Country music star Ty Herndon confidently came out as gay in 2014. Herndon said that fear kept him from speaking his truth, but following his confession the "industry wrapped their arms" around him and gave the courageous artist the green light to be his authentic self.
The uncertainty of whether the genre would accept an openly gay artist weighed heavily on his shoulders for nearly two decades. Herndon's doubts were more than valid and have become a common thread between queer musicians in the closet.
Brooke Eden, Harper Grae, and Herndon recently (June 16) joined CMT on Twitter to share their journey in country music and the importance of pushing for acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community. Country correspondent for CMT Hot 20, Rissi Palmer, steered the discussion with the pioneers and assured each listener that work still needs to be done, despite the genre's significant shift in the right direction.
Eden quickly agreed with Herndon, as her experience of breaking into the industry and making music authentically has been far from easy. It was 2016 when the songstress wanted to go public about her sexuality. The fearless fighter for LGBTQ+ equality, said that close-minded members of her team strongly encouraged her to keep the romantic relationship a secret to protect her flourishing career.
"I had people on my team [who are no longer on my team] tell me straight up, 'if you come out – you will lose your career.' It was real back then, because this was all I ever wanted. All I ever wanted was to be a country singer," Eden declared with anger in her voice. "That drove me to stay in the closet for as long as I did. I got ulcers in my small intestine. I was getting iron infusions every couple of months. My body was literally shutting down, because I was holding something that was such a huge part of me so deep inside of me. It was literally killing me."
Eden said her decision to come forward with her fiancée Hilary Hoover was a "health choice," a "mental health" choice, and something that "had to happen." She pointed out the genre's evolution from 2016 to 2021 when she came out. Eden declared that the country community felt "safer."
In 2010 country music star, Chely Wright received backlash and a decrease in album sales after confirming she was gay. T.J. Osborne kept his sexual preferences under the radar for years to avoid taking a massive career risk, and CMT's very own Cody Alan did the same. Shelly Fairchild, Brandi Carlile, and Brandy Clark are others who have used their voice to cultivate a safe space within the genre – not just for musicians but listeners who identify as gay.
Herndon, Grae, and Eden are the driving force behind the positive social change we are witnessing today. Grae created the Look Up Foundation, a nonprofit that provides resources to children who are grieving the absence of a family member, loved one, or overcoming challenging circumstances. Eden shares her personal story with the release of "Got No Choice" and has partnered with the RIAA for their "Music Matters" initiative. Philanthropist and chart-topping artist Herndon, is the mastermind behind Concert For Love & Acceptance – a colorful event that recognizes the LGBTQ+ community and HIV/AIDS awareness.
"The concert for Love & Acceptance formed right after I came out, because I wanted to have an event in Nashville for LGBTQ+," said the "What Mattered Most" singer. "We work with kids, give away scholarships, and we just go where we're needed. It's been a huge blessing for my life, team, and family."
Although the Love & Acceptance concert did not have a presence at the 2022 CMA Fest, Palmer declared that the four-day festival was "the most inclusive CMA Fest that's ever happened" for LGBTQ+ and artists of color. Grae participated in CMA Fest's first official LGBTQ+ concert presented by the Nash News and RNBW Queer Music Collective in partnership with CMT.
"To represent our space was so incredible. The artists that they chose were so thoughtful, inclusive, and not an afterthought. I'll be honest, there's tokenization happening sometimes, and it just didn't feel like that," the independent vocalist shared. "It felt so honest, so real, so authentic. There was so much love, even from people who weren't playing the show. They were supporting us. It felt like family."
The fast-rising artist continued to stress the importance of "showing up." Although she's a musician, she made it clear that actions sometimes speak louder than words.
"I think it's just so important for all of us just to show up, keeping showing up as our most authentic selves. There are so many people like us who love and listen to country music. Although, they never felt represented for such a long time. Now they can feel represented and like they have a space, because we are making space. I just think at this point, they can't kick us out. At this point, we're here and we're not going anywhere. I think that us being ourselves will invite more people to be themselves. We're just at the very beginning y'all."