The Original Out Gay Country Stars

Although Steve Grand is getting a lot of press (as he should because of his story and adorable video), there are a few others that need to be noted in the gay country genre.

This week I wrote an article about the newest in gay hits, which were blowing up on the internet. For one of them, I was a little put off by how celebrated Grand was as the “First Out Gay Male Country Star,” etc., since although his video was set outdoors it isn’t the most country of songs, and this is the first thing he’s actually done. Then I read Zach Schonfeld’s article in the Atlantic Wire and I realized how caught up in the hype I was.

Country music has a couple of out gay icons already that shouldn’t be overlooked. While the genre is typically conservative, white, and Christian, its music has been evolving along with the rest of American culture when it comes to social issues.

Considered the first out popular country star is Chely Wright, famous for her number one country single “Single White Female” back in 1999, which also reached 36 on the U.S. Billboard 100 chart. She’s had 16 singles break into the top country charts off of seven studio albums. She came out publicly in May 2010 through People magazine after a long struggle of being closeted to her friends, family, and self. Even in country music, the women seem to be coming out sooner than the men.

Drake Jensen is another out gay country performer, coming out publically in February 2012 after a Canadian teenager Jamie Hubley committed suicide after horrible bullying. Jensen doesn’t have any hits in American music charts though his 2011 single “Wash Me Away” got to number 16 on the European Country Billboard. He has received much praise for his most recent videos: “When It Hurts Like That,” and “Scars,” which deals with bullying and heartbreaking statistics about how bullying is affecting American youth. He’s also done a remake of a Tammy Wynette song “Stand by Your Man” with Willam Belli, from RuPaul’s Drag Race fame.

Maybe the most successful, but not for his own performances, has been Shane McAnally with seven number one singles under his belt. He’s a songwriter, writing songs for stars such as Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire, and the Band Parry. Personally he has three singles breaking the U.S. Country Billboard, but he says that, “My career really took off when I came out. When I stopped hiding who I am, I started writing hits.” The New York Times did a profile on McAnally in May of this year where he talked about his life in a conservative business, but he says that being gay has helped his success. “I think I’m able to tell a story in a way that relates to both men and women. Guys don’t usually sing about the shame or sadness of sex. But men do have those emotions, those experiences.”

And if you poke around in the Country Music Hall of Fame, you’ll find Lavender Country, a self-titled album with Patrick Haggerty as the front-man for the band. The LP album was released in 1973, and although now would seem like the first gay album, might have too much “free love” sentiment to be overly concerned with being gay first and foremost. With songs like “Back in the Closet Again,” “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears,” and “Straight White Patterns,” it certainly was forward for its day. Country music has become a lot more subtle and heterosexual since this album was making its way through the Seattle area.

For many this short list is surprising, since many don’t see county music as changing like the rest of the music scene. So while you’re enjoying Grand’s summer hit (go ahead, you can listen again), spread some of the love around to other artists just as queer and artistic, though maybe just not quite as underwear-model capable.

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