By Fernando López
Today it can seem like everywhere you turn there are new up-and-coming LGBTQ artists, entertainers and celebrities, but many of us are old enough to remember when that wasn’t always the case. LGBTQ entertainers, like all of us, were forced to remain in the closet or risk putting our careers, ourselves, and our families in jeopardy. Just as Stonewall sparked a revolution for our community, it took another act of courage to transform the modern-day LGBTQ civil rights movement by elevating the amount and authenticity of our community’s visibility in the public sphere.
In Los Angeles, in the ’90s, a group of three lesbian friends struggled with who would be the first to take the plunge and come out of the closet publicly. Amongst Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres, and Melissa Etheridge, it was Melissa who ultimately first publicly shattered the closet in 1993. From then on, closet after closet began to crumble as Amanda Bearse, Greg Louganis, Michael Stipe, Billie Joe Armstrong, and of course Ellen DeGeneres gave our community a level of humanity in the public consciousness that we had never seen before.
Melissa Etheridge redefined rock ‘n’ roll and our movement. Her bravery and pioneering steps carved a path wide enough to help reshape entertainment for generations, giving rise to the openly LGBTQ talent we all now enjoy like King Princess, Tegan & Sara, Big Freedia, Troye Sivan, and Janelle Monae. Her inspirational decades of activism pushing for an LGBTQ voice in politics, combating HIV/AIDS, and fighting for the freedom to marry have brought us that much closer to equality.
For more than 30 years, Melissa’s deeply meaningful music and impassioned relentless advocacy have continued to connect the LGBTQ community and carve a better path forward both here in the United States and around the world. It is an unbelievable honor to host her as our Sunday headliner for San Diego Pride as we honor the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. Our theme this year is A Legacy of Liberation, and I can think of no one better to embody that spirit than Melissa Etheridge.
–– Fernando Z. López is the executive director of San Diego Pride.