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Queer Icons in the Music Industry

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Article by: Drea | @DreasHouse28 

Sir Elton John

Sir Elton John (1947-) is a British singer, pianist, and composer whose music career began in the 1970s. He has released more than 30 albums and his most recent single, “Hold Me Closer,” a remake featuring Britney Spears, has cracked Top Ten charts in eighteen countries as of this article’s publication.

Sir Elton John came out as bisexual in 1976 and spent the next decade or so publicly dating men and women, marrying one woman for four years. Sir Elton John came out as gay in 1988 and has since admitted to never having been into women, playing a part he was expected to play and lying to himself and others. Sir Elton John began a relationship with David Furnish in 1993. They were one of the first couples to legally form a civil partnership in the United Kingdom in 2005. They have two biological children via a surrogate.

Why is this important?

At the peak of his popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, Sir Elton John came out of the closet and spoke openly about his sexuality and LGBTQ+ issues (though back then they were only LGBT issues). He advocated for LGBT rights both nationally and globally. He wore bright colors, sparkly suits, and dazzling earrings, paying no mind to critics or the homophobes who tried to destroy his career.

Sir Elton John dedicated so much of his time and energy to raise AIDS awareness in the 1980s and 1990s. He recorded “That’s What Friends Are For” with megastars Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. They donated all proceeds to the American Foundation for AIDS Research. The song received a Grammy Award, yet Sir Elton and the other singers refused to accept a penny from the song’s success, choosing to donate everything to the fight against the AIDS virus. His own foundation, Elton John AIDS Foundation, has raised more than $500M to combat AIDS globally since its creation in 1992.

With accomplishments that include inductions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1994) and Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1975), and being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II (1998), Sir Elton John’s service to music and his LGBTQ+ philanthropy are globally recognized and appreciated. Someone with as large of a platform as he has, Sir Elton John has been a loud and ever-present queer musician fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. His dedication to fighting for LGBTQ+ rights for the last 45+ years has undoubtedly changed the face of the LGBTQ+ community for decades to come.

Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Etheridge (1961-) is an American singer, songwriter, and musician. She has won two Grammy Awards, five GLAAD Media Awards, and one Academy Award. Etheridge first hit the music scene in 1988 and has since released sixteen studio albums. Her most recent record, One Way Out, was released on the queer-friendly record label BMG. Ethridge’s music is known for its honesty, vulnerability, and brave confessions. 

Ethridge came out of the closet as a lesbian in 1993 and has since become a gay rights activist and an advocate for environmental consciousness. She married actor Tammy Lynn Michaels in 2003 and welcomed fraternal twins a year later. Ethridge battled breast cancer, went through a very public divorce, fell in love and married a second time, and suffered the loss of a child at the hands of an opioid addiction. Despite all of these hardships, she continued making music and fighting for LGBTQ+ rights. 

Ethridge’s arguably most famous song, “Come to My Window,” was the first song released after she came out of the closet in 1993. With raw lyrics that include: 

I don’t care what they think / I don’t care what they say / What do they know / About this love anyway? 

I would dial the numbers / Just to listen to your breath / And I would stand inside my hell / And hold the hand of death / You don’t know how far I’d go / To ease this precious ache / And you don’t know how much I’d give / Or how much I can take / Just to reach you 

“Come to My Window” became a silent (but LOUD) anthem for closeted queer folks longing for an acceptance that was not guaranteed or, in many cases, not even a possibility. Pair these lyrics with the stripped-down music video of Ethridge playing her guitar in black and white (and an observer’s view of a woman in a psychiatric hospital room struggling with mental health issues) and “Come to My Window” came to represent the vulnerability and sheer honesty of a queer person declaring their love for another while struggling in isolation with societal pressures and judgements related to their queerness. 

Why is this important? 

Ethridge came out as a lesbian at a national queer celebration of a U.S. democratic president’s election victory. Ethridge’s queerness and philanthropy are so intertwined with her political activism that it’s hard to separate them as individual aspects of who she is. She continues to fight for gay rights at the state level as well as the national level. For Ethridge, being queer and being politically active are one and the same, and she has spent more than 30 years fighting for LGBTQ+ rights. 


Lance Bass

Lance Bass (1979-) is an American singer, film and television producer, and sometimes dancer and actor. He rose to fame in the late 1990s/early 2000s as one-fifth of the mega boyband N SYNC. To date, the band has sold more than 70 million records and is the fifth-best-selling boyband in history, behind BTS and the Backstreet Boys. After N SYNC broke up in 2002, Bass ventured into film and radio. He starred in a handful of movies, television shows, reality tv programs, and hosted several shows on satellite radio. 

Bass publicly dated women, in an attempt to hide his sexuality from the public eye, until he came out of the closet as gay in 2006 at the hands of extreme media pressure. Bass says he thought he needed to hide his sexuality while N SYNC was at its peak because he felt the weight of his four band members’ careers on his shoulders. Bass and the other members of N SYNC, like all boybands at the time, had been marketed as young, attractive, single, cis heterosexual men and Bass thought their fans would turn on the band if he came out of the closet. He said he couldn’t take the pressure of letting down his bandmates, so he suppressed his queerness for a long time. Lance married artist and actor Michael Turchin in 2014 and welcomed twins via surrogate in 2021. 

