Every year I attend Pride, a place for so many of us to feel safe and loved and free to be whoever we want to be. It is a time for celebration, for joy and love. It is a time to cheer at how far we’ve come, and often to protest what is still denied to us.
Music plays a big part in Pride, and I am still appalled at the kind of music that I hear every time.
I can only speak for the parades that I have attended of course, but I am sad and angry that I rarely or never hear a song by an artist that is actually LGBTQ+.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t me saying, “Pride is a gays-only party!” That’s not at all what I’m saying. The point of my indignation is that while we’re out there celebrating ourselves, we may as well be dancing and singing along to artists who put themselves out there and write about the same struggles.
There is this tendency to hail some straight artists as gay icons, probably because they’re campy. Salon Magazine’s explanation for this phenomenon was that “Drag queens imitate women like Judy Garland, Dolly Parton, and Cher because they overcame insult and hardship on their path to success and because their narratives mirror the pain that many gay men suffer on their way out of the closet.”
According to this logic, any artist with a sad story can be a gay icon.
The only queer singer that I’ve heard at a Pride recently is Lady Gaga, but the DJ wasn’t even aware that she identifies as bisexual. He admitted he just thought of her as a gay icon, “like Madonna and Beyoncè and Barbra Streisand.”
This was said to me by a gay man who works in an organization for the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights.
Similarly, the internet hails Ariana Grande as the gay icon of her generation. I love Ari, and I adore her voice, but she’s been known to purposely perform ambiguity (also when it comes to race and ethnicity) to create mystery and speculate on her identity. Essentially, she queerbaits (BUWYGIB music video, anyone?).
If we’re choosing contemporary straight allies to represent us, I’d rather hear from somebody like Alessia Cara, who doesn’t speculate on her sexuality, but sings of naturally being one’s true self while often wearing what traditionally is considered male clothing because she’s never cared for the norm.
Again, everyone is welcome and free to march to whatever songs they wish to at Pride. It would just be nice if it was a celebration of the people who are actually providing some representation. I would love to hear some Janelle Monàe, Hayley Kiyoko, Troye Sivan, and Halsey, especially their songs narrating the struggles and joys of being queer.
And there are hundreds, thousands of lesser-known queer artists who are not mainstream and deserve to be heard. What better place than Pride to introduce them to a wide audience? What better place to promote unknown gay talent?
This is not a rant as much as it is a suggestion and plea from somebody who is sick and tired of still hearing Katy Perry’s incredibly biphobic “I Kissed A Girl” at Pride in 2019.
We can do better.
In more recent years, there have been so many other mainstream songs where a female singer will talk about having “illicit” feelings for another girl that are not “bisexual anthems” but only harmful to the community. (A couple of names that come to mind are Rita Ora and Demi Lovato.)
Taylor Swift’s new single “You Need To Calm Down” clearly wishes to be the gay anthem of the year, and you can tell that her heart is in it. The video truly is a triumph of self-expression that celebrates everyone’s individuality in different shapes and colors.
With a petition to support the Equality Act and an Instagram feed full of rainbows everywhere, Taylor is gracefully presenting herself as a saving hero to the LGBTQ+ community this year. She’s probably ensuring she’ll win the Vanguard Award 2020, which is a prize GLAAD presents to a cis straight member of the entertainment community who has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for LGBTQ+ people.
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) June 1, 2019
Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to all these famous people for supporting the LGBTQ+ community. I appreciate that they go out of their way to call out homophobes and to support their queer colleagues and fans.
Regardless of whether it’s just a pandering marketing move to gain access to the gay community and widen their fanbase, I’m sure their words and gestures mean so much to so many people, and I see with my own eyes that they do influence many for the better and accelerate acceptance.
They’re not the problem. They’re doing their duty as decent human beings.
It’s just that, I would like for a gay icon to actually… you know, be gay.
Why are we so quick at clapping at straight allies who do the bare minimum but we’re so slow at accepting fellow queers and promoting them for their talent? The older generation might not have had (openly) queer artists to turn to, but we do.
It is time we started to lift them up.