Lauren Blitzer, in 2011. They have twin boys together.
Just hours after Herndon came out, country singer Billy Gilman took that momentum and followed suit. He turned to YouTube to share his story.
“It’s taken me a good many weeks to figure out how I was to approach this video,” he said. “But today, actually, a fellow country artist and friend made it easier for me to make this video, and I wanted my fans, who have stuck by me for many, many years, to know.”
Shortly before he decided to come out, a reporter spotted him with his then-partner of five months and took a photo of them together. He then decided he would take control of his life by coming out on his own terms.
“I’ve been an advocate for so many things in my life that I thought why not be an advocate for me and the cause that I believe in.”
Watch his coming out video here.
Another Nashville gay country star, Shane McAnally’s career reached success after he revealed his sexuality to fans.
“My career really took off when I came out. When I stopped hiding who I was, I started writing hits,” he said, according to Gay Influence.
He owes a lot of his success to being open about himself. He wanted to make it big in 2010 when he released a self-titled album, but it didn’t take off. Now, the singer, songwriter and record producer is grateful that he didn’t make it big from that album.
“The truth is, I probably would be dead if I had become a star, because at that point I was so closeted and so afraid of people finding out I was gay. There was no telling what would have happened.”
In 2014, the Academy of Country Music Awards awarded McAnally Songwriter of the Year and Album of the Year for “Same Trailer Different Park.” The Grammy Awards also named the album Best Country Album, and awarded his song “Merry Go Round” as Best Country Song.
He married his partner Michael Baum in 2012. They have twins, Dylan and Dash McAnally Baum.