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Musicians fight anti-LGBTQ Tennessee threat, drag bills


When Tennessee lawmakers passed a law this month targeting drag performances and transgender youth, many musicians living and working in the state felt their community, audiences and artistic expressions were also under fire.

The trend of conservative-led legislatures introducing laws that limit LGBTQ rights or using hateful rhetoric about trans people has prompted the tight-knit music community in Tennessee to use their voices and songs to raise awareness and funds, as well as encourage music fans to come out and vote.

Love Rising, a concert held Monday in Nashville, featured Grammy-winning artists Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, Maren Morris, Hayley Williams and Brittany Howard along with trans and queer drag artists and singer-songwriters. The following night, the effort continued with a second show, We Will Always Be, featuring a showcase of LGBTQ artists in collaboration with Opry Black.

“No one is in danger from our community, from our beautiful grand rainbow coalition of those of us who identify as LGBTQ+ or drag or trans performers or just a loving ally or just someone who enjoys music,” said the nominated singer-songwriter. to the Grammys. Allison Russell, one of the organizers of Love Rising.

LGBTQ people have long been a part of the state’s lucrative music and entertainment industries and drag performers and shows have a storied history in Nashville and beyond.

Artists like Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, and Elvis Presley have inspired, or been inspired by, drag performances for decades. Parton once told an interviewer that she entered a drag show alongside performers dressed like her, and lost. Nashville has a street named after drag queen Bianca Paige, who was an advocate for people living with HIV.

But in a state that has long defended its artistic and creative communities, some musicians now feel threatened by its laws. The bill passed this year changes the definition of adult cabaret as “harmful to minors” and says that “male or female impersonators” are now included in adult cabaret, along with topless dancers and strippers.

Backstage Monday night at the Love Rising concert, Adeem the Artist, a non-binary singer-songwriter living in East Tennessee, pointed to her flowery top and plum lipstick and wondered if her onstage attire would go into conflict with the new law from July. 1.

“I don’t always wear dresses, but I don’t even know if this is okay,” they said. “Can I wear lipstick? What does it mean to be dressed as the wrong gender?

Adeem explained that just a few weeks ago, they had been invited by the state to an event honoring the composers. They politely refused.

you don’t honor me You are challenging my livelihood, you are challenging the safety of my son,” they said.

The bill prohibits adult cabaret on public property or anywhere minors may be present. Drag performer Justine Van De Blair wondered if just walking from a spot to a parking lot where minors might see her would be grounds for arrest.

“I am able to support myself. Drag is my creative outlet,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s so vague right now that we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

In Love Rising, the drag performers earned some of the biggest applause as they pumped up the crowd between musical performances with impassioned speeches arguing that the bills were harmful government overreach and a fear-based campaign to roll back rights. . They walked through the crowd to say hello and take photos with fans, blowing air kisses and waving.

Money raised from the concerts went to LGBTQ support organizations like tennessee Equality Project, Inclusion Tennessee, DEPARTUREMemphis and the Tennessee Pride Chamber. The donations were matched by foundations created by the Grammy winner. Brandi Carlile and the family of the deceased Nashville singer-songwriter John Prine.

The record number of anti-trans bills introduced last year, as well as other court decisions on bodily autonomy, have even influenced the songwriting of some artists. Aaron Lee Tasjan, a singer-songwriter from Nashville, is working on his next album and wrote a song that reflects the “nightmare” queer and trans people are experiencing.

“I see people with a great deal of mental and emotional anguish over it,” he said.

Izzy Heltai, a pop singer-songwriter from Massachusetts, said he recently moved to Nashville because of industry connections there. But he soon fell in love with the welcoming people and friends he met, who he found at odds with state policy. As a trans man who transitioned as a teenager, he called the bans on gender-affirming care for youth a threat to the lives of a population already at high risk of suicide.

“There are a lot of children who are going to die in the state because of these laws,” said Heltai, who played at both benefit concerts. “It is no longer theoretical. It’s just that these laws are killing people.”

But even with the benefit shows, the artists said the Nashville music industry, still dominated by white men at the executive level and on stage, should do more to support marginalized artists who face discrimination.

Black Opry founder Holly G started her organization to give black artists more opportunities to perform and grow their audience because the mainstream country music industry was unwilling to open those doors. Those barriers also exist for LGBTQ singers, musicians, songwriters, producers and others, she said.

“The fight for racial equality is also the fight for LGBTQ+ equality,” he said. “We have to do all of that at the same time and together.”

Backstage at Bridgestone Arena, drag queen Cya Inhale said she initially thought her drag community would have to be on its own, but felt that “the entire art community in Nashville stood up and said, ‘No, that’s not right.’ . ”

Furthermore, Inhale argued, drag and country music have often developed in the same circles.

“Do you think Dolly Parton is wearing all those rhinestones because a straight guy told her to? I don’t think so,” she said.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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