From Bessie Smith to Frank Ocean: Exploring sexualities in American music

"Hip-hop, wrapped up as it is in tropes of male prowess, conquest, domination, and acquisition, has never been particularly gay-friendly. Yet, the music that both R&B and hip-hop grew from, the blues of the early 20th century, was far from homophobic. In fact, it’s probably accurate to say that the breakthrough blues of the 1920s, the material that established the blues in the public consciousness, was the gayest music in America.

A good 15 years before Robert Johnson did his first recording, the blues were well established by a group of early innovators: women such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ida Cox, and Sippie Wallace, among many others. Through both the content of their music and the content of their public images and performance styles, they presented radically potent messages of sexual disconformity and womanly independence of mind and body.”

— David Hadju, “The Surprising Queer Roots of the Blues

Fifteen years ago this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The bill, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman under federal law, passed by a vote of 342-67—an outcome that roughly reflected public opinion at the time. But over the past decade and a half, our society has undergone a seismic shift in how it recognizes and accepts the relationships of gay and lesbian couples. This report provides a snapshot of this dramatic transformation and illustrates the crystallizing consensus in favor of legal relationship recognition for gay and lesbian couples, extending all the way to marriage in many parts of the country. In 1996, DOMA was thought to have ended the debate on marriage. But it seems to have been only the beginning of a more profound shift in favor of gay and lesbian couples.

Graphic via Queerty.