Last June, during the final song of country singer-songwriter Brooke Eden's set at the Grand Ole Opry, she introduced a special guest. Country legend Trisha Yearwood joined Eden to sing an updated version of "She's In Love With the Boy" to reflect Eden's love story with her fiancee, Hilary Hoover,
"Love is love. You can't just say it. You gotta mean it," Yearwood said from the Opry stage. "So I think we should [sing] this song for you guys tonight, because she's in love with the girl. I'm in love with the boy. Let's just sing it for everybody."
The performance — and Yearwood's appearance — went beyond a country legend joining a rising star for her big night. It was a meaningful gesture of support and love for a queer country singer — something that shouldn't be unique in country music, but — all too often throughout the genre's history — has unfortunately been a rarity. Thankfully, there are several country stars, both LGBTQ+ artists and allies, who are making country music a more inclusive space.
Here are 20 outspoken LGBTQ+ allies in country music.
Country powerhouse Wynonna Judd has always been one to stand up for what she believes in. So when Judd was criticized for agreeing to perform on a cruise for gay and lesbian couples, she didn't mince words.
"I've had the biggest gay following in the history of country music...since 1980-something, I think it's just the more you talk about love, the more you talk about God, the bigger of a target you are," Judd said (quote via CMT). "And so bring it on."
Country queen Kacey Musgraves shared a message of love with her gay fans through her song "Follow Your Arrow," a celebration of being true to yourself. She's also been outspoken about the need for more inclusivity in the country genre.
"It's crazy that a certain kind of a person could feel excluded from a genre that's so real — or supposed to be so real," she said during the 2018 New Yorker Festival (quote via Billboard.) "That has always really pissed me off. Because I love the genre so much, I felt, 'Well fine, maybe I'll just have an all-gay audience.'"
During an interview with GLAAD, Miranda Lambert spoke about how she's learning to be a better ally to the LGBTQ+ community.
"I also feel like as a country artist I get to lift them up and I get to stand on that platform with them," Lambert said.
In the summer of 2019, Lambert and her husband, Brendan McLoughlin, joined Lambert's brother Luke and his husband for WorldPride in New York City.
In an interview with Pride Source, Lambert discussed her love and support for her brother.
"I support him 100 percent in whatever he does. He is a brilliant individual and the most amazing person, and just so genuine," Lambert told Pride Source. "Growing up in the same household, we're way different. He has no accent, he doesn't really like country music (Laughs). But he did call me and tell me he loved this record, which meant a lot coming from him. We grew up in the same house, but we grew up differently because I'm still pretty much a country girl at heart, and he lives in Austin and he's way cooler than me."
LeAnn Rimes has long been committed to using her platform to stand up for equality. The country star has worked with organizations such as the Trevor Project and she was even honored with the Ally for Equality award from the Human Rights Campaign.
"My uncle passed away from AIDS when I was 11, and growing up in Mississippi and in Texas at that time, being gay was very taboo, and it was not discussed," Rimes told Pride in 2017. "I never quite understood how he was treated for being gay. It didn't make any sense to me. I think it's something that's been a part of my life and has been in my heart for a long time now. Like I said, I just immediately led with my heart. Humanity comes first, and music comes second. It's something I've never thought twice about, not speaking out. First off, I have such amazing fans that have stuck by me. We've been very good to each other, the LGBTQ community and myself, and outside of that, I'm a big supporter of equality across the board. I truly believe in human rights, and not just for the LGBTQ community, but just across the board. I have no qualms about speaking about it at all."
Country legend Reba McEntire has a dedicated gay following and she's been an outspoken supporter of gay rights throughout her career.
"I just went to my first gay wedding a couple of months ago in California for Michael and Steven, my two great friends," McEntire told PrideSource in 2015. "They've been together for 20 years! I thought that it was not fair, and I didn't understand why they couldn't get married. It wasn't because they just wanted to get married. If one of them had gotten injured and gone to the hospital, the other one couldn't make decisions for them. It's very upsetting. It's not only for convenience or for romantic reasons - it's for practicality. For practical reasons! I get a kick out of what Dolly said: "Why shouldn't they get married and be as miserable as the rest of us?" [Laughs]"
In 2015, she recorded a special message of support for GLAAD.
Taylor Swift shared a petition for fans to sign in support of the Equality Act, which protects LGBTQ+ folks, at the end of the video for her song "You Need to Calm Down."
