She can’t even look at Stansell in the eye as she mutters, “You want to go out there and make us ashamed of who you are, that’s a choice,” seconds before kicking him out of the house. The scene is heartbreakingly familiar for many queer people. While only 10 percent of young people in the United States identify as LGBTQ, they account for 40 percent of homeless youth.
The video's premiere was a bit of a monumental moment: it debuted on CMT last month, bringing a queer storyline to the network's country music fans. Billboard chatted with Stansell about the groundbreaking music video, his own coming out and navigating the country music scene as an openly gay artist.
Why was this story important for you to tell?
I think that visibility is important, especially in country music. I think that everyone wants to hear their story told. I think that’s a commonality we share. For the longest time, people who are LGBTQ and lovers of country music, we didn’t really hear our stories on country radio or played on CMT. It was really important for me to share my story in the most authentic, real way I possibly could.
Have you faced any challenges in the country music scene?
I thought there would be initially, that I would be met with a little more resistance. But honestly, ever since I started walking down this road and pursuing country music, I’ve really had nothing but good things said to me and about me with what I’m doing. I had a similar conversation with Cody Allen, who hosts the CMT radio show. He came out a few years ago but he’s established a career for himself. Even he was saying he was really surprised at how wonderful his fellow artists were and how loving the fans were to him and how wonderful his bosses at CMT were. I think that people, especially in the south who listen to country music, are more open and loving that we give them credit to be. We just have to give them the opportunity to show us.
In the first minute or so of the music video, we see your mom reacting quite negatively to your coming out. Did you draw on real-life experiences for that moment?
I kinda talk about the video as being a representation of my own story. That first scene is kind of a boiled down version of every action and reaction I’ve ever had with any of my family members. It was just a way to tell it in the most clear, concise, and complete way in a minute if we possibly could. It’s something most people could relate to. As a gay man, that relationship with my mother and seeing that break is the thing people relate to with the coming out experience. I had a lot of similarities and my own experience. They ring true whether it was my mother or my sister or my father. We kind of piled them all into that one moment as the representation of the full thing that happened.
It’s been interesting over the past month to see how many people see themselves in that moment. It’s not about the situation, it’s about those things being said and those feelings that you have. Wherever you were or whatever the circumstance, those are universal feelings. That's what we wanted to tap into. That raw feeling of devastation. When you see this support system that you have known and come to expect your entire life, your family, evaporate in a moment when you decide to be honest about who you are. By some miracle, we were able to capture that in about 40 seconds and it’s resonating with people.
How have fans reacted to the video? What do you hope your video does for viewers?
The responses have varied across the board. My hope with the video was that it would engender conversations between the LGBTQ community and the straight community. For my community, it would help people not feel alone. When I was a kid watching CMT, I never would’ve expected to see a video like that. If I had, I wouldn’t have felt in the silo that I felt like I was living in for so long. For straight people, I think the moment they get a peek into what these situations are like and how life-changing they can be, to decide “you know what, my gay brother, sister, son, daughter, I don’t want that to happen to them." That’s the beginning of breaking the cycle of this heartless and senseless hurting of one another just for being LGBTQ.
A fan sent your video to his mother and they had a very moving conversation via text. How does it feel for your art to be moving people in that way?
When I saw that exchange with this guy and his mother, and them both watching the video independently of each other, and the mother seeing this thing and saying “let’s start again,” kind of looking for a refresh and restart, and for the son, getting that apology that he never thought he would get. Hey, I know how you feel! That’s important. It’s very easy in families to think that the apology step is not needed but it’s so needed for healing. That one interaction made this whole thing worth it, all the work, all the time we put into this. That one thing made it worth it.
Watch Stanell's "Hometown" music video below.