From stars too afraid to come out, to drag in the mainstream: How music industry experts are changing the LGBT landscape from the inside

Simon Jones is a driving force behind Pride In Music (Picture: Mediadrumimages/@barbara_joppel)

As artists and fans cry out for more inclusion and visibility of LGBT+ acts in the entertainment industry, there is a group of people working away behind the scenes to create a better place for artists to rise up.

Pride In Music was born not only out of the hope of aiding upcoming LGBT+ artists get a foothold in the industry, but also to be a support network for LGBT+ staff in music, and provide a place for people to connect.

Simon Jones, a music industry expert and the publicist behind some of the biggest names in the bizz, including Little Mix, Ant and Dec and previously, One Direction, is one of the founders and board members of the initiative and muses on its role in shining a light on LGBT talent.

Jones has seen first hand pop stars who were too afraid to come out, while he’s also helped others share their LGBT+ journey with fans.

He tells as part of our Pride Week: ‘When I worked with Blue, Duncan James didn’t speak out about being bisexual for many years as he was afraid of the reaction from both the industry and his fans. It was something he hid for a very long time.

‘I helped both Ian H Watkins and Joe McElderry come out to their fans, both of whom are wonderful people and shouldn’t have felt so worried about how the media and the industry were gonna react.’

Luckily, Jones believes, we are moving forward.

Blue’s Duncan came out at bisexual in 2009, before saying he was ‘proud to be gay’ in 2019 (Picture: Christie Goodwin/Redferns via Getty Images)

‘LGBTQ+ people don’t feel the need to hide within pop bands anymore, the industry and more importantly the public, are far more accepting than they were even 10 years ago. The visibility and huge success of many queer artists has shown you don’t need to hide who you are to achieve success,’ he explains.

‘Each LGBTQ+ artist that achieves a level of success smashes open another door and creates a new path for another artist. As a music PR and manager my approach remains to encourage people to be honest and truthful about who they are when they are ready, and be a support network.

‘I’m so proud of how far we’ve come, but there is still a long road ahead and we have to keep fighting, speaking out and making sure we are heard for the next generation of music artists.’

Enter Pride In Music.

‘When we first starting discussing it I thought, wait this must already exist, but unfortunately it didn’t and I think that was an oversight in the industry,’ Jones says, explaining the collective was founded by a group of friends who work in the music industry.

In his years working in the music industry, Jones says he’s noticed a shift where the mainstream is taking more notice of LGBT+ artists – especially compared to a time when more stars were keeping their sexuality hidden.

He explains: ‘When I first started working in the industry there were very few openly LGBTQ+ artists. Many hid their sexuality out of fear of not getting support from the labels, radio, promo companies.

‘You were labelled a niche artist, and mainstream success was only for the few.

‘I think all areas of the industry are far more open to LGBTQ+ artists now and are beginning to see the power of those fanbases.’

While he cites the likes of Spotify, which has has launched more Pride and non-binary playlists, as well as media coverage being greater towards LGBT+ artists, Jones insists there is still a long way to go.

Jones, who looks after the likes of Drag Race UK star Bimini Bon Boulash, says: ‘I manage several drag music artists, and it’s hard to get steaming and radio to take notice, even though we are putting out good pop music.

‘There is still a huge element of outdated snobbery around drag music that we have to overcome. These are artists with massive fanbases, big followings that labels dream of, that with the right support from the music industry could fly.’

And when it comes to acts like Bimini, the world is being opened up to conversations just around drag, but also about gender in a way we’ve not seen before.

‘Their drag subverts culture and has offered a completely fresh take,’ Jones says. ‘Their conversations about being non binary on a massive BBC TV show are beyond important for awareness and showing the younger generation that its ok to be your authentic self. Bimini has opened up the conversion so much wider and in the process won the hearts of so many. Helping to create a path that hopefully will one day lead to acceptance and understanding.’

Jones suggests to make lasting and prominent change within the music industry, LGBT+ people need to be in positions of elevation and power.

‘We are asking labels to offer work experience places for LGBTQ+ youth who may have thought the opportunity doesn’t exist for them to join the industry, especially for lesbian, trans and non binary people who are under represented,’ the PR expert says. ‘Hopefully the positions at the top of the labels are changing too, so it’s not just the same person over and over again making the ultimate decisions.’

He adds: ‘I don’t want to walk into a room in the industry and not see a diverse group of people like I did when I joined.

‘It is so important that all voices are heard and are promoted to senior positions, especially again for trans and non binary people.

‘It would never be admitted but I genuinely believe many media companies wouldn’t have promoted an LGBTQ+ person to a top level 20 years ago. It’s one of the main reasons I started my own company, so as not to have to answer to that prejudice.

‘Things are definitely changing, and I’m delighted to see that. We just need to not take the foot off the gas.’

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