On Thursday, August 8, The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard held their first ever Pride Summit at The 1 Hotel West Hollywood, underscoring the ongoing importance of LGBT inclusion and visibility in entertainment media.
It was a star-studded event, held in conjunction with Billboard’s second annual Pride issue, featuring an array of panels and conversations covering important topics such as bringing LGBTQ+ voices into the songwriters room, emerging queer artists, eradicating homophobia, and best practices in hiring and fostering welcoming and safe workplaces for queer and gender non-conforming beings.
Among the participants in the day’s seven panels were cast members MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar, Dyllón Burnside and Angel Curiel from the Emmy-nominated show, “Pose;” pop icons Tegan and Sara; pop star and activist Hayley Kiyoko; game-changing New Orleans artist and TV star Big Freedia; rapper ILoveMakonnen; Grammy® nominated songwriters Justin Tranter and Teddy Geiger; Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Daya; NBC’s “Songland” star Shane McAnally; “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alumni and recording artists Trixie Mattel, Alaska, Manila Luzon, Peppermint, Blair St. Clair; and YouTube celebrity Gigi Gorgeous.
The day’s first panel was “Emerging Artists: We See You,” which featured as panelists BAYLi, Shea Diamond, Parson James, K. Flay and Daya. Diamond, a GLAAD Media Award- nominated trans soul singer, spoke of discovering her voice while incarcerated in a men’s prison for 10 years. “There was nothing but hatred for people like me – either I was highly desired or I was just purely hated for no reason,” she said. “I was a threat to society, just for existing. And so, all these things just came to me, and I started writing songs… I wrote about being an outcast, and how there’s an outcast in everybody’s life – and ‘I am her,’ was this thing they denied me of… everything I had experienced or was going to experience, they would never honor that. So, I got the vessel in prison – that’s when I realized there was power in it.”
Singer-songwriter Daya expressed a common theme that would emerge as the day went on when she said, “I think representation of multi-dimensional queer people in the media is so important. That’s why I love shows like ‘Euphoria,’ and shows that are naturally bringing those queer narratives into the media. I also think… there should be more queer visibility across the board, not just with artists but people behind the scenes, too.”
During the “Digital Media: Pride & Platforms” discussion, sponsored by Verizon Media, YouTuber Gigi Gorgeous said, “I get asked a lot ‘are you always gonna do YouTube,’ like say you’re in a movie someday, are you just gonna quit?’ And my answer is always, ‘No, because that’s what gave me the confidence.’” She added, “Honestly, I feel like YouTubers, a lot of the time, have a deeper connection with their fans than even like a Leonardo DiCaprio… when people meet their favorite YouTubers, they literally break down and cry, because they really helped them through a really hard time.” Gorgeous was joined on the panel by Hayley Pappas, Hannah Hart, Joey Graceffa, Anna Akana, Eugene Lee Yang, and Miles McKenna.
The next panel was “Pride in the Corner Office,” with panelists Cindy Nguyen from Create Music Group, Eliah Seton from Warner Music Group, Wade Leak from Sony Music Entertainment, Aaron Rosenberg from Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light, Jess Caragliano from Terrorbird Media, and Rick Marcello from Kobalt Music. A highlight came when Translatin@ Coalition’s Bamby Salcedo added to the conversation from the audience, saying “The trans community is way behind in comparison to the gay and lesbian community – if we look at where we are, we’re about 40 years behind. How do we, as individuals who have power, how do we support those upcoming organizations – groups, artists, all of those? How do we include that into our budgets, and how doe we include that in supporting events that we do to raise funds, and that kind of stuff?”
Salcedo’s Translatin@ colleague Michaé de la Cuadra also spoke to the panel, adding, “A lot of the time it comes in a job description, a lot of the times you require these degrees and years of experience, and all this stuff that trans people don’t have — so really thinking about how when you’re giving opportunities to black trans women, undocumented to trans people, and just trans people of color… about how, internally and in the process, you’re excluding people, and I just wanted to raise that.”
Stephen Daw, moderating the panel “Drag & Music: From Drag Race to the Top of the Charts,” asked participants Alaska Thunderfuck, Peppermint, Blair St. Clair, Trixie Mattel, Manila Luzon, and Ryan Aceto if being on “RuPaul’s Drag Race was a vital step for queens hoping to build a career, or if there was a “path forward” for those who have not been on the show. Thunderfuck answered, “I think it’s great that it [the show] exists, and it has created this entire economy that is just, you know, drag queens… it’s really awesome if you do get on ‘Drag Race,’ it’s like the golden ticket on ‘Willy Wonka,’ like, it’s really amazing – but I think there are more and more opportunities, if it’s not your thing, I think you can still make it and make something huge. More and more, there are avenues to do that.”
