By David Goldberg
Every year, Pride season officially begins with a smashing celebration on the grass at Discovery Green’s “Rainbow on the Green” event. This year promises to be no different, with high-energy performances from country-music wunderkind Billy Gilman and unstoppable pop queen Taylor Dayne. We spoke with Gilman about coming out in the country music industry, LGBT politics in Nashville, and performing in Texas.
David Goldberg: What kind of people make up your audience?
Billy Gilman: I have been very fortunate to have come across a fan base like mine. You get the young kids—even still, and I haven’t had a major song on the radio in a long time. There’s the parents that come with the kids. I’ve always had an ages-9-to-90 kind of following, which is remarkable because not many 90-year-olds want to hear young kids singing nowadays.
Has your audience changed since you’ve come out?
There was not a drastic shift or opinion change, but there’s always going to be comments and opinions thrown around—that’s the kind of business we’re in. I’m a very private person, and I’m in an industry that’s so not private because of Facebook and Instagram. I just like to give you what I need to give you, and then I come home. But that’s not the way our field works any more. About two years ago, I was with my boyfriend at a local festival and I wanted to take a picture, and I asked someone who had a very expensive-looking camera, and he said, “By the way, are you Billy Gilman?” and I said whoops! I thought, “Shoot, I’m not a megastar, but there could be some leaks and it could be filled with not-true statements,” and I realized that I had to get a grip on this before someone else did. I kept thinking that my major upset is going to be my fans. You can write the best song in the whole world, but if you don’t have a fan base that’s there supporting, you’re dead in the water. So that was my number-one scare. But they’ve been so overwhelmingly positive for my cause. The fans didn’t really change, to my knowledge, quite that much.
In your coming-out video, you said that “being a gay male country-music artist is not the easiest thing.” Would you say that since you’ve come out your career has changed? Has it been easier or harder in your industry?
Lately, there has been a lot of inequality and discriminatory issues that have come across the Nashville legislature, and I can’t believe it. I thought with the advancements with my coming out, [with] as big of a voice as I have, who knows? But is it Carrie Underwood or Tim McGraw speaking out? Unfortunately, no. I think it stems further back than a celebrity. It has to be a bigger movement than that. With all the advancements, with the millions of viewers that Nashville is getting, and with the gay character Will, I thought maybe this is a hint that in the next two or three years we are really going to see something. And then, all of a sudden in the past couple of months, the developments down south have really upset me. It’s going to be a long road. I don’t understand why they want to disable someone’s happiness when that’s all we want, and to be ourselves. I don’t see why someone can discredit that ability other than a god—if there is one—that should judge.
I know there are so many gay country artists who aren’t coming to grips with the whole coming-out situation because they are afraid. It baffles me. Hopefully, in time, I want it to be at a place where it’s not a big deal and no one cares. From the hundreds (or, I would speculate, thousands) of emails from youth that I got in the South, it was just unbelievable the respect and the you’re-not-alone feeling that I gave to a lot of kids. It meant a lot to me, so I know there are a lot of people that do not have a voice that need one. I’ll stop at nothing, and I’ll keep pressing on to be who I am, and in that there comes a true form of silver lining, I hope.
What attracted you to the Discovery Green event?
I’ve always loved Houston, actually. I’ve been there a couple of times for shows and corporate gigs, so when they approached me to do it, I said of course. It’s a little different than doing a Pride event in Boston or Michigan or somewhere in the North, so I’m interested to see the response and the crowd. I’m going to bring some variety to the show, from Roy Orbison to Martina McBride and some of my songs. It’s going to be a fun show, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Have you had any great experiences in Houston you can share?
I’ve performed in Tyler, Houston, Dallas, at the halftime for the Dallas Cowboys, for the Salvation Army’s Kettle Kickoff, and that was so cool. I stood on the stadium stage with Jessica Simpson, and it was such a moment. I have many memories of Texas.
What: Rainbow on the Green
When: June 11
Where: Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney St.
David Goldberg is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.
Taylor Dayne: Pop Diva Rocks Rainbow
David Goldberg: What made you agree to perform at the Discovery Green Pride event in Houston? What kind of show are you preparing?
Taylor Dayne: After performing this for many years, I enjoy my Pride parades. These performances and yearly celebrations are milestones in the cities and states I perform in, showing how far the communities have come.
Why do you think you have such a loyal LGBT following?
I feel it always starts with the music. 27 years ago, I released “Tell It to My Heart,” and that song and music video had a global impact and changed my life. My career began and my fan base started. A lot of that base was in the clubs, losing themselves in my music. From there, the LGBT community grew and embraced me. I perform for my audiences and sing for my supper. I never hold back. When it’s time for the last note, I go for the back of the audience.
How did you and RuPaul get together and decide to make “Be Someone”?
Ru and I have known each other for many years now, and have a warm friendship. I adore him. He’s a true musicologist, a true gentleman, and a true lady. When he calls, I come. —David Goldberg