The strides that the LGBTQ+ community has made toward wider cultural acceptance in both music and society should not be understated, nor should the work that still needs to be done.
This year, Pride Month comes at a perilous time for queer and trans people. A flood of anti-LGBTQ+ bills threatens to weaken rights and erode protections for the community across the United States, while internationally, discriminatory rhetoric continues to endanger global conversations about the space the queer community occupies.
But in the music industry, LGBTQ+ artists keep breaking new ground with each passing year. The same can be said for the professionals who work behind the scenes to effect change at their companies and in the business at large.
Billboard spoke with 25 of the industry’s most notable LGBTQ+ movers and shakers — from those working with superstars like Sam Smith to those boosting up-and-comers like Villano Antillano — about what it means to be out in the industry today, how they celebrate Pride and the most pressing challenges facing LGBTQ+ professionals in music.
President/head of creative, PULSE Music Group
When it comes to her work at the top of the multipronged music outfit, one recent moment shines brightest for Calhoun: “Taking home song of the year at this year’s BMI Pop Awards for The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber’s ‘Stay,’ co-written by our guys FNZ.” She also finds inspiration in PULSE’s roster of artists, songwriters and producers. “Each and every one of them is unapologetically themselves,” Calhoun says. “We all push each other to be great on a daily basis, and we also help each other feel comfortable to be ourselves. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Most pressing challenge “While we’ve come a long way, the lack of LGBTQ representation is still a pressing issue in the music business, especially at an upper-management level. Studies show that diverse teams produce higher financial returns, and diverse teams also attract diverse talent. It’s a win-win for all involved and something everyone who participates in the music business should be thinking about while hiring.”
COO/head of entertainment, The Recording Academy
The centerpiece of the Recording Academy’s calendar is the Grammy Awards, and Chapman says the organization — which recruited nearly 2,000 diverse members over the past year — made spotlighting LGBTQ+ talent a priority for its 2023 ceremony. “From our intentional efforts to spotlight [LGBTQ+] artists who are breaking barriers — like Kim Petras, Sam Smith, Steve Lacy and Brandi Carlile — to the unscripted moments of Beyoncé’s and Lizzo’s emotional and supportive acceptance speeches, it was an incredible evening that was full of love and acceptance, and an especially proud moment for me.”
Most pressing challenge “While the music industry is one of the most supportive communities when it comes to diversity and self-expression, we continue to see artists and professionals limiting their full creativity and [their ability to live] out and proud based on certain consumer, genre and profitability ‘standards.’ We must all continue to intentionally develop and empower artists to live their truths unapologetically.”
Host, Elvis Duran and the Morning Show
Known for presiding over a morning radio show that has kept its finger on the pulse of hit music since 1996 (championing artists like Tori Kelly and Sabrina Carpenter early in their careers), the Z100 mainstay and New York icon, who has met more than his fair share of celebrities, says, “My listeners are the true stars who keep the show alive.”
Most pressing challenge “The first thing that comes to mind is being true to who you are and your authentic self, and feeling comfortable to share that with the people around you.”
Joel L. Flatow
Senior vp of artist and industry relations/chief of West Coast operations, RIAA
As a major player in the RIAA’s West Coast division, Flatow regularly can be found fighting for music makers in California. “I’m proud of helping to represent the most dynamic and impactful industry in the world in the most creative of states and to keep policymakers informed of our member companies’ dynamism, innovation and social conscience,” he says. Additionally, as a board member of The Ally Coalition, he’s proud of representing both organizations at a recent Grammy Week panel spotlighting LGBTQ+ talent.
Most pressing challenge “That unique, compelling, diverse and creative voices of all genders and sexual identities are given the fullest opportunity to shine and be brought to fans and consumers.”
Director of publicity, Atlantic Records
George oversaw the press campaign for Hayley Kiyoko’s second album, Panorama, which took the pop star from Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence to the judges’ table on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Most pressing challenge “It can often feel like the LGBTQ+ community is lumped together as having one queer experience when really, the acronym encapsulates so many different perspectives, levels of privilege and unique stories to celebrate more than just one month a year.”
