• Samantha Terwilliger

Progress in the music industry provides LGBTQ+ youth with a sense of safety and belonging

Updated: Mar 23

The music industry has been known by many for its progressive impact on popular culture. The industry’s struggle toward the inclusion of everyone no matter their sexuality, gender, or social identity of any kind, draws many people from all walks of life to the craft.


Some artists like Luke Thompson have a love for the stage itself.

“My favorite genre to perform is musical theatre,” said Thompson, “because it incorporates all aspects of performance and I feel like I am fully communicating the emotion of the story combined with my passion for performance.”

Thompson is an openly gay performer studying musical theatre at East Tennessee State University. He was inspired to start performing by artists like Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga.

Luke Thompson (right) playing a butler in his school's production of The Drowsy Chaperone.

Both of these performers and many of Thompson’s musical idols, are in the LGBTQ+ community or offer their open support as allies.


Acceptance for the community in the past few years has grown rapidly with queer artists, like Sam Smith, spearheading the movement.


In the past, many queer teens missed typical right-of-passage activities like their first kiss or their first date because they could not openly express their feelings or sexuality. Due to this exclusion, these children were left feeling as if they were missing “it”- whatever “it” may be.


Pop music captures those moments; the desire, the emotion, the “it” that these now adults have missed in their youth. These idols, their creative expression and freedom of self offers an inspiration to the next generation of performers.

“A big inspiration of mine, who I was subscribed to when he had literally no followers, is Todrick Hall,” said Roby Lewis. “He just looked so authentic and he is an amazing vocalist, and dancer, and queer person.”


Roby Lewis (center stage) performing a tap number in one of his high school's musicals.

Artists like Todrick Hall and Halsey, who are both openly in the community themselves, have chosen pop music because it creates a feeling queer kids can understand and connect to in the same way as their straight peers.


“Being able to see queer representation and LGBTQ people living their best lives and their most authentic lives is so empowering, not just for the gay community but for everyone.” said Lewis.


Lewis is right, the inspiration these artists offer stretches far beyond the LGBTQ community.


Del Howes is a singer, songwriter, and musical director in East Tennessee. While Howes identifies as straight, he draws inspiration from LGBTQ artists such as Lil Nas X in his own creative vision.


“LGBTQ artists are paving a way that this generation can relate to and use to influence future listeners,” said Howes. “Lil Nas X alone has influenced the entire rap game as well as marketing strategies for the industry. It is truly amazing seeing artists so openly being themselves.”


While big name artists are a major inspiration to aspiring musicians looking to make a name for themselves, some inspirations are found a little closer to home. For Elizabeth Bogardus, it is her mother who encouraged her musical inclinations.


“I would not be where I am now without my mother and my step mother. I mean my mom is the one who taught me how to sing,” said Bogardus.


For years, women have been integrating themselves into the male dominated music field. To date only about 21 percent of artists in the industry are female, but this number has grown, and continues to grow drastically.


Since bluegrass music is based on patriarchal foundations set by its creator, Bill Monroe of the Blue Grass Boys, female bluegrass musicians constantly struggle against this gendered model when trying to break into the industry.


Emily Pressley is studying Bluegrass at East Tennessee State University and plays in a Bluegrass band in her free time. She has experienced the growth of women in her field firsthand.


“There are still quite a few men, but I have been noticing a wide range of women in bluegrass now,” said Pressely. “The deeper I get into it and the more I appreciate it, the more prevalent women I see making names for themselves in the industry. Most women take center stage in their band with their skilled hands and melodious voices so, even though there are less of us, the women in bluegrass tend to make a name for themselves.”


The inclusion and celebration of both women and the LGBTQ community in the music industry is a great stride towards the inclusion of everyone. Music offers an outlet everyone can understand- a common language to connect us all.