Life is a strange and circuitous journey. Former radio DJ Dayna Steele is running for Congress, and lesbian rock icon Melissa Etheridge is performing an intimate concert to raise money for Steele’s race.
The two first met in the 1980s when Steele, a longtime LGBTQ ally, was music director/assistant program director at KLOL in Houston, and Etheridge was trying to make a name for herself. The singer/songwriter would bring her music to Steele and ask her to give it a listen.
In those days, few female artists were featured on the radio, and their songs were almost never played back-to-back, Steele says. So getting air time for Etheridge was no easy feat. But Steele believed in Etheridge’s music from the beginning, and she made sure it got as much play as she could wrangle.
Thirty years later, when Etheridge learned via Twitter that Steele was running for Congress, she immediately jumped in to help.
“To me, that was exactly what I hoped for after November 9, 2016,” Etheridge tells OutSmart. “I realized that solid people need to start running.”
“We need people who understand what freedom means. It’s freedom for all. It’s not just freedom for some.”
After Etheridge encouraged her Twitter followers to support Steele’s campaign, the candidate reached out directly, and within two weeks they had arranged a benefit concert in February featuring both Etheridge and David Crosby. Now that Steele is the Democratic nominee in Texas’ 36th Congressional District, Etheridge is headlining another campaign fundraiser for her at Pearl Bar in Houston on October 21.
“This is what I can do to help bring about the change and healing that I feel we need,” Etheridge says.
Steele, who does not accept any campaign contributions from corporations, PACs, or other special interests, she says she has been overwhelmed by Etheridge’s generosity. Steele faces an uphill battle in the historically Republican district currently represented by anti-LGBTQ incumbent Brian Babin.
“We have to do these sorts of things in order to get me in Congress. I cannot change it from the outside, and the opposing side is so entrenched in corporate money and greed,” Steele says.
“Melissa is doing everything in her power to get me elected. She’s so honest and interested—genuinely interested in change for the better.”
Tickets for the Pearl Bar show range from $101 for general admission to $1,000 for VIP passes.
“If you believe in equality, health care, and education for everyone; if you believe that enlisted men and women shouldn’t have to be on food stamps and kids shouldn’t be in cages, that is what [your concert ticket] is paying for,” Steele says. “You’re buying healthcare, jobs, education, immigration [reform], and an end to the hateful rhetoric. I think that’s a heck of a deal.”
Etheridge says she is optimistic that America can overcome that long list of challenges. She believes many of them are based in fear—adding that President Trump didn’t create hate, he merely emboldened it.
“He blew air on those little embers of fear and created a big fire,” Etheridge says, adding that “the policies of the Trump administration hurt his very base, and they don’t know it.”
“They don’t know it because he is still talking to their fear,” she says.
Etheridge urges people not to forget the day after Trump’s inauguration, when millions of women took to the streets in protest. “That’s the majority,” she says. “There are good people who do not fear, who know there is a world of peace and hope waiting. If we keep moving forward, we will eventually drag people toward it. That’s just the way change is.”
“Helplessness is not the way our forefathers set up this country,” she adds. “We need people that understand what freedom means. It’s freedom for all. It’s not just freedom for some.”
When it comes to LGBTQ people, Etheridge believes those who hate us simply don’t know us—our stories, our families, and our lives. “They don’t know how incredible the LGBT world is. Come on, we have more fun than anyone.” Not to mention, she adds, that they might be confused themselves. “They are trying to [fit in to] some box that was drawn for them.”
She says the best response is to “stand there, with love.”
“Remember Martin Luther King. Remember Gandhi. Remember the Buddha. Remember Jesus,” she says. “Remember all the people who led with love, and know that you’re in good company. Keep loving. I guarantee, the more you love, the more you’ll see love.”
To avoid being pulled under by rampant corruption, hate, and hypocrisy, Etheridge says she sometimes has to “turn it off.”
“I go on my Twitter, and then I read the news, and then I turn it off,” she says. “The best thing I can do for my life, for the world, is to make it a beautiful, loving, peaceful life, as much as I can. Because then that creates more of that for the world. I garden. I have a bunch of succulents that I am just crazy about. I play the guitar. I live in a cannabis state, so I can do that. I wish that for Texas.”
Etheridge has been happily married for four years to Linda Wallem, the creator and executive producer for the hit show Nurse Jackie. Etheridge’s current tour, The Rock Show, wraps up this month before her
25th-anniversary Yes I Am tour begins.
She has also spent the last year writing and recording, with a new album set to be released in early 2019.
“2018 has been very, very inspiring,” Etheridge says. “Some of the songs are structured around the [political] issues. A lot of the songs are very personal. [It’s] pretty much a very straightforward Melissa Etheridge album with all those different flavors in it.”
As our interview draws to a close, Etheridge makes one final pitch for her Pearl Bar show in support of Steele, saying the concert “will make you feel better, with everything going on in the world right now.”
“It will make you feel like you’re doing something,” she says. “You come out to this benefit and you put a few bucks down to help this woman, so that we can create change. This is how it works in America. We can create change. We are going to get [Steele] elected. It’s going to be a gorgeous blue wave in Texas. Texas is going to be brand new.”
What: Melissa Etheridge
When: 6 p.m. on October 21
Where: Pearl Bar, 4216 Washington Ave.
This article appears in the September 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.