Brandy Clark performs onstage/ Allison Russell performs at Ryman Auditorium on October 22, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. / T.J. Osborne of Brothers Osborne performs onstage during Day 2 of the 2022 Stagecoach Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 30, 2022 in Indio, California.
Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images/ Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images/ Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Stagecoach

20 Openly Gay Country Singers You Should Be Listening To


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While LGBTQ+ artists have long been an integral part of country music -- from the trailblazing Wilma Burgess, considered by many to be the first "out" singer in the industry (though she never came out publicly to fans) to Lavender Country, who released the first queer country album with their self-titled 1973 release -- it wasn't until recent years that mainstream country artists began to publicly come out to fans.

In February of 2021, TJ Osborne of Brothers Osborne became the only openly gay artist signed to a major country music label when he came out in an interview with Time magazine.

"I'm very comfortable being gay," Osborne told the magazine. "I find myself being guarded for not wanting to talk about something that I personally don't have a problem with. That feels so strange."

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Osborne's announcement came over 10 years after '90s country hitmaker Chely Wright came out as gay.

In the years in between, artists such as Brandy Clark, who co-wrote Kacey Musgraves' anthemic "Follow Your Arrow," Brooke Eden, Ty Herndon and more have openly shared their truth, making country music a more welcoming and inclusive genre.

"Others will now feel invited to the country music party for the first time," Kacey Musgraves told Time, in reference to her longtime friend, T.J. Osborne.  "Country music deserves a future even more honest than its past."

Below, get to know 20 LGBTQ+ country singers and read their thoughts on their experience in the industry and the importance of representation in the genre.

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Chely Wright

Chely Wright attends the "Invisible" premiere during NewFest 2021 at the SVA Theater on October 22, 2021 in New York City.

Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images

Chely Wright, who scored hits with "Single White Female," "It Was" and more, came out as gay in 2010.

Wright shared her story in the memoir Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer.

"Nothing in my life has been more magical than the moment I decided to come out," she told People.

In the past decade, Wright has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT+ rights. In 2011, she married LGBTQ+ civil rights activist Lauren Blitzer.

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-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Brandy Clark

Brandy Clark performs during CMT's Next Women Of Country: Bring My Flowers Now Tour on February 07, 2020 at Town Hall in New York City.

Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for CMT/ViacomCBS

Country singer-songwriter Brandy Clark was already out when she found success in the industry as both a solo artist and a songwriter who'd penned hits for Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Darius Rucker and more.

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"There have always been a lot of gay people in country music, they just haven't been open about their personal lives," Clark told People in 2020. "All kinds of people love country music, and they should be able to see them themselves represented with who's singing it."

In the same interview, Clark shared her advice for queer artists.

"Be yourself, don't be ashamed of who you are, and focus on your music," Clark continued. "If your music is good enough, eventually it gets heard. There's that great quote: 'I'd rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I'm not.' I think that's really, really true."

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

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Ty Herndon

Ty Herndon attends the 2019 CMT Music Awards - Arrivals at Bridgestone Arena on June 05, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Ty Herndon had several hits ("What Mattered Most," "Living in a Moment," "I Want My Goodbye Back") before coming out as gay in 2014.

"I realized I had an incredible story that could possibly help someone's son or daughter or grandchild's life not be as difficult as mine has been," Herndon told People in 2014. "Maybe they wouldn't have to go through as much pain and suffering. It's time to tell my truth."

Herndon and CMT host the Concert for Love and Acceptance, an annual concert in Nashville to support the LGBTQ community.

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In 2019, Herndon changed the pronouns in his hit "What Mattered Most" to reflect a relationship with a man.

"We've got so many new fans out there that were afraid to listen to country because they felt like people that were singing country music and people who were writing country music hated gay people. And that might or might not have been the case in this world of country music, but it's definitely not the case today. There's so many affirming and wonderful writers. There's so many LGBTQ writers in town. The business is opening up...it doesn't matter if you're gay or straight. It matters if you made a great album and you make great music," Herndon told Wide Open Country in 2019. "For me to be able to re-record ["What Mattered Most"] and have the gay fans out there, the LGBTQ community, hear it for the first time really -- making it brand new, but the emotions of the song are still there -- that means so much to me."

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Brooke Eden

Brooke Eden attends the OUTLOUD: Raising Voices Concert Series at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on June 05, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Brooke Eden first hit the scene with her self released EP in 2014 and continued to make a name for herself in Nashville. Though she was initially discouraged from publicly disclosing her sexuality by her label, she decided to ignore that advice after her label was bought out. She not only posts sweet photos with longtime love Hilary Hoover on social media, but she even started featuring her in her music videos. Eden is now authentic about who she is with her fans and feels like it has positively affected her music as well.

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-- Courtney Fox

Harper Grae

Harper Grae

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Harper Grae grew up in a small town in Alabama but first got her start in the entertainment world when she appeared on The Glee Project. As the singer explained to Billboard, the series creator Ryan Murphy set an incredible example of what life looks like when you live boldly and unapologetically so she decided to do the same. She uses her music to tell her truth and share who she is with her fans and has never been happier. Last year, she welcomed a child with her wife Dawn after suffering a devastating miscarriage.

