“Stay In, Come Out, Let’s Talk” Live Panel Highlights LGBTQ+ Experiences In The Music Industry
On Tuesday, June 30, the Recording Academy Los Angeles Chapter hosted its “Stay In, Come Out, Let’s Talk” Facebook live panel event. In celebration of Pride, the livestream conversation featured musicians and music industry leaders who shared their journeys of coming out and self-acceptance and discussed the specific struggles faced by queer artists and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The livestream was split into a series of 15-minute panelist-led short conversations on various topics; each discussion additionally focused in large part on ways that the Recording Academy can help better serve LGBTQ+ artistic communities.
Panelists featured in the virtual conversation were GRAMMY-winning artist LeAnn Rimes, and singers, songwriters and producers Troye Sivan, Leland, Gizzle and Alex Ritchie, as well as LA Chapter trustee Darrell Brown, GRAMMY-winning producer and Florida Chapter Governor DJ Tracy Young and Executive Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s chorus and San Francisco Chapter Governor Chris Verdugo. Welcoming and closing remarks were offered by LA chapter Membership Manager Brittany Presley and LA chapter Executive Director Qiana Conley. The panel was moderated by producer, engineer and newly elected LA chapter Vice President, Lynne Earls.
In the first conversation, friends and frequent collaborators Rimes and Brown talked about their 18-year journey writing songs and sharing records together and the importance of finding a community to connect with.
“To have someone on my side who supports that honesty and truth is so beautiful because that’s what we’re here to do, right? We’re here to tell the truth even when it’s really hard and really polarizing,” said Rimes speaking of her longtime friend in Brown. The artist detailed that her late uncle’s death from AIDS and his lifelong battle with acceptance regarding his sexuality were some of her earliest realizations that speaking out via her platform to support the queer community was an imperative way to carry on his legacy. “From very early on I wanted to give him a voice,” she stated. “It’s been so incredibly gratifying to stand up for people who have not been able to stand up for themselves in a lot of ways, and it’s really close to my heart.”
Even though some progress has been made, according to Rimes, there’s a necessary push for addressing inequities when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community and its relationship to the music industry. “I think the more that we can uplift our artists and our own truth, the more we can really celebrate our differences and allow those to speak,” she said. “With the LGBTQ community having such a specific point of view, we need that! There are so many people who need their own voices heard and expressed through music. We don’t need to be so cookie cutter.”
Beyond panels and conversations like this one, Brown suggests that, within dominating genres like country or hip-hop, efforts such as artistic opportunities, showcases, real allyship and mentorship, among others, are how we can create new support structures and move towards a more inclusive and accepting industry on all fronts.
Next, the stream was joined by singer/songwriters Troye Sivan and Leland, who, similarly to Brown and Rimes, are close friends before collaborators. The pair have been songwriting partners going on six years and have worked together on numerous tracks.
“When you find that creative soulmate, you grow and learn together, and you can communicate without saying anything. You know each other’s instincts, when to push, when not to push... that is so intricate and so so special when you find it,” he said of Leland.
On navigating the industry as gay men, both guests mentioned that being unapologetic in their identities has only led to a renewed purpose and drive when it comes to creativity. After working with various artists for nearly four years in LA, Leland mentions that while at first hesitant, connecting with Sivan, who only wrote songs with “he” pronouns was the first time he felt secure enough in a collaborative partnership to do so in his own writing. “As collaborators, Troye has helped to bring out a fearlessness in me of just standing unapologetically in the truth of who I am and what I want to say,” he said.
For Sivan, it’s focusing on the positives like the excitement of each new release, interacting with and impacting fans or looking out at the diversity of the crowd during his performances that encompass the beauty of his queer experience in the music industry, he says. “I attribute so much to the work of many LGTBQ artists who came before me. I’m conscious of that, and I’m going to now try to share that and amplify the voices of others and be grateful that I can do that.”
Following up, the stream was joined by Verdugo and Young, who spoke not only on the importance of establishing a community in the current world moment but also on the freedom that avoiding labels creates by allowing people to connect through music. “Being in the music community, there should be no judgment here. We go into the world, and we know it’s a completely different experience,” stated Young. “When I was in DC, it was the Black community who accepted me when nobody would give me the opportunity to DJ, and I think that we need to have more conversations around Black Lives Matter. It needs to be even more of our LGBTQ conversation.”
As artist and songwriter Gizzle put it after joining the event’s final conversation with Ritchie, existing in both the LGBTQ+ and Black communities presents great challenges, but it's more important now than ever to stand up and call attention to the ways that communities are marginalized and even more so, how we can work to change those conditions.
“When you think about it, there’s all these labels, but it really should be the last thing we’re thinking about. We should really be thinking about contribution and what people bring to the table, from an intellectual, creative and spiritual standpoint,” she said. “I think representation is so important.”
Ritchie agreed, reporting her experiences of being left out of certain rooms and situations during her career's rise over the past decade. She mentioned, especially as an independent artist, receiving the respect and opportunities she deserves and finding her crew has been a challenge based on how gatekeepers perceive her as a person of color and a front-facing LGBTQ+ person. "That was not what a star looked like," Ritchie said about how she was treated at first sight, while also addressing how it feels to experience change. "For me, it's been a really weird thing to see all of the things that I think [are] made [to be] strikes [against you].... they're being celebrated in 2020. It's a wild thing to watch. I'm super grateful. But also, it's really weird."
Corroborating these sentiments on intersectionality, Verdugo, in his segment, added that despite age, race or sexuality, now is the time to cultivate community in any facet. “We all need to come together as underserved communities. Therein lies our strength, to be able to conquer this pandemic, to really do what’s right in our country and stand up for one another,” he added.
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