On a recent July morning, a sprawling studio complex on the west side of Los Angeles looks like the site of the queer prom that so many teenagers around the country probably dream of. The guests, dressed up in striking suits and luxe fabrics, appear both nervous and excited to mingle with their peers, take photos and maybe show off a few dance moves, should their song come on. (And when Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately” blares through the speakers, it quickly becomes clear that it’s everyone’s song.)
These aren’t just any partygoers: They’re five of the most exciting and accomplished LGBTQ musicians in the industry, gathered together in a rare moment for Billboard’s first Pride Roundtable. There’s Big Freedia, 41, who has helped bring New Orleans bounce music — and its rich queer history — to the mainstream with albums, TV projects and collaborations with Beyoncé and Drake; Tegan Quin, 38, of pop-rock duo Tegan and Sara, who in 2016 established their own foundation to improve the lives of LGBTQ women and girls, and who this year celebrate two decades in the business; rapper-singer ILoveMakonnen, 30, who became one of the most prominent gay men in hip-hop after coming out in 2017; breakout pop singer Hayley Kiyoko, 28, known to her fans as “Lesbian Jesus”; and Adam Lambert, 37, whose work as a solo artist, with Queen and on American Idol a decade ago has helped pave the way for many queer artists today.
Together, their diverse professional journeys, as well as their personal paths to self-acceptance, illustrate just how many possibilities exist for LGBTQ artists in the music industry now (as well as the challenges that persist for them). As they discuss everything from their coming-out stories to what meaningful allyship constitutes, it’s clear they are all inspired by one another, too. “You guys are legends to me,” Makonnen tells the group upfront. “I feel very happy to be a part of this company.”