Billboard Pride Issue Cover Stars Discuss Improving LGBTQ Representation in Pop Culture at Pride Summit

ILoveMakonnen, Big Freedia, Hayley Kiyoko, Tegan Quin and Adam Lambert grace the cover of Billboard's second annual Pride issue, and at Billboard & The Hollywood Reporter's inaugural Pride Summit in Los Angeles on Thursday (Aug. 8), five of the stars sat down at a panel with senior editor Nolan Feeney.

Though Lambert was missing from the panel, as he's currently on tour with Queen, Sara Quin joined her sister onstage, where they discussed the first moment they felt represented in pop culture. "

“It was Sara," Tegan joked. "I saw her down the hall when we were 15 I knew she was carrying a secret relationship. I was like, 'She’s gay for sure.'” Tegan then went on to remember the 1997 film, All Over Me, starring Leisha Hailey. "I wrote in my journal in all caps, 'She is so hot!' and it was really gay. I remember coming home and being like, 'Gay people can be cool.'"

ILoveMakonnen mentioned Prince as his first queer role model and someone he "aspires to be," while Big Freedia referred to disco singer-songwriter Sylvester.

Kiyoko, touchingly, said her fellow panelists and cover stars Tegan and Sara were her inspiration. "They were cool and edgy but they still wrote really good music. They wrote bops!"

"I remember saying, 'That's me!' I want to be cool, I want to do pop music and I want to write music people can’t get out of their heads," she continued. "That opened the door for me to be myself."

The conversation then transitioned from past to present, as the panelists talked about their roles as LGBTQ artists. "

"My approach going into the industry was, 'They can’t know I’m gay'...but I am gay," said Kiyoko, lovingly named "Lesbian Jesus" by her fanbase. "I would turn down gay media because I wanted to be known for my music."

"I thought, 'Why are you pushing this down when you can be breaking the stereotype on what a lesbian looks like?' She’s not threatening and she’s actually kind of nice...I took that label back I threw it on my face and I was like, no, who I am is really cool and I’m not going to let that boss me around anymore."

Tegan and Sara, having been openly part of the LGBTQ community for more than 25 years, reflected on how the music industry has changed. "We were so lonely for so much of the early part of our career. There was so little community-wise because it was before social media," Tegan explained. "For me, there's this moment where there's passion and love and everyone is trying to embrace culture. It's very exciting for me."

On what society can do in the future, ILoveMakonnen stressed the importance of education. "I feel like in our community, we talk a lot to ourselves and we're educated on ourselves, but I feel like there needs to more diversity where straight people learn about us. They should have a space where we can all talk about it and not be combative," he explained. "We as a community have all talked about it and know how we want to be talked about but they didn’t get the briefing. We need to be more inclusive."​

"You should really learn this stuff in school, it’s just stupid," Kiyoko added.

When asked for advice by an audience member who experienced asking someone for their preferred pronoun and the question was received negatively, Sara explained the best way to handle it. "The internet allows us the privacy to educate ourselves on our own time. It's about having patience, it's about being open, dialogue and self-education," she explained. "As somebody who is empathetic and interested, going to the Internet and absorbing as many pieces, videos and perspectives, and to be willing to make those mistakes--We want to be human and not this science-y thing. Just apologize and move on, and I feel like that really works."

On negativity in general, Big Freedia consoled an audience member, a former dancer for Miley Cyrus who had soda thrown on her during the first performance. "You have to fight for what you believe in," the bounce Queen assured. "You've got to keep being fierce and keep living how you're living. You have to keep praying and pushing."

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