"Rights are being stripped from basically everyone who isn't a straight white cisgender male," Swift told Vogue in 2019, referencing her decision to speak out about the need for advocacy.
Country singer Ty Herndon came out as gay in 2014, revealing that he didn't share his sexuality with the public because he felt it wouldn't be accepted in the country genre.
"I've dreamed about being in country music since I was six years old," Herndon told Entertainment Tonight. "It's my life, it's what I do, it's who I am, and I went to great lengths to cover up [being gay] to be a country star."
Since then, Herndon has worked to make sure that a new generation of country artists can show their true selves to fans. He launched the Concert For Love & Acceptance concert, a partnership with GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, to make a difference for LGBTQ youth through music.
In 2018, Maren Morris wrote a love letter to the LGBTQ community. The letter was published in Billboard.
"One of my favorite experiences from my headline tour last year was getting to really see who my fans were and where they've come from. The LGBTQ community was so embracing of me and I felt this precious responsibility to be a voice in country music for them, because it's a genre that historically has not," Morris wrote, noting that things are changing for the better in country music. "Walls are coming down, tolerance has turned to acceptance and incandescent support. However many revolutions we get around the sun, we're all here to love and be loved."
In 2012, Carrie Underwood publicly announced her support for gay marriage.
"As a married person myself, I don't know what it's like to be told I can't marry somebody I love, and want to marry," Underwood told The Independent (quote via Billboard.) "I can't imagine how that must feel. I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love."
Country singer-songwriter Mickey Guyton has long been devoted to making country music a more inclusive space.
Country music is for everyone," Guyton told NBC News in 2020. "It's for LGBTQ communities, Latino communities. It's so important that people of color, Black, brown, whatever color you are, are seen within this industry."
After country singer Brooke Eden publicly came out as gay, she told Proud Radio with Hunter Kelly that Guyton was a huge source of support.
"For so long, we've been silenced," Eden said (quote via Sounds Like Nashville). "And I feel like that night, she felt like she needed to encourage me to be myself and because she was so empowered to be herself and wanting to empower me to be me."
In 2019, Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles was honored by the Human Rights Campaign for her support of the LGBTQ+ community.
"We artists are these bridge builders," Nettles said in her acceptance speech. "These artful bridges not only help us to connect ideas, but they help us to connect to each other. And for this reason, we most specifically in the country community have a wonderful opportunity right now. I want to encourage all of my peers, all of my open-hearted and inclusive peers and friends in the county genre to let their hearts and voices be heard in support of the LGBTQ community...It can be as simple as making it known on your socials that your tours are inclusive environments where everyone of every color, religion, love, orientation or gender identification is welcomed."
The Chicks have never shied away from letting their voice be heard and we love them for it. The trio has always had a bond with their LGBTQ+ fanbase. In a 2020 interview, Maines reflected on how being essentially exiled from country radio following her criticism of President George W. Bush strengthened that bond.
"There was sort of a shared 'we know what you're going through' with being suppressed or hated," Natalie Maines told New Now Next in 2020. "And they watched us stand up to that, especially with 'Not Ready to Make Nice.' There's always been a connection with our gay fans in that way—having to overcome and stay happy and fun, and not let it beat you down."
Nelson made headlines when he recorded Ned Sublette's "Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other" in 2006, but he was a vocal supporter of LGBTQ+ rights long before that.
"It's ridiculous to me that this is something we're having a conversation about this in this day and age. I thought it was something that was settled a long time ago," Nelson told Texas Monthly, regarding his support for gay marriage, adding that the issue is about human rights.
"I never thought of marriage as something only for men and women. But I'd never marry a guy I didn't like," Nelson quipped.
Country superstar voiced his support for the LGBTQ+ community loud and clear with his early '90s hit "We Shall Be Free," which featured the line "when we're free to love anyone we choose...we shall be free."
"That line was about everything from interracial marriage and marriages crossing religions to same-sex marriages," Brooks told Billboard. "If you truly love somebody, that's what I'm hoping, as a child of God, that we're doing. That whole line was just about, 'C'mon, man, see past the walls and love each other.'"
Country icon Trisha Yearwood has long been a vocal ally for the LGBTQ+ community.
"I was raised by a family who never made me feel like I shouldn't be an open person, so I'm lucky in that way too," Yearwood told Pride Source in 2019. "The other day we were just talking about how hard it must be to live a life where you can't really be yourself. So I like where we are. I know it's still not easy in certain circles, but I like where we are and where we're going. We preach 'love one another' and that's what we're supposed to do."
