Singer-songwriter Parson James splashed onto the pop scene in 2016 with his lauded debut The Temple EP, going on to pen the Kygo hit “Stole the Show” and perform on Ellen. But he hasn’t always felt included. The artist has said that his “conflicted pop gospel” sound stems from growing up a biracial, gay man in a conservative Christian community in the Deep South.
As part of our 30 Days of Pride initiative, we asked James to share his top gay icons who helped him feel — as he tells us — “invited to the party.”
“I think at the end of the day, we all want to feel included,” James says. “So many of us have grown up feeling like outcasts, and there are particular artists who have been able to create communities through their art that allow us to feel safe.”
While he’s a fan of female pop LGBTQ icons like Madonna and Lady Gaga, James adds that the genre still has a long way to go in terms of accepting gay men: “Although I always support and advocate anything that makes people feel safe and confident, I do long for the day that openly gay male pop stars can garner the same attention,” he explains.
Follow along as James muses on the gay icons that most impacted him, below.
George is the reason I wear the cross earring. George was an incomparable force, not just for the LGBTQ community, but for the world. He was faced with judgment and societal pressures constantly, but ultimately overcame them by releasing material to uplift those who felt outcast. It goes without saying, Freedom is one of the most powerful records of the last 50 years in my opinion. His messages of celebrating diversity and inclusion in his work so early on paved the way for artists like myself to do what we do. George is a true gem and is deeply missed.
A queen of disco. Sylvester is one of the most underrated, yet one of the most important voices of the disco era. He was unapologetically outspoken, beautiful, courageous and possessed one of the most insanely epic vocals of all time. When I first heard of him, it was during a vocal lesson with a former coach who had known him in the early days. I was mesmerized by how he performed with such confidence and certainty. His activism during the HIV/AIDS crisis was especially important as well. Sylvester is a national treasure that cannot be forgotten.
This one is obvious. A true pillar in our community, Madonna encompasses inclusion and the fight for equality. Luckily I had a young mom and was able to watch Truth or Dare at about 6 years old or so and was captivated by the stories of this megastar who cared so much for her dancers, friends and fans who were getting heat for being themselves. When I think of Madonna, I think of pushing forward, not taking no for an answer, and fighting at all costs to have your voice heard. She has continually pushed the needle and has never forgotten us along the way. A true trailblazer.
What this woman has accomplished in her relatively short span of time in the public eye is extraordinary. As a child, I would have never imagined that the largest daytime television show would be hosted by an openly gay woman. Watching her break through barriers whilst relentlessly advocating the rights of our community will forever inspire me. She’s truly blazed a trail that was once deemed impossible.
One of the most progressive artists to ever create music. His artistry was effortless and solely his own. He never conformed to any sexual identity simply because he didn’t feel the need to. He embodied individuality and self-expression, even if that came with criticism. His work taught me to always look ahead and do exactly what you feel and be exactly who you want to be.