Lesbian Musicians

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Last week I remarked on American pop radio's censorship of openly gay men's music. The closed door for gay men has been a bit more permissive with openly gay and bi-sexual women. Songs like "I Kissed A Girl" as sung by Jill Sobule, made it to Number 67 on the Billboard Hot 100. And Melissa Etheridge's, "Like the Way I Do" peaked at Number 42 on the same chart. Meanwhile, Sophie Hawkins' "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" went to Number 5.

In the realm of social movements, lesbian musicians are well organized. They have their own record labels like Goldenrod and Ladyslipper. Gay musicians have their own festivals like the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, which brings together thousands of women for a week of enjoying music while living in camps on 63 acres of land. Toshi Reagon, Erin McKeown, Ferron and Indigo Girls are among the dozens of artists slated to perform this year there. The festival is also open to straight women, with a caveat that all attendees work together to build a communal living structure. It's held in August and is in its 35th year of operations.

And lesbian music festivals are not just in Michigan. There are music festivals in Virginia, Oregon, Rhode Island, Illinois, Iowa, California, Ontario, Vancouver, Ireland, Greece, the UK and just about anywhere else you can think of. Lesbian culture supports its own arts community focused on the issues and challenges of being gay in a heterosexual world.

One place lesbian musicians have had a tough go at it is Nashville. Last month, country singer, Chely Wright came out as a gay woman. Ms. Wright had had a Number 1 hit with the song, "Single White Female" in 1999. She's the first country music artist to identify herself as gay. (k.d. Lang came out in 1992, but had abandoned the country music genre by then). In her interview with the LA Times, Ms. Wright said, ""Historically, country music would rather an artist be a drunk ... They will forgive you if you beat your wife, lose your kids to the state, get six divorces, make a sex tape, get labeled as a tramp — any and all of it is better than being gay."

On June 27, Ms. Wright will be the Grand Marshall in the Chicago Gay Pride Parade. And here in Los Angeles, the 40th Annual Gay Pride Festival takes place this weekend in West Hollywood.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Banner image: Cheyl Wright