Hey Metiza! Last week, I kicked off a retrospective of LGBT+ Pride in music. Starting with the 1960s and ending in the present, my goal is to show how far the LGBT+ community has come, and how far it still needs to go.
If you remember, the 1960s was not a very good time to be gay. Entirely overshadowed by political unrest, war, and other rights movements, the LGBT+ community kept mostly quiet until the 1969 Stonewall Riots. This kickstarted a movement that used the momentum from Stonewall to garner mainstream attention, and change what it meant to be a member of the LGBT+ community.
No longer was it encouraged to hide your true self.
The first Gay Pride Parade took place in Los Angeles in 1970, Dr. Frank Kameny is the first openly gay candidate for US Congress in 1971, states repeal sodomy and homosexuality laws, Harvey Milk is the first openly gay man elected to public office in 1977. Though he was tragically assassinated a year later, Milk continues to be a role model for LGBT+ youth today, and proves that being true to yourself is one of the best ways to make a difference.
While this shift of sexual politics was happening, plenty of musicians followed suit.
While this shift of sexual politics was happening, plenty of musicians followed suit. In 1972, David Bowie’s album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Bowie’s backing band, The Spiders From Mars, introduced a new stage persona for Bowie, Ziggy Stardust. While paving the way for the glam rock of the future, Bowie blurred the lines of gender expression with Stardust. Presenting simply as a performer, Bowie’s androgynous persona was someone different than who he was offstage. He, along with his wife at the time, came out as bisexual in the early 70s.
The importance of Glam Rock as a movement started by Bowie is often overlooked.
Men started wearing “outrageous” (for the time) hairstyles and outfits, and often donning makeup onstage. Like Ziggy Stardust’s iconic lightning bolt, many glam rock artists felt that more makeup and bigger hair meant more showmanship and more entertainment. Because it was entirely unheard of for men of the time to even wear foundation, performers like Bowie, Alice Cooper, and Brian Eno using makeup similarly (and in most cases, way more) to women of the era changed how gender was expressed.
Another icon of the LGBT+ movement, Freddie Mercury, frontman of Queen, got his start in the 1970s. Though he never officially declared his sexuality, songs like “Don’t Stop Me Now” have lyrics suggesting his sexual preference to both men and women. Famously, Mercury said in an interview, “I sleep with men, women, cats—you name it. I’ll go to bed with anything!” His nonchalant attitude towards sexuality defined the start of the LGBT+ movement in the 70s, the goal of which was to make having an alternative sexuality or gender commonplace, just like being straight and cisgender.
David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, Freddy Mercury and Iggy Pop were Glam Icons of the 1970s
While LGBT+ musicians like Freddie Mercury, Elton John, and David Bowie were getting airtime on the radio, enjoying mainstream success, and bringing LGBT+ topics and issues to the forefront, an entire movement full of sexual openness and acceptance was making its way from England to America through the underground punk scene. Many people forget that the punk rock movement dates back as early as 1976, with bands like The Ramones getting their start in that year.
The Buzzcock’s “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have)” could have been a reference to frontman Peter Shelley’s bisexuality before he had publicly come out (but his first solo single, Homosapien, was banned from the BBC in 1981 for “explicit references to gay sex” so I don’t think he really had to publicly express his sexuality).
Another punk artist that enjoyed some mainstream success, Iggy Pop wrote sexually fueled lyrics, and embraced David Bowie’s spirit of glam rock after a collaboration with him in the mid-70s. Though the punk movement isn’t generally as discussed as other styles of the time, the 70s were a time of acceptance for anyone who liked leather jackets with spikes and loud fast-paced rock.
Obviously, the 1970s were definitely a better time to be queer.
Plenty of popular musicians gave positive role models to those looking for representation in media, and sexual politics took a turn with Harvey Milk and repealing of sodomy laws around the United States (some states also had to legalize homosexuality, and that happened too). In comparison to the 60s, the 1970s were a time of change for many members of the LGBT+ community, and with representation across all types of music, there truly was a song for every person who needed one.
Next week, the 1980s. The 80s takes openness and sexuality to a whole new level, and music, as well as the artists behind it, bring an important LGBT+ issue to the forefront of American politics.
Cover image via Rolling Stone
Also published on Medium.