Senior manager of digital marketing, Interscope Records
Hardy successfully helped Kali Uchis make Red Moon in Venus her first top five album on the Billboard 200 and led the digital strategy for GloRilla’s Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hit “Tomorrow 2.” “I am most proud of how my team and I have been able to build customized content strategies that allow artists like Moneybagg Yo, Ella Mai, Ari Lennox, JID and more thrive in the changing marketplace,” he says.
Most pressing challenge “Staying true to who you are is always the toughest part about being a professional in the business. As our artists [and partners] require us to be more present, it’s important we all answer to the call of showing up as our most authentic selves.”
Vp of A&R, U.S. Latin and Latin America, Warner Chappell Music
In June 2022, Hernandez, a 15-year veteran of the publisher, signed LGBTQ+ rapper Villano Antillano, who recently turned heads with her Bizarrap collaboration, “Bzrp Music Sessions Vol. 51,” to a co-publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music.
Most pressing challenge “The recent rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation, which has led to LGBTQ+ songwriters and artists feeling distressed and unsafe in certain situations.”
Creative manager, Live Nation Urban
In addition to helping produce CNN’s inaugural Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom concert, June brought ballroom culture to Live Nation Urban’s repertoire. “It’s such an important aspect of both Black and queer culture,” they say. “We sold out our first one during Mary J. Blige’s [Strength of a Woman] festival, which was curated by Miss Lawrence Balenciaga. I’m excited to also be working with the Haus of Basquiat’s Dashaun Wesley and Miss Shalae on curating a ball during Afro Pride in [Los Angeles]. No other division is doing this, so it’s a nice win for the culture.”
Who inspires him “The resilience of Black queer organizers and creatives that have come before me is one of my biggest inspirations. Knowing that I get to contribute to a legacy that wants to create space for your community keeps me going.”
Executive vp/chief legal and business affairs officer, ASCAP
Kim’s team, in tandem with the ASCAP licensing division, successfully boosted royalty rates for members of the performing rights organization. “It’s hard to overstate the importance of what we’ve achieved with these efforts over the last 18 months,” she says. “As the only [major American] PRO that operates as a not-for-profit, the terms of those deals directly benefit our members, not outside investors or shareholders.”
Most pressing challenge “Continuing to find smart ways to support and care for LGBTQ artists, songwriters, employees and fans during a time when some states are adopting laws and regulations against LGBTQ people. It’s very important to maintain a sense of well-being in the current environment so that we can continue the progress we have made.”
Founder/CEO, Milk & Honey Music + Sports
In the past 18 months, Keller doubled his Milk & Honey staff in London and opened an office in Sydney, where he recently curated a camp with Troye Sivan for the Australasian Performing Right Association and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society to help empower LGBTQ+ artists and songwriters in Australia and New Zealand.
Most pressing challenge “One of the issues I still see is that folks are not as homophobic as they are femme phobic, and transphobia also continues to be a big [problem]. When I start to unpack all of those issues, I realize the community still has a long way to go.”
Vp of creative, Sony Music Publishing
Krottinger says the release and reception for Dove Cameron’s “Boyfriend” — which reached the top 20 of the Hot 100 in June 2022 and became her biggest hit to date — stands out most for him and his Sony team. “It’s an unabashedly queer song from an important LGBTQ artist that went mainstream without a whiff of apology. We need more records like that!”
Most pressing challenge “In order to create lasting change, we need people in positions of power to come from the LGBTQ community.”
Founder/owner, LaPolt Law
Aside from working with members of Congress to craft legislation that would prohibit using lyrics as evidence against a person in legal proceedings, which LaPolt says is a “violation of our First Amendment right to freedom of speech,” the attorney was honored in November with the Visionary Award from Friendly House, a long-running women’s addiction and recovery facility.
