09.06.2021: In a new blog series Voices, from the UK Music Diversity Taskforce, to mark Pride month, MMF Programme Manager & UK Music Diversity Taskforce member Paul Bonham writes about the importance of LGBT+ visibility.
The narrative that there are loads of gays in music is exceptionally strong. Disco, Pop, Musicals, House… it’s all there in the deep history of the industry. Loud and proud!
For me personally, hearing Elton John and RuPaul’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” at the age of 12 kickstarted my love affair with LGBT+ music.
However, I’ve yet to experience anything quite so queer while actually working in the industry, and I’ve never seen anyone behaving as happily or as visibility “out” as this pair behind the scenes.
This feels odd when you consider the foundations of our business, recently documented by Darryl Bullock in his excellent book The Velvet Mafia, which highlights how gay men were absolutely pivotal to the establishment of British popular music in the 1960s – as producers, managers, independent labels, and promoters. The likes of Brian Epstein, Larry Parnes, Lionel Bart and Robert Stigwood were the original pioneers and disruptors, who genuinely shook up the world.
Arguably the forerunner of today’s MMF, the British Impresario’s Guild, established by Parnes in 1964 was, says Bullock, “made up of 10 men who controlled about nine tenths of the country’s pop acts…the majority of whom were gay.” This was still three years before “same-sex acts” “in private” by UK men over the age of 21 were partially legalised.
Over 50 years later and, for the first time ever, the UK Music Diversity Report has published data on sexual orientation in the music business. Collectively, we may not be as queer as the Guild, but it still revealed the following statistical outcomes: 5% bisexual, 4.4% Gay, 1.5% lesbian, 1% questioning, 0.8% pansexual, 0.8% self-describe and 4.7% prefer not to say.
That’s a whopping 18.1% of us not identifying or comfortable with boxing ourselves in as heterosexual.
And yet. Despite these facts, despite hard-won legal equality for same-sex relationships, and despite a wider mainstream acceptance of non-heterosexual relationships, certain challenges still remain.
I still see very few visibly queer colleagues, particularly in the higher echelons of the business. Equally, the insecurities and exclusion faced by LGBTQIA+ people remain very real.
Stonewall highlights that 3 out of 5 people LGBTQIA+ experience extreme anxiety and 38% of bi people are not out in the workplace. UK Music has begun to collect data and recognise trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming individuals, but as yet the language and understanding around this broad spectrum is underexplored and unconfident across the industry.
Outside on the fringes I see great things happening in London nightlife. Clubs such as He.She.They, Pussy Palace, BBZ and Queer House Party, are all set to return with gusto and have refreshed a scene predominantly catering to white gay males.
These new intersectional spaces are where gender and sexual orientation can be authentic. As we (hopefully) unlock, as an industry we need to follow the influence of these nightlife “offices”. We need to work on diversity of sexual orientation & diversity of gender expression (whether that’s male, female, non-binary or trans) so we can bring our full selves to the day office.
Paul’s playlist of 10 British Queer Songs:
Stonewall LGBT Work Report 2018: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/lgbt-britain-work-report
Gendered Intelligence: https://genderedintelligence.co.uk/index.html
Rainbow Mind: https://rainbowmind.org/
Pride in Music: https://www.prideinmusic.org/
* Paul Bonham is Programme Manager at the Music Managers Forum . He runs a number of initiatives including Accelerator, a programme which has supported the development of 65 music managers.
Fuelled by his passion for the eclectic John Peel show Paul accidently begun working in music when asked to help muck out the cowshed in preparation for the first Truck Festival in the 1990s He has subsequently spent the past 22 years championing and supporting artists and industry access through a number of roles at organisations such as Arts Council England and Attitude is Everything.
As an independent manager he has represented Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly and gay independent pioneers Bright Light Bright Light and The Irrepressibles.
Paul currently sits on the UK Music Diversity Taskforce and is Trustee for Key Changes – Promoting Positive Mental Health Through Music. He loves Daniel Johnston.Back to news