Music, above all other forms of art, has a uniquely communal quality to its consumption. In its innate ability to bring communities together, music is a powerful force of social cohesion, naturally bringing rise to activism in the artists and fans alike.
From anti-fascism in early punk to powerful racial themes in hip-hop, music has long been one of the most socially active forms of art. Lately, there’s been a prominent increase in LGBT activism in today’s popular music scene.
Across multiple genres, the LGBT community has received increased representation in today’s musicians: Prominent LGBT artists include Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, who has become a powerful transgender figurehead in punk rock, PWR BTTM, with their raw, catchy lyricism and unabashedly queer aesthetic and Julien Baker reconciling her identity with her upbringing in Memphis.
This outspoken support for the LGBT community is largely provided by smaller, indie artists — those with the dedicated community of fans who supply the means of making real change at the ground level. With their rise in popularity, PWR BTTM in particular has begun to bring together the LGBT and ally community alike, writing music through an LGBT lens that can be enjoyed by people of many different identities. It’s an incredibly humanizing experience to watch the queerness of an artist develop increasing recognition and influence on music’s mainstream.
Recently, PWR BTTM dropped the first two singles from their forthcoming record Pageant, the first of which — bright, pop-y “Big Beautiful Day” — addresses the people whose judgment of others is (obviously) unmerited. On the chorus, the band sings, “Curse every one of you who tells me that I cannot be who I want / Ain’t no fucking way you’ll fuck up my big beautiful day” — a line so infectiously defiant I grinned to myself the first time I heard it.
PWR BTTM has even been directly combating homophobia on tour. Barely a week after the presidential election, anti-LGBT protesters picketed their show in Jackson, Mississippi — to which Ben Hopkins, one half of the duo, tweeted, “this is happening at the show tn. I am completely unafraid; I am sad for them,” and included a photo of himself giving the group a middle finger. The band’s courageous representation of their own identities continues to permeate the attitudes of their fans, placing themselves at the forefront of LGBT activism in music today.
On a tour last year, Modern Baseball — consisting entirely of straight white men — released a statement adressing their demand that every venue they play supply gender inclusive restrooms and included a hotline for fans to call to report incidences of harassment or discrimination at the shows, a safety net for fans originally implemented by Speedy Ortiz to wide acclaim. Now, more than ever, artists are showing their dedication to combating the increasing likelihood that those within the LGBT community will face very real repression in today’s America, and Modern Baseball is setting the example for allies showing their support.
Laura Jane Grace has been shattering social barriers since the inception of Against Me! in the ’90s with its progressive anarcho-punk themes. Coming out as transgender in 2012, Grace continues to shatter barriers for the LGBT community. With 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, arguably one of the most important activist records in recent memory, she gave the world an emotional glimpse at being a transgender musician. Expanding on her story, she also released her stunning memoir “Tranny” last year, detailing her early experiences with gender dysphoria and the struggles that come with it. In spiteful backlash of the transphobic Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act passed in North Carolina, Grace gleefully lit her birth certificate (containing her birth name “Tom Gables”) on fire during their show in the state. The band also donated show proceeds to LGBT charities, which many other artists such as Father John Misty and La Dispute did in early 2016 for their performances in the state.
This past December I saw Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band perform with Pinegrove and Petal, who announced that they would be collecting donations for the Ruth Ellis Center, a home for LGBT youth in Detroit. Accepting anything from cash to clothes, the artists used their voice and power to bring like-minded individuals into one space in order to bring about real, local change. Mid set, addressing America’s changing post-election social state, queer artist Petal stated: “Keep being yourself because existing is a form of resistance,” to eruptive applause. It’s these strong, empowering statements and actions from artists, whether their music is queer-tinted or not, that continues the positive changes in social attitudes within and toward the LGBT community.
Music, at its core, is an art form that embodies emotional expression. When these emotions are used to make a change, impressively potent activism is formed. At the roots of popular music, devoted fan bases are rising up and coming together to implement this positive change, creating spaces at shows that are safe for people of all identities to come and enjoy the art that emboldens them to be themselves. Music is becoming an outlet for LGBT artists and fans to express and exist, and it’s a force that shows no signs of stopping.