Why LGBT Representation in Hip-Hop Matters Right Now

LGBT - Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett made headlines last week when he came out as bisexual via Twitter, posting “I do recognize myself as a bisexual male & do & have always openly supported the gay community & will keep doing so in 2017.”

Bennett’s fans were vocal in their support for him, which is the common response now that more artists in hip-hop are coming out. While we celebrate Bennett now and give him all our support and love, it’s hard to imagine what kind of response Bennett would have received if Frank Ocean hadn’t penned his now iconic open letter coming out as bisexual in 2012. In that letter, Ocean opened up about falling in love with a guy friend in his teens. Since then, conversations about sexual identity have entered the mainstream hip-hop community but you have to wonder, without that open letter, would artists like Bennett have come out so publicly?

Ocean may have set the tone for other hip-hop artists to come out in recent years, but that doesn’t lessen the struggles of other LGBT artists or make their coming out any less inspiring.

Just days after Bennett came out, iLoveMakonnen came out as gay on Twitter with a post reading: “And since y’all love breaking news, here’s some old news to break, I’m gay. And now I’ve told u about my life, maybe u can go life yours.”

Kehlani is another artist who has been extremely open about her sexuality, adding to the list of female artists like Syd who are giving LGBT identifying female artists a voice in hip-hop. In an interview with Complex in 2015, the R&B singer challenged the labeling of sexual identities all together saying,”I wouldn’t even necessarily say I’m bisexual—I like who I like. I’ve dated both men and women. Sex is biological, but gender is mental.”

Another LGBT trailblazer is gender-nonconforming rapper, Mykki Blanco. He’s been an outspoken advocate of racial inclusivity in the LGBT community, most notably when he called out YouTube for taking down his music video for “Loner” on the grounds that their decision was rooted in homophobia. In 2015, Blanco took a brave step forward by announcing that he is HIV positive, restarting a conversation about HIV.

Seeing musicians speak openly about their sexuality is so empowering for LGBT fans and allies alike. LGBT representation is especially important now that we’re entering a Trump presidency that has normalized homophobia. As a bisexual woman of color, I understand the intersection of identifying as LGBT and being a person of color. I get that we have different hurdles to jump over and the conversations we face when explaining our sexual identity to others.

Every time an artist comes out, it’s a radical statement against all the hate speech and homophobia that’s being spewed online. It’s saying, “I’m here,” it’s an act of claiming your space and being acknowledged.

That being said, it’s absolutely essential that we support artists like Taylor Bennett, Frank Ocean and Kehlani who have been so open with us about their lives. Hopefully healthy conversations about sexuality and gender identity in hip-hop will carry on and we can use it as an example of inclusivity moving forward.

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