June is Gay Pride Month. Have you seen more acceptance for musicians who are openly gay, over the course of your career?
As an openly gay musician, I find that overall there is more acceptance. However, I think acceptance and tolerance can vary within different areas of the business.
In the areas of accompanying, music preparation and music direction, I’ve found a high degree of acceptance, but when I worked in the single engagement club date field, I did not find it comfortable to be openly gay, and felt it best to remain closeted.
Also, when I recently sought to declare my partner the beneficiary of my AFM pension, there was no checkoff box for domestic partner as there is with a similar form from Actors’ Equity. I can only infer that the AFM thinks there are no gay and lesbian members within its ranks, or prefers to pretend we don’t exist.
I have been an out performer all my adult life and being gay has definitely adversely affected my career.
Sadly, it is not only still a man’s world – even in music – but it is also still a relatively homophobic one.
In the straight world, gay men are more accepted than gay women, an attitude mirrored in the world of music.
No matter what people say about lesbian chic, gay women are less “tolerated.”
I have been quite fortunate in that the musicians I work with in jazz – who are mostly men-have been open, inclusive and appreciative, but I fear they are the exception and not the rule.
Some progress has been made on the personal interaction front, but in the “business,” no matter what the powers that be say, there is still prejudice.
Just read the recent statistics about how worse off women are in the workplace vis-à-vis being paid for the same work men do, especially as they get older.
There is much work to be done!
As a straight white male I am often categorically thought of someone who doesn’t recognize or feel issues of racism, injustice, hardship or misfortune because the world is supposedly made easy for people like me. Therefore, read my interpretation of your question with that in mind. My experience as a musician on acceptance of gays in the music business is that nobody gives a damn if you are gay or straight or what you look like. If you do your job as a musician and make everyone around you look good, you are cool. Gays in music: always been there, always will. Musicians have other problems.
I am an openly gay woman, which right away – in the past – might have been two strikes against me!
But I have noticed recently, also in tandem with the climate of the country and the issues surrounding gay marriage, etc., that people have definitely been more accepting of openly gay musicians.
I feel totally free to talk about my life and my partner openly on gigs. And people – at least to my face – appear to have no problem with it.
I really think times have changed and there is a more relaxed attitude toward all this.
There is, however, something to be said about my own comfortability with my “outness” -and I think people respond in kind.
I ultimately think it depends on how “out” a gay musician is in the workplace that will determine how others respond to her or him.
The topic is divisive and nothing good can come of it. In my humble opinion, many gays think that the arts is their exclusive domain and they use it to discriminate against straights. You also find the same thinking with blacks and jazz. I have been the victim of both of these types of discrimination. I reject that nonsense. I am tolerant, but I wholeheartedly reject that place where ugly politics and art intersect. It is damaging to all concerned. No one cares what you do with your thingy, O.K.? Least of all musicians just looking for a gig.
Years back I thought I didn’t know any gay jazz musicians! But I’ve gradually discovered how wrong I was. Things are more open now, and that’s a good thing.
MORE TO SAY?
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Members of the New York Gay Men’s Chorus rehearse for a recent concert. Instrumentalists who perform with the chorus are covered by a Local 802 contract. Below left, Casey J. Hayes conducts. Photos by Walter Karling.