-- Courtney Fox

Brandi Carlile

Singer/Songwriter Brandi Carlile performs onstage at the Troubadour on April 3, 2007 in Los Angeles, California.

Photo by Trish Tokar/Getty Images

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Brandi Carlile has been singing country music all her life. But her breakthrough came in 2007, with the release The Story. The poetic album, produced by T Bone Burnett, earned the young folk rocker a cult following. And by that point, Carlile was already openly gay; she'd come out as a lesbian when she was fifteen and confirmed that identity publicly during in a 2002 interview with The Western Front. Since then, Carlile has gained mainstream popularity -- thanks to By the Way, I Forgive You which swept at the 2019 Grammys -- and started a family. Carlile wed her wife Catherine Shepherd in 2012 and the couple now shares two daughters, Evangeline and Elijah, who were conceived via IVF and artificial insemination.

-- Emily Mack

T.J. Osborne

 T.J. Osborne of Brothers Osborne performs onstage during Day 2 of the 2022 Stagecoach Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 30, 2022 in Indio, California.

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Stagecoach

In one of the most crucial pieces of country music journalism in recent memory, Time gave T.J. Osborne--one-half of Brothers Osborne with his brother John--a platform to embrace his true self and come out to his fans. News that came as no surprise to his supportive family and true friends made T.J. the only openly gay artist currently signed to a major country music label.

 

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-- Bobby Moore

 

Lil Nas X

Rapper Lil Nas X poses in the Press Room during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on August 26, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey.

Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage

 

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"Old Town Road" being bogusly removed from Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart in 2019 didn't slow down the career trajectory of Lil Nas X or dissuade Billy Ray Cyrus from lending his talents to a remix. During the rapper and must-follow social media personality's wild 2019, he came out of the closet with a June 30 tweet, encouraging fans to listen closely to the lyrics of his song "C7osure."

-- Bobby Moore

Katie Pruitt

portrait of Katie Pruitt

Courtesy of artist

Georgia-raised singer-songwriter Katie Pruitt shares her experience growing up queer in the south through songs such as the stunning "Loving Her."

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"I'm especially proud to keep those Southern roots and talk about these topics because being from the South is a different experience than, like, growing up in California and being queer," Pruitt told New Now Next.

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Allison Russell

 Allison Russell performs at Ryman Auditorium on October 22, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Country and folk artist Allison Russell reckoned with her traumatic childhood and found joy on her stellar album Outside Child. 

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"It has become more important to me as I get older to honor those friends of our youth and loved ones of our youth and lovers of our youth who helped shape us and in this case, she literally saved my life," Russell told The Bluegrass Situation about the inspiration behind her song "Persephone." "And I wanted her to know that. I also wanted to acknowledge that I am a queer person who is now in a straight passing life and marriage. I fall in the middle of the spectrum of orientation. I've been in love with women and I've been in love with men and I've been in love with trans people and I've been in love with non-binary people. I wound up falling in love and committing to share a life with a man, my husband."

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Lavender Country

Patrick Haggerty of Lavender Country

Courtesy of artist

Queer country trailblazers Lavender Country released the first gay-themed country album in 1973. Nearly 50 years later, the band released their sophore album Blackberry Rose. 

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"I didn't aspire to do this," Lavender Country founder Patrick Haggerty told CNN. "But I made Lavender Country as a vehicle for social change, and now I get to use Lavender Country for the exact reason that I made it in the first place -- pure and unadulterated."

 

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

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Paisley Fields

Singer-songwriter (and member of Lavender Country) Paisley Fields sings about growing up closeted and queer in Iowa on forthcoming album Limp Wrist. 

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Shelly Fairchild

Shelly Fairchild performs onstage at the GLAAD + TY HERNDON's 2018 Concert for Love & Acceptance at Wildhorse Saloon on June 7, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for The 2018 Concert for Love & Acceptance

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Shelly Fairchild's debut album Ride was a hit in 2005 and at the time, her single "You Don't Lie Here Anymore" ranked in the #35 Billboard Hot Country Singles. But Fairchild suspects that rumors she was gay might have hindered her career. According to Focus LGBT, Fairchild said, "I got dropped from the record label for being gay. I mean, they made up other excuses for dropping me, but I knew the real reason that it was happening." But now Fairchild is out and proud, and continues to make music independently. In 2017, she eloped with the music executive Deborah DeLoach and their sweet wedding photoshoot, published in Brides, went viral.

-- Emily Mack

Orville Peck

Orville Peck performs onstage during the Boston Calling Music Festival on May 29, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Photo by Natasha Moustache/WireImage

Punk rock drummer turned Columbia Records recording artist and Shania Twain collaborator Orville Peck came out of nowhere in 2019 with the album Pony-- Issued by Nirvana's pre-infamy label home, Sub Pop. The masked country crooner became an unlikely sensation, at home in Canada and here in the States. He's since appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and rubbed shoulders with LGBTQ allies Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga.