How she celebrates Pride “I celebrate Pride by taking my twin boys to various LGBTQ events such as West Hollywood Pride Parade and educating them about discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ community that must be stopped.”
Executive vp/deputy general counsel/chief compliance, ethics and privacy officer, Sony Music Entertainment
Alongside Sony’s communications team, Leak helped launch the Sony Music global compliance program Voicing Our Values. “We now use it as a framework to promote an environment where we work together to protect each other and the company,” Leak says. He adds, “I continue to be inspired by my Sony Group colleagues who are part of OutLoud, our Talent Advisory Group focusing on raising awareness of and advocating for important LGBTQIA+ issues and culture.”
Most pressing challenge “Notwithstanding the creative nature of our business and the progress we have made, I still fear that LGBTQ professionals may not feel comfortable being their true selves in the workplace, given concerns about professional growth in light of potential biases or homophobia.”
Agent, podcasts/music, CAA
Among recent projects, Miller is most proud of A Positive Life: HIV From Terrence Higgins to Today presented by Sam Smith, a cross-generational overview of HIV/AIDS where Smith heard from “people who remember the earliest years of the AIDS crisis, the grassroots activists and marginalized communities who came together to fight stigma and raise public awareness, and a new generation living with effective treatments for HIV in a radically changed world.” Miller says, “I wish I had the words to describe how proud I am” of the conversations sparked by the podcast.
Most pressing challenge “We need to ensure the industry does not become complacent because of this progress it is seeing. It’s vital for the industry to keep up the momentum it has created to ensure those already in the business — and those who are considering joining — feel supported.”
Co-founder/owner, SMACKSongs; co-president, Monument Records
In addition to developing music publisher SMACKSongs and serving as co-president of Monument Records, McAnally saw 10 years of his work alongside Brandy Clark come to fruition with the premiere of Broadway’s buzzy farm-focused musical, Shucked, which received nine 2023 Tony nominations. McAnally says, “I am so grateful to represent Nashville on Broadway and bring country music and storytelling to a new audience.”
Most pressing challenge “In country music, a pressing challenge is representation. This is a genre that has historically pushed people like me away, and I am proud to be part of a group of artists and creators that are changing that.”
Music agent, Wasserman Music
Millhauser, who works as a booking agent for Lake Street Dive, says the group scored “a huge win” with its “record-high touring year in 2022 — including two amazing nights at [New York’s] Radio City Music Hall.” As one of the few out trans agents in the field, Millhauser acknowledges that “there are no doubt still challenges, but I am much more focused on all the great work that we do and the exciting and diverse next gen of music professionals I am honored to be a part of.”
Most pressing challenge “Queer people live beyond the structural boundaries of life and bring that ethos of pushing boundaries and getting creative into all the work we do for our artists. The music economy is growing to be increasingly more value-based, and the inclusive energy we bring to building artist strategy is a strong asset.”
General counsel/chief diversity officer, SoundCloud; board member, GLAAD
Porch is the first chief diversity officer at SoundCloud, where his work has included launching the Time To Thrive six-month development program for women and nonbinary employees. The initiative is “designed to grow skills, grow internal networks, grow confidence and, ultimately, inspire and empower.” More recently, SoundCloud began a mentorship program that matches senior leaders at the company with members of employee diversity resource groups.
Most pressing challenge “Visibility shouldn’t be the sole measure of success in our collective push toward equity; representation in the C-suite and down the corporate ladder must lead to sustainable cultural change in terms of acceptance for LGBTQ+ artists, fans and music industry professionals.”
President/chief creative officer, iHeartLatino; host, The Enrique Santos Show
In addition to hosting his own live radio show from Miami, Santos leads iHeartMedia’s first Latino podcast network, My Cultura. “We are successfully showcasing Latino creators and their experiences,” he says. “We are proud to have partnered with strong and leading Latino voices like Chiquis Rivera, Wilmer Valderrama and Eva Longoria.”
