Stokes and Alan also point to events like GLAAD’s annual Concert for Love & Acceptance as proof that the community of country artists and fans is not just moving slowly toward acceptance, but that it is something that is quickly becoming the new norm. Stokes says that the event was apolitical, because the message of love and acceptance is not a partisan one. “They're really human values, and they're values that we all, I think regardless of politics or region of the country or other personal identifiers, see as universal truths,” he says.
Alan says that he was surprised to meet so many people after the event who came to Nashville during CMA Fest specifically to attend the concert. “So many people I talked to had just flown in from Michigan or Atlanta or St. Louis or California,” he says. “A lot of people came just for that experience, and I think that supports not only the idea of what we were there for and to say it's for everyone, but also to show that country music really can bring us together.”
For a long time, country and its fans were inundated with stereotypes — the people who listened were categorized as southern rednecks who just wanted music to sing and drink beer to, while the artists themselves were pigeonholed as millionaires in cowboy hats singing about booze, babes and blue jeans.
But Alan reaffirms that those stereotypes don’t hold up under scrutiny — the CMT host says the country music industry has always been a welcome place for all people, and that painting its fans as a monolith is wrong. “Just hearing the audience and meeting them ... you begin to realize that these are real, good, honest, open people, and maybe different than what these perceptions of them really are,” he says.
McAnally agrees, but says that there was a point where country fans were not as accepting as they are now. The change, he says, came when the artists that those fans looked up to started showing their love and support for a community that was often left disenfranchised by the industry.
A good example of this, he says, can actually be seen on the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. McAnally recalls an episode from the show’s second season, when country star Wynona Judd appeared on the show as a guest judge. “The Judds probably have a lot of gay fans, but at the time of their major success, they were very vocal Christians,” he says, adding that those two identities can coexist with one another. “If her fan base saw that, and people that loved her and follow her and respect her see that she's doing something like that ... to me, they go, ‘Oh, maybe that's ok!’”