Country music s (not so

Gay Country music artists

From left: Sami Grisafe (photo by Kenny Kim), Ty Herndon (photo by Mike Coppola), Brandy Clark (photo by Beck Fluke), Shane McAnally (photo by Kristin Barlow)

Last December I was standing in the balcony of the Hollywood Palladium at the TrevorLIVE fundraiser watching Ty Herndon — the country music star who's had 17 singles on Billboard’s Hot Country chart — belt out the most jubilant rendition of his 2010 song “Journey On” that I’d ever heard.

The song is an anthem for people dealing with adversity. “Sometimes in the moment of your weakness / When you’re on the edge of giving in / You hold your heart before it falls to pieces / Journey On, ” he sings, triumphant and inspiring.

We were there to help raise money for the Trevor Project’s suicide prevention and crisis intervention for LGBT youth, but that song, that moment, was about something more for Herndon. I wasn’t the only person with goosebumps in the auditorium. At the end of the song, the audience was on its feet. A teenager near me looked like she’d been sobbing, and many folks were swaying and smiling. And Herndon? He seemed most affected by the moment. He looked victorious, teary-eyed, even a bit reluctant to leave the stage.

That was Herndon’s first time at a public event with his partner, Matt Collum, and it was his first major event, an LGBT one at that, since coming out as gay the month before. Now, he and Chely Wright are the two most commercially successful Nashville country music stars to come out (not counting k.d. lang, who came out after leaving country music behind), and he’s the first major male star to do so. He told Entertainment Tonight in November that the first two decades of his career he thought he couldn’t be gay and be in country music, but that now “Nashville is ready.”

It’s not just Nashville that’s ready; it’s Middle America. Both fans and country stars, such as Leann Rimes, have come out in support of Herndon. Meanwhile, Kacey Musgraves, whose song “Follow Your Arrow” champions, among other things, same-sex relationships, won Song of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards. The song was cowritten with two of her frequent collaborators, Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, both of whom are gay.

McAnally is a 40-year-old Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and producer who coproduced and cowrote nine of the 12 songs on Musgrave’s debut. He won Songwriter of the Year from Academy of Country Music last year, and at press time was up for another Grammy for Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids.” The 37-year-old Clark is also up for a Grammy Award for Best Country Album and Best New Artist. In addition to her debut album last year, she has written songs for numerous artists, including Billboard chart-toppers for Miranda Lambert and The Band Perry.

Musgraves, who is straight but an LGBT ally (and has a gay manager) said from the stage while accepting the CMA Award, “Do you guys realize what this means for country music?”

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