How he celebrates Pride “Pride to me is much more than a yearly celebration. It is a lifestyle of compassion, love and understanding, and a call to unite, educate and to help our community be better understood and accepted.”
Partner, music, WME
A 17-year veteran of WME, Schumann has successfully navigated “many iterations of the company and our department,” and currently works with a client list that includes Sofi Tukker and Kim Petras. “The cherry on top is getting to see our incredible clients absolutely crush it not only on the touring side, but also establishing themselves across entertainment and culture,” he says. “As our team continues to grow post-pandemic, so does its diversity into one of the most diverse in the electronic music space.”
Most pressing challenge “[Festival] lineups and the industry as a whole should reflect the diverse audiences that these amazing creatives cultivate, and we need to fully support the younger generation of up-and-coming industry professionals who will serve as tomorrow’s executives.”
Seton points to the beta launch of the Fans tool for SoundCloud for Artists as a bright spot. The new product allows artists to connect with their most valuable fans by tapping into stats like engagement data and user reach. “Based on feedback from our early beta testers, Fans is a real game-changer,” he says.
Most pressing challenge “Showing up for and protecting our trans community. We must take actionable steps to ensure their safety both in and outside the workplace.”
Music agent, UTA
Smith helped her artist roster rack up major touring wins over the last year, with GAYLE earning an opening slot on Taylor Swift’s blockbuster The Eras Tour, JP Saxe supporting John Mayer’s tour and JVKE “selling out his debut headline tour in 1,500- to 4,000-capacity rooms.” Smith says she draws inspiration from her clients and the art they create: “It’s why we do what we do and the reason behind the emails, calls and meetings. It’s why I get excited to go to work every day.”
Most pressing challenge “We need to support our transgender colleagues and make sure the transgender community feels welcome within the music industry, especially here in Nashville.”
Senior vp of strategic partnerships and innovation, Live Nation
Live Nation roared back to life (and record numbers) in 2022. Among its new ventures was the launch of the Two Step Inn festival in Georgetown, Texas, with a lineup that included Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers, Wynonna Judd and Midland. “2022 was a record-setting year for live music, with this year poised to surpass those achievements,” Swope says, citing his colleagues’ “unwavering resilience” and “data-driven strategies” as fuel for the wins.
Most pressing challenge “An ongoing and significant challenge facing LGBTQ professionals in the music industry today is the pressing need for enhanced representation across the LGBTQ community — particularly at the executive level.”
Vp of marketing, EMPIRE Nashville
Vassar points to the success of EMPIRE’s viral Americana singer-songwriter Wyatt Flores — whose Spotify monthly streams have grown 2,750% in the past six months and whose YouTube subscribers increased by 2,500% in the same period — as “exhilarating.” “When I first heard his early demos, I knew there was something really special and raw,” she says.
How she celebrates Pride “I find it very meaningful to build a life that I am proud of every day, showing up for my friends and family while hustling in this business to level up doing something I’ve always dreamed of … To continue making a difference and learning how to lead and love better is my goal.”
Vp of creative (visual content), Republic Records
Vastola helps bring the creative visions of Republic’s artists to life. “Working with Kim Petras on her creative and visuals, and Florence Welch on her socials and short-form content strategy, have been highlights of my career,” she says. “They are both such strong, creative-minded women who inspire me daily.”
Most pressing challenge “For LGBTQ professionals in the music industry, the most pressing challenge is making sure that we are equally represented in the workplace and in executive positions.”
COO, Primary Wave
Known for headline-grabbing purchases of song catalogs with iconic hits from Whitney Houston, Smokey Robinson and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Primary Wave becoming the owner of half of Prince’s estate stands out for Villa as an undeniable highlight. “It was an honor to step in the purple world last summer to work alongside the heirs and interested parties in managing and building on his incomparable legacy.”
Most pressing challenge “[We ought to] push until professionals and artists represent and align with the spectrum of the population … If music is the common language, my view is that there should be something to speak to all.”