Happy Pride Month!
There are so many talented members of the folk community who identify as LGBTQ2IA+, and this month was the perfect opportunity for us to highlight some of those incredible artists.
Check out this list of folk songs about queerness, and when you’re done, head on over to Spotify where we’ve compiled a larger list of songs by queer artists.
1. Crys Matthews – “Prodigal Son”
Crys Matthews is a singer-songwriter based in Washington, D.C. Her most recent album Changemakers addresses Black Lives Matter, immigration, LGBTQ2IA+ experiences, and more. She says, “As a social-justice songwriter, it is my duty to keep breathing that hope and encouragement into the people who listen to my music.” Her work does just that.
Crys’ song “Prodigal Son” follows the story of a young boy in Tennessee coming to terms with himself. The boy faces a struggle known by many queer individuals; he’s torn between risking the loss of his family and community and being his authentic self. So, like many LGBTQ2IA+ individuals, he buries himself deep in the closet.
As the story progresses, the boy grows up and moves away for college. Like many in the LGBTQ2IA+ community, “he keeps his family arms length away,” terrified he might say something that will expose his queerness.
We are graced with a happy ending when the mother reaches out to her son: “Little angel don’t you run from us. Come on back home. Don’t you know it doesn’t matter who you love?”
It’s a relief to see Crys gifting LGBTQ2IA+ listeners a story that ends with positivity, something the queer community has long been craving. Although we receive a happy ending, Crys comments, the song was written for the children who never get to hear those words, “it doesn’t matter who you love,” from their families.
2. Heather Mae – “Be Not Afraid”
Heather Mae is a queer social justice singer-songwriter. Her song “Be Not Afraid” is an anthem for the queer community.
Heather uses repetition in a way that almost feels like she’s convincing herself, “I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid.” Many people in the queer community battle with shame and having to learn that they are valid: “I’m not ashamed, ashamed, ashamed.” This repetition highlights the time and effort that goes into becoming a confident, unapologetic, and proud queer person.
Heather weaves in lyrics that so many queer people can relate to, “Never thought I’d get this close; never let myself hope.” A line that almost anyone who has been or is in the closet can understand.
Towards the end of the song, she repeats, “Our love is not wrong. Our love’s not wrong. Our love’s not wrong.” In the beginning, her vocals are soft and feel like a queer person convincing themselves that they are valid. As the energy grows, this begins to feel like a statement to the world. “Be Not Ashamed” embodies the essence of Pride, which is about more than who you love; Pride is just as much about loving yourself for who you are.
3. Izzy Heltai – “To Talk About Yourself”
Izzy Heltai, a queer folk artist from Western Massachusetts, describes his style as “everyday queer trash.”
His song “To Talk About Yourself” dives into his identity as a trans man. He beautifully writes about “the battle scars on your chest,” a well-crafted metaphor describing the battle of being transgender. But this lyric goes beyond physical scars and implies long lasting marks and the fight towards being seen as valid. Izzy has a new single coming out next month, “Met on the Internet,” which addresses these issues. He says, as a cis/straight passing man, “We have the capacity to act just as badly, or even worse, than cisgender men because society tells us we will never be man enough. This makes us feel even more pressured to inhabit (often toxic) ideals of masculinity.”
As cis/straight-passing man, Izzy wouldn’t benefit from talking about his trans identity, which is why the line “Doesn’t pay the bills to talk about yourself” is super interesting. He decides to talk about his identity, recognizing the importance of speaking up for the queer community.
Izzy hopes his work will inspire hope and representation for younger queer artists and individuals, saying his journey would be worth it if he could make a difference for just one queer kid.
4. Katie Pruitt – “Loving Her”
Katie Pruitt is a Nashville-based, Georgia-grown singer-songwriter. Her album Expectations, released in 2020 with Rounder Records, is a window into her experiences with queerness and religion.
The album offers a safe space, a friend, and a word of hope to those who are not ready or able to come out. It gives several queer anthems to the proud, and offers insight and some understanding of the queer experience to allies who are open to listening. In an interview with NPR, Katie noted, “I feel like each one of these songs helped me find a new piece of myself in a way.” Katie’s songs are now doing just that for the queer community.
The song “Loving Her” addresses the complexities of growing up both Catholic and queer: “If loving her’s a sin, I don’t wanna go to Heaven. No, there’s nothing else up there I could need.” Katie claims her identity and her pride. She elegantly lays out the battle of shame and discovery, “you can clench your fists… say it’s wrong… say a prayer. While you’re doing that, I’ll be over there loving her.” Katie closes the song with love, hope, and pride.
5. The Shiz – “The Rapture”
The Shiz is a duo composed of Lilli Lewis and Liz Hogan. Lilly wrote “The Rapture” as a response to a homophobic comment from an old college acquaintance she thought was a friend. Lilli commented, “I don’t know why it rattled me so, but it did, and this is the song that came out.” She wrote the song before marriage equality was legalized in the United States. It came from a place of frustration: “Show me what your good book is for cause I don’t wanna fight anymore.” You can feel the guitar’s rage, the drum’s punch with fury, and her voice crack with anger during the battle to a better world for the queer community.
6. Susan Werner – “(Why is Your) Heaven so Small”
The intersection of queerness and religion is something that many LGBTQAI+ individuals have struggled with. Susan Werner, a singer-songwriter from Iowa, wrote “(Why is Your) Heaven so Small,” a well-crafted response to those who claim that LGBTQ2IA+ individuals don’t belong in Heaven.
Susan opens strong, addressing a homophobic comment, “Excuse me sir, what did you say?” She makes compelling arguments facing those who use the bible as a weapon against the LGBTQ2IA+ community: “You say you’ve read that Holy Bible up on your shelf. Do you recall when Jesus said, ‘judge not, lest ye be judged yourself’?”
The song is so well-structured that it could be used as an essay outline. The thesis being her refrain: “If God is great and God is good, why is your Heaven so small?” Susan takes a stand for the queer community, releasing this song in 2007, years before gay marriage was legalized in the United States.
Looking for more folk songs by queer artists? Check out our playlist, Folk Pride!
The terms used in this post are fluid. We understand and acknowledge not everyone identifies the same. We invite your feedback.