The story of queer country music – and its message of hope

His father’s acceptance carried him through his school years in the 1950s in the small town of Dry Creek, Washington, where in spite of the socially conservative time, Haggerty was wildly popular. His dad would even drive him to school dressed in full drag as the school’s glitter-covered mascot Peppy Pat, a character Haggerty created himself. As high school approached, his parents and 10 siblings began to worry that as the town’s only ‘sissy’, Haggerty might face more bullying than he had in previous years. His father gave him this advice: “You’ll be alright, just remember this: you’re no better than any of the rest of them but you’re just as Goddamn good, and if anybody gives you any grief about that, hit ’em with your purse.”

After enjoying a few years of underground success, Lavender Country disbanded in 1976, entering a 40-year fallow period during which time Haggerty married his partner of 31 years and began performing for sufferers of Alzheimer’s at care homes.

Rednecks, queers and country music

At the same time as Lavender Country’s pioneering contribution to country music, however,  the genre as a whole became strongly associated with intolerance, making the notion of queer country seem antithetical. The stereotype of the flannel shirt-sporting, bearded, long hair topped with a trucker cap, country-music loving ‘hick’ has now become emblematic of backward, and homophobic, thinking – as seen for example, in Taylor Swift’s You Need to Calm Down music video in which white working-class people are shown protesting against gay rights. This, according to Dr Nadine Hubbs, author of Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music, is born of deep-seated classism. 

“Up until the mid-20th Century, the ‘sin’ of the working class had been that they were a bunch of immoral, deviant, queer lovers,” Dr Hubbs tells BBC Culture.  “Then in the ‘70s when social politics took such a big turn with the women’s rights movement, the gay rights movement, the civil rights movement, it wasn’t cool for middle-class people to be intolerant. It was cool to be tolerant, so somehow the sin of the working-class became that they were a bunch of degenerate, deviant, queer haters.” As a result, the working-class queer community, one that, in Dr Hubbs’ words, has existed “as long as we can possibly document”, was essentially erased from the genre.

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