The LGBTQ+ population has historically been marginalized in not only the United States, but the entire world. This also translates to representation in the music industry, with more and more important queer musicians standing out through each era. Expressing their identities through their lyrics and stage personas, queer musicians have defined culture for both the LGBTQ+ community and the general music industry.
As jazz became more popular, more queer jazz musicians were open about their sexuality through music. Many were Black queer musicians, as the roots of jazz lie in African American culture and are inherintly attatched to the Black experience. With musicians including Ma Rainey and Lucille Bogan singing about their experiences relating to queer identity, themes of the LGBTQ+ experience were not only present in jazz and blues; they moulded the genre.
This time period also saw more queer traditional composers including Leonard Bernstein, Liberace, and Stephen Sondeim contributing great lengths to the American classical and musical theatre genres. Despite their place in queer culture, along with the entire Broadway and musical theatre genre, these musicians were often, especially in earlier years, forced to hide their sexual identities for fear of persecution.
While still taboo, a more diverse expression of gender and sexuality began to emerge within the music of the 70s and 80s. This was in large part due to the sexual liberation movement, which allowed artists (including iconic names like Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, and Elton John) to be more open about their sexualities. In addition, artists like Prince began experimenting with gender norms, bringing a more androgynous/gender-fluid stage presence to the forefront of pop culture.
Alongside the addition of pro-LGBTQ+ legislature in the United States, a more supportive attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community continued to develop in the 90s. This allowed for even more artists to either express their place in the community, or to advocate as an ally. Condemnation of homophobia and transphobia at live concerts even became commonplace, especially in the punk and grunge scenes, where more mainstream artists like Nirvana and Green Day would experiment with gender expression and sexuality in their music and performance attire.
As the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community has grown throughout the decades, so has the culture’s place in music. The contributions of LGBTQ+ artists have defined genres, started movements, and encouraged listeners to express themselves and stay true to their own identities. As queer artists continue to create and flourish into modern times, what the future holds for the expression of gender and sexuality in music remains promising.