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-- Bobby Moore

Joy Oladokun

Joy Oladokun performs at Ryman Auditorium on October 23, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Joy Oladokun has earned acclaim for her stirring vocals and lyrics showcased on songs such as "breathe again."

"Making music in this time especially feels really important to me," she told GO Magazine in 2020. "And as a Black woman, the title 'In Defense of My Own Happiness (vol. 1)' takes on a different meaning when you're talking about Black and queer culture in 2020. People like me are fighting for absolutely basic rights."

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-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Waylon Payne

Singer Waylon Payne performs onstage during Day 3 of the 2022 Stagecoach Festival on May 01, 2022 in Indio, California

Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Stagecoach

Born to famed country musicians Jody Payne and Sammi Smith, you might expect that Waylon Payne's childhood was full of music, touring and excitement. But as a young child, Payne was placed in the guardianship of his maternal aunt and uncle. During this time, Payne says that he was sexually abused by a family member.

At age eighteen, Payne revealed not only the abuse but also the fact that he was gay. And his family did not want to hear it; Payne was disowned entirely. "I didn't really come out," he explained to The Boot, "I was telling on somebody, and they didn't like the way that sounded." His 2020 album Blue Eyes, the Harlot, the Queer, the Pusher & Me, reckons with that painful experience.

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-- Emily Mack

Shane McAnally

Shane McAnally attends Save the Music & SongFarm.org's 2022 hometown to hometown event at Musicians Hall of Fame on April 26, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Save The Music Foundation

Shane McAnally is one of the most successful modern country songwriters, having penned hits for Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan and more (he also co-wrote "Follow Your Arrow" with Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves), but McAnally has said he was initially concerned with how to write mainstream country songs in a way he felt was honest.

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"If I talked about a relationship, I'd get so caught up in, 'What story did I tell? Who did I say I was dating?' And that completely cast a shadow over my ability to tell the story in a truthful way," McAnally said in an interview with Anthony Ramos from GLAAD (quote via CMT). "Once I came out, and realized that everybody knew and didn't care, it didn't matter what pronoun I used. I was no longer worried if 'he' or 'she' came out of my mouth. I was able to write the line properly...In doing that, my songs became much more universal to straight people too, because the heart is a heart and we all hurt and love the same."

McAnally has been married to Michael Baum since 2012.

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

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Billy Gilman

Billy Gilman attends the Blue Jacket Fashion Show to benefit the Prostate Cancer Foundation on February 05, 2020 in New York City.

Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Johnson & Johnson

Billy Gilman had a country hit at just 11 years old with his song "One Voice." The singer, who (as an adult) would later go on to compete on season 11 of The Voice, was inspired by Ty Herndon coming out in 2014. Just hours after Herndon's announcement, Gilman came out as a gay man on YouTube.

"Being a gay male country artist is not the best thing," Gilman said. "If people don't like your music, that's one thing. But after selling over 5 million records, having a wonderful life in the music industry, I knew something was wrong when no major label wanted to sit down and have a meeting and listen to the new stuff... It's difficult for me to make this video, not because I'm ashamed to be a gay male artist, or a gay artist, or a gay person, but it's pretty silly to know that I'm ashamed of doing this knowing that because I'm in a genre in an industry that is ashamed of me for being me."

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

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Trixie Mattel

Trixie Mattel performs in concert during day two of the second weekend of Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on October 10, 2021 in Austin, Texas

Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images

Trixie Mattel is not only a drag queen superstar (she's the winner of season 3 of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars), she's also an autoharp-wielding country-folk artist who counts John Prine, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, June Carter Cash and Dolly Parton among her greatest inspirations.

"I think my music is not so much about being gay; my music is about being a human being. It's not about gay relationships; it's about relationships. It's not about feeling like an outsider because you're gay. Maybe it's just about feeling like an outsider," Mattel told NPR in 2018. "But I love folk music and I love country and bluegrass, and it's fun also introducing my audience -- maybe they are gay, and maybe they don't listen that type of music, so it's fun being their gateway drug to something I think is so great. Like, If you go to my music video for "Break Your Heart," all the comments are like, 'I would have never known I would like a song like this.'"

Mattel released Two Birds in 2017, One Stone in 2018 and Barbara in 2020. Most recently, Mattel released the EP Full Coverage, which featured a cover of "Jackson" with Orville Peck.

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-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

Amythyst Kiah

Singer Amythyst Kiah performs onstage during Day 1 of the 2022 Stagecoach Festival on April 29, 2022 in Indio, California.

Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Stagecoach

Singer-songwriter and member of the supergroup Our Native Daughters (with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell), Amythyst Kiah recently released the album Wary and Strange, which addresses the fight for racial justice and her journey to embrace her true self.

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"Hiding myself to please everybody wore me down. In order to truly be happy and fulfill my purpose in life, I had to embrace who I honestly am, in every way," Kiah told Billboard.

-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer

READ MORE: The Gay Ole Opry: Building a Queer Country Community

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