By Kriston McConnell
I’ve been out since I was 16. I also started listening to metal and punk music around that time. These two facts aren’t mutually exclusive. I was searching for a group of people who were also different - not “mainstream.” As a kid growing up in a small military town in a conservative state I didn’t have much exposure to “alternative” lifestyles so to speak. Metal was my outlet. Hardcore punk was my outlet. I claimed to be bisexual for years even though I was only attracted to women because I didn’t want to associate myself with lesbians. I was ashamed of that title and shrugged it off whenever someone “mistakenly” identified me as one. I used to say “I’m bi – I’m just not dating men right now.” I didn’t have a positive lesbian role model in my life to help me see that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. Ten years later, there is still a lack of positive gay role models. Not quite as much in the entertainment industry anymore (unless you’re a queer person of color [p.o.c.]) but definitely still in the music industry (especially if you're a queer p.o.c.).
As of right now, Senses Fail is the most outspoken LGBT+ ally in the “Warped Tour” (think hardcore, metalcore, pop punk, post hardcore, etc.) music scene. Buddy Nielsen came out as queer in 2014 and ever since the band has made it their mission to bring a variety of issues to people’s attention. Nielsen wrote a lengthy blog post discussing his nearly decade long struggle with his sexuality. No one should ever have to deal with that sort of anguish for any reason. Luckily Nielsen is not the only out musician, and others have been taking it upon themselves to discuss their sexuality. PVRIS frontwoman, Lynn Gunn, is a great example. She might not be quite as vocal as Nielsen, but she hasn’t shied away from being open and true to herself. Actually, lesbian and bisexual (female) musicians seem to make up more of the LGBT+ music community than men. Men make up most of the alternative music scene…but it seems that gay women make up most of the LGBT+ artists. Doesn’t that seem a little strange to you?
I often see people post on Senses Fail’s Facebook page whenever the band posts about LGBT+ issues and complain that they aren’t focusing on their music. The thing is, that’s exactly what they are doing. Garrett Rapp of The Color Morale speaks about suicide and depression, so why can't Nielsen discuss LGBT+ issues? It's relevant for him; it's relevant to their music. At Warped Tour I overheard a couple of young men complaining about Nielsen, shouting about dicks and called him a "fag." So are you going to try to tell me there isn’t an issue? People can’t seem to see beyond their own experiences and understand what it could possibly be like for someone else. That’s called lack of empathy. In extreme cases it could even be considered as narcissistic. What if a young teenager struggling with his sexuality overheard those two and it freaked him out? He might feel uncomfortable in a place that he should feel safe and secure.
Whenever I see straight men wholeheartedly supporting gay issues I'm usually surprised. When the Supreme Court's decision earlier this year legalized same sex marriage and everyone changed his or her Facebook profile pictures rainbow, I cried. I cried some more when I realized so many (predominately male) bands changed their pictures rainbow too. It shocked me. We need more of that kind of open support – and not just when it’s the cool thing to do. People need to know that it’s not okay to hate on someone because of their sexuality or beliefs.
A couple months have gone by though and it’s already no longer a topic of conversation. There needs to be more musicians - whom kids look up to and idolize - to speak up for the LGBT+ community. While I would love to see a greater number of gay and lesbian musicians speak up, it’s just as important for allies to be vocal as well. Kids need to know that they are welcomed and have a safe space in the music scene they love. LGBT+ youth are more likely to attempt suicide, fall into depression, or get into drugs. It’s not because gay kids are prone to dangerous lifestyles – it’s because they need an escape. Music should be that escape. It’s my escape; it’s yours – why can’t it be theirs too?
There are certainly many issues within our community, but I am relieved to see that metalcore & hardcore are much more inclusive than their predecessors. I often felt uncomfortable being by myself at punk shows. I've been threatened with physical violence because of my sexuality. I witnessed a girl not much older than me at the time (I was 17) get punched in the face at a punk show because she tried to ignore the sexual advances of some guy she didn’t know. So sure, things are better, but there is plenty of room for improvement. I hope to see more musicians like Nielsen get in people’s faces. It seems to be the only way to spark conversation and engage with those who would otherwise not participate.
This is not supposed to be an easy subject to discuss. That’s why it’s worth discussing.
Kriston McConnell is a writer at Seattle Music Insider (SMI) and New Noise Magazine. McConnell earned her Scene cred as a staff member of UnderTheGunReview. She's also a staunch advocate for the LGBT+ community. Follow her on Twitter @Kristonisms.
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