Yearwood also commented on her husband Garth Brooks' allyship, vocalized in "We Shall Be Free."
"I live in a house that is about tolerance and love," she said. "I wouldn't be married to a guy who didn't feel that way, and he's been public about that too. Like you said, it's in that song. You just speak your truth."
Revered singer-songwriter and queer country artist Brandy Clark co-wrote one of the most celebrated LGBTQ+ country songs in recent history with Kacey Musgraves' "Follow Your Arrow."
"I don't think any of us realized that day or even when she put it on the album what a moment it was for a lot of people," Clark told Pride Source in 2020. "I'm really proud of that, that the LGBTQ community feels represented, because I live in a bit of a bubble. I've always lived in pretty progressive areas. I grew up in the Northwest and I had parents who were gonna be accepting of me no matter what I was; if I was a green alien, they would be like, "OK, well we love you. Don't smoke." (Laughs.) And then moving to Nashville and discovering I was gay: I was a late bloomer. Nashville's a pretty liberal city for the South, and I was always in a group of people who were gay."
Country star T.J. Osborne of Brothers Osborne's made headlines when he came out as gay, becoming the most prominent openly gay country artist signed to a major label. The duo has been proactive in making country music a more inclusive space for all fans. (Their 2015 video for "Stay A Little Longer" featured a same-sex couple.)
In 2021, Osborne publicly came out as gay in an interview with Time. Since then, the duo won a Grammy award for their song "Younger Me," which reflects T.J.'s experience.
But what's most important to the duo is creating a space where LGBTQ+ fans can feel safe and live proud at Brothers Osborne shows.
"To me, that's worth more than anything than I've ever done," T.J. told CBS Mornings (quote via People.)
In her memoir Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile writes about coming out as gay at 15 (after seeing the episode of the sitcom Ellen, in which Ellen Degeneres comes out). Carlile encountered intolerance (her pastor refused to baptize her), but the multi-talented artist has spent her life and career making the world a better place. Her song "The Joke" has become an anthem for queer fans.
"When the boy I wrote the beginning of that song about found out it was about him, his reaction was really the thing that mattered most to me," Carlile told USA Today of "The Joke." "And I'm really proud of the young man that he's been able to become. I don't have my fingers on the pulse of the queer community all the time, but I watched that 12-year-old be helped by it and that's when I knew it was going to help other people."
Dolly Parton has been an advocate for LGBTQ+ folks for decades.
"They know that I completely love and accept them, as I do all people," Parton said of her gay fans in an interview with Billboard in 2014. "I've struggled enough in my life to be appreciated and understood. I've had to go against all kinds of people through the years just to be myself. I think everybody should be allowed to be who they are, and to love who they love. I don't think we should be judgmental. Lord, I've got enough problems of my own to pass judgment on somebody else."
And though Parton frequently says she won't get into politics, when it comes to human rights, she speaks her mind. In 2017, Parton voiced her thoughts on North Carolina's transphobic "Bathroom Bill."
"I think everybody should be treated with respect," she said. "I don't judge people, and I try not to get too caught up in the controversy of things. I hope that everybody gets a chance to be who and what they are."
In 2005, she recorded "Travelin' Thru" for the film Transamerica, a movie about a trans woman on a road trip with her son.
"Some people are blind or ignorant, and you can't be that prejudiced and hateful and go through this world and still be happy," Parton said of her inspiration for the song. "One thing about this movie is that I think art can change minds. It's alright to be who you are."
Since coming out in 2010, Chely Wright has been an outspoken voice for LGBTQ+ rights and has made country music a more welcoming and inclusive genre.
Wright, an activist as well as a celebrated country artist, has also encouraged her fellow country artists to stand up for queer fans and condemn anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, such as Tennessee's "Bathroom Bill," which would restrict school restroom use for transgender people.
"But change—what we need in 2016, is for them to absolutely 100 percent affirm the LGBT community and condemn these very bigoted laws," Wright told CNN in 2016 (quote via Advocate). "A lot of my peers in country music may not think they know a trans person. I know they know a gay person. I know many of them have gays and lesbians who work for them and they love them but we need them now to take that very courageous step to affirm."
In 2021, it was announced that Emmy-winning actor Jean Smart and her producing partner Angeliki Giannakopoulos have acquired the rights to tell the life story of Wright.
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