For the “They/Them Write the Songs” panel, LGBT+ songwriters Justin Tranter, Victoria Monet, Teddy Geiger, and Shane McAnally joined together for a conversation about bring their queer voices into their craft. Tranter said, “When we have our songwriter hats on, you’re there to facilitate somebody else’s story, and so it’s not about our experiences – but you do want to tap into your own truth so that you can write better lyrics, that reflect their truth better. You have to tap into your truth – but it’s not about us, in that moment.” He went on to add, “We’re in this weird political landscape where things are getting really bad for our community, but when it comes to the media, when it comes to music… things are looking better than they ever have. Media is finally embracing us – a little bit. They need to do a lot more, but we’re getting there.”
On the “Queer Headliners 2019” panel, LGBT+ musical celebrities Big Freedia, ILoveMakonnen, Hayley Kiyoko, and Tegan and Sara spoke about their experiences. Freedia spoke of influences, saying, “For me, it was Sylvester. He was just fierce, and being himself all the time. It just opened so many doors for me, just to be myself and get out there and live my truth.”
Kiyoko struck another key theme of the day when she said, “I think no matter who you are or where you come from, we all just want an opportunity to be heard and to share our stories, and to find our people. Releasing ‘Curious,’ I didn’t think that was direectly made for frat boys, specifically – but I do think as a musician and as an artist, we all go through love and loss and lust, and sometimes depression and all these things, and that’s what connects all of us. No matter what your sexuality is, why should we be put in a box? We all have those same feelings, we all get heartbroken, so why are we different?”
Tegan of Tegan and Sara addressed the ongoing conflict in the music industry between queer visibility and systemic homophobia. “We just always talk about it,” she said. “We bring it up in every meeting, we talk about it in our own organization, and in the press, and onstage. It’s not like any of us have the answers on how to fix it, but I think we want to participate in basically trying to disrupt and rebuild the system… that’s how you do it – don’t get comfortable and just keep disrupting.”
The day’s final panel was “Televised Revolution: The Beings of ‘Pose,’” featuring panelists Indya Moore, MJ Rodriguez, Hailie Sahar, Dyllón Burnside, and Angel Curiel.
Burnside, who plays Ricky on the show, told of how he worked for a church before beginning his acting career. “Before I was able to embrace my identity, before I was willing to accept, I confided in my pastor that I was attracted to men and I lost my job. In our exit meeting he told me that I was gonna ruin my life – and for me that was the thing that always propelled me forward, that I cannot not do this, because there are kids all over the world, all over the country, who are being told that who they are isn’t right, and that they can’t do the things they were put here to do because somebody else doesn’t understand them.”
Rodriguez, who stars as house mother Blanca, talked about how the diversity of the characters in “Pose” was a big factor in making her want to be part of the show. “I saw that each and every one of these women, as well as the men, were of color… and I just thought, ‘well I have to be a part of it because of this,’ but also because of the human aspects they had. In the breakdown they showed every single thing that cis-gendered individuals get cast for, that we have them too. And I thought, ‘Okay, this goes to show we’re being seen as humans.’ And that’s the first thing that anyone should see us as, is human. We shouldn’t be seen as anything other than.”
Rodriguez also spoke of the importance of including the presence of AIDS on “Pose.” “I think that it’s imperative that it’s on this show,” she said, “because there is a stigma that is constantly held around having HIV and AIDS, and the history is important.”
The day-long event featured a special installation of “The Art of Finding Love” and exclusive merchandise from renowned artist Michael Kalish, as well as participation from nonprofit partners including GLSEN, The Trevor Project, and local LGBTQ+ vendors.
Things wrapped up with a performance at West Hollywood’s Peppermint Club by Daya, Big Freedia and Trixie Mattel.
The First Annual Pride Summit, which was sponsored by Cadillac and Verizon Media, was part of Billboard’s “Summer of Pride,” which also includes special editorial coverage in the magazine of concerts and events across the globe, well-known and up-and-coming LGBTQ+ artists and allies, curated playlists, and a “Pride Chart” recognizing LGBTQ+ artists of the past and present.