Why is this important? 

Since coming out of the closet, Bass has worked with the LGBTQ+ community and serves as its unofficial host for various events and programs. Bass, who calls himself your (gay uncle) Guncle Lance,  hosted a daily entertainment news segment on the OutQ radio show and hosted the gay American realtity-TV dating show Finding Prince Charming. In addition to his LGBTQ+ presence in entertainment and popular culture, Bass is extensively involved in philanthropy that ranges from LGBTQ+ issues,  animal rights, mental health, Down Syndrome, and child welfare.

Bass has served as two driving forces within the LGBTQ+ community: first, he has been an unrelentingly positive queer presence in mainstream entertainment news by bringing LGBTQ+ issues to the forefront of all sorts of discussions; and second, he has unintentionally become the living embodiment of (the very heteronormative) “queer folks look just like you and me” – he is unproblematic, in a loving committed relationship with an extremely supportive man raising two children together, and maintains a professional presence that is committed to open and honest dialogue about issues affecting the queer community. Bass is a subtle but lethal force for the LGBTQ+ community with no signs of slowing down. Our Guncle Lance is committed to advancing conversations related to LGBTQ+ issues. 


Freddie Mercury 

Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) was a British singer, songwriter, and vocal frontman of the rock band Queen with an impressive four octave vocal range. Mercury was a flamboyant, loud, unapologetic man off stage and an unhinged, flamboyant, loud, and unapologetic commanding force on stage. His most notable live performance was during Live Aid 1985 where Mercury’s vocals and improvised crowd engagement became known as The Note Heard Round the World

Mercury never defined or declared his sexuality publicly. He had a long-term romantic/platonic relationship with Mary Austin and later Barbara Valentin, but Mercury consistently had relationships with men throughout his adult life. His longest relationship was with Jim Hutton, whom Mercury referred to as his husband for the last six years of his life. Mercury died in 1991 (and was cremated wearing a gold wedding band) after a long, private battle with AIDS. Much like his sexuality, Mercury kept his positive diagnosis guarded, even from close friends and family. Mercury disclosed his positive status just months before his death, leaving many in the dark to his true struggle with the disease. 

Homosexuality was a criminal offense in the 1960s in the United Kingdom, becoming decriminalized in 1967, but that didn’t stop the court of public opinion from passing judgement on homosexuals well into the next decade. Some say Mercury was open about his sexuality while others say he actively hid his sexuality for fear of legal (or social) prosecution. Regardless of the truth, Mercury was known for his quick wit in responding to media prodding about his sexuality. It is unknown by the public if Mercury identified as bisexual, gay, or queer (the latter of which was not common place during Mercury’s lifetime). Mercury took the truth of his sexuality to his grave. As members of or allies to the LGBTQ+ community, it is not our place to out someone or label someone who hasn’t done so themselves, so this article and No Stunts will not speculate his sexuality. Instead, we will focus on the impact he had on the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. 

Why is this important? 

Mercury was loud. Mercury was proud. Mercury was bold. Mercury was unapologetic. A lyrical genius, Mercury used his knowledge of music, insight into a deeper level of lyrical poetry, and exuberant personality to charm and dazzle his fans, much to his management’s and the media’s dismay. Mercury challenged everything that stood in his way, from closed-minded loved ones, to heteronormative agendas haunting his professional career, and to the speculations and judgements of the media to critics intent on ruining his career. 

Mercury lived by Mercury’s standards. He wrote the lyrics that he wanted to. He composed the music his soul told him to. He released the music he believed in. He spoke the way he wanted to express himself. He wore what he wanted to. Mercury did Mercury, and it’s that kind of unapologetic and fierce commitment to himself that the LGBTQ+ community benefited most from. It gave so many queer folks the hope that one day they, too, could be as open and free (“free” within the confines of the U.K. legal system and social structure) as Mercury was. 

Although Mercury was not as active in LGBTQ+ philanthropy during his lifetime as other queer folks and allies were, Mercury’s influence on the LGBTQ+ community is still very much active in 2022. The year after Mercury’s death, the remaining members of Queen organized The Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness to both celebrate his life and raise money for AIDS research, which was a disease largely unfamiliar to the medical community and general public at the time. Mega stars including Elton John, David Bowie, Elizabeth Taylor, George Michael, U2, Metallica, and many others attended and performed at the event. The tribute concert’s funds helped launch the The Mercury Phoenix Trust, which has since raised millions of dollars in AIDS charity and research. According to their website, the Trust has donated more than £579K to fund 100+ projects in 16 different countries. Mercury’s contribution to the LGBTQ+ community and to the music industry, along with his posthumous contribution to AIDS research, make Mercury a solidly impactful force. 

So why does any of this matter? Well, it’s because the LGBTQ+ community is burdened with a long, up-hill battle for acceptance and inclusion. Queer musicians and allies are doing their part to raise awareness and make change. We know that visibility helps people feel accepted and included. Actions also help. These queer artists have dedicated their professional and personal lives to advancing the state of the LGBTQ+ community. We have come so far, but we still have so far to go. Share some of your favorite queer artists with us on Twitter @nostuntsmag. 

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