Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper
Chapman Baehler

Cyndi Lauper Talks LGBTQ Activism: 'If You've Got a Big Mouth, You Might As Well Use It for Something Good'

by Patrick Crowley
June 21, 2017, 10:12am EDT

No one does the "ally" thing quite like Cyndi Lauper.

Not only does her flamboyant sense of style and collection of pop classics resonate with the LGBTQ community, but she has dedicated her career to activism. Most notably, Lauper founded the True Colors Fund, a colossal nonprofit that educates people on LGBTQ issues and helps to end homelessness for LGBTQ youth. It's no surprise that Lauper will be honored at the 2017 Logo Trailblazer Honors, which airs Friday. In celebration of her award, we talked to the pop icon about her unwavering activism -- so unrelenting, in fact, that she even dressed conservatively for a good cause: "I saw myself, I thought, 'Oh my God, I look like Kyle's mother from South Park.'"

You’ve devoted your career to being an LGBTQ activist. Why is this issue so important to you?

I was reading a lot of emails in '96 and '97 from people who were disenfranchised from their families and their homes, and their jobs, and their friends when they came out and how they felt suicidal, and then they heard “True Colors” and it kind of saved their lives. I kind of understand what that feels like because there are certain songs that I listened to when I was younger that I always felt like, “Gee, that song saved my life.”

I would read these things and I was pregnant with my son -- it was that long ago. It wasn't just one email -- and this is in the beginning of email when it kind of felt like Captain Kirk in Star Trek. It was like in outer space -- that's kinda like how it felt. It wasn't one email; it became every other email. When I saw the magnitude of it, I called my sister and I said, “At one point, we have to do something together, we have to do something.”

I've been involved because if it's your friends and family, how long are you supposed to stand by and watch their civil rights be stripped? I decided to do what I always do. If you're Italian, you always do that. You stand up for your own. You don't keep your mouth shut; you stand up. You tell your story and you allow other people to tell their story.

You used your platform to launch the True Colors Fund.

With the work that I've been doing with the True Colors Fund, it really started with the True Colors tour and opportunity to create a tour that was totally inclusive and have all different kinds of people on tour with you -- not just famous people, but all kinds of people. It was exciting to me. I always thought that multiracial tours were good because even that created a community of inclusivity, but to also include LGBTQ people was a big deal.

When we saw this homeless situation, which is -- you know the statistics, right? There are up to 1.6 million homeless kids and up to 40 percent are LGBTQ. You feel like, well, what the heck's going on? These kids are being flung out like hot cakes. You realize that you gotta do more. You gotta educate people, you gotta reach out to the kids. We started to work on how we could prevent LGBTQ youth homelessness.

I'm thrilled to work with the True Colors Fund. I think it's awesome, and you could actually make a difference, you know.

The song “True Colors” is a gay anthem, and I'm sure you've seen it seen it covered several times. Has there been one specific performance that truly touched you?

A lot of times, a young performer is doing it and it's so heartfelt -- you feel like you're gonna cry with them. I think there's been a couple of those on these shows like America's Got Talent or The Voice, and you feel it because they feel it. I always think that a song with that type of sentiment should never be overdone. You don't need to give a song with a lot of sentiment more sentiment.

For me, I always felt like: Say it softly and learn the power of a whisper. I've heard people sing it like, [shouts] “Glory, glory, hallelujah!” Not my favorite stuff, but that's how they hear it and that's fine. It's a wonderful song, it's a healing song. However the heck you heal from a song is how you should approach it, you know?

Why do you think celebrating Pride is important?

Pride is really great because that's when we all get to celebrate our differences together. That's what always made it exciting, and everybody wears bright-colored clothing, and everybody's happy, and I love Pride for that reason. I'm very lucky. I’ve got to celebrate it with my sister and my mother and some dancing guys in Speedos dressed as firemen on a fire truck.

We talked about all the activism you've done. Has there been a specific moment that you can remember when it made it feel worth it?

When I went to Washington and worked with Senator [Susan] Collins and Senator [Jack] Reed. The fact that one was a Republican and one was a Democrat, it kind of made me feel like we could set aside our differences for a little bit.

I tried to dress like how I thought they dressed, which really in the end when I saw myself, I thought, “Oh my God, I look like Kyle's mother from South Park.” But I really tried to look conservative and speak clearly, you know, and listen and try and represent the best I could for people without a voice. If you’ve got a big mouth, you might as well use it for something good, like for people who have no voice.

You have a summer tour coming up -- do you have any fun tricks up your sleeve?

I am definitely trying to come up with something, because It's a different kind of show. I went out already doing one thing, and now I'm going to approach a different kind of stage and different staging We’re still putting it together.