While not traditionally thought of as LGBT-friendly, the country music scene has become much more inclusive in recent years—as singers like Billy Gilman, Ty Herndon and Brandy Clark have all come out.
CMT host Cody Alan also revealed he was gay just last month, and was met with overwhelming support.
When it comes to setting an example for fans, allies are just as important as out stars themselves, and there are plenty in the community who are supportive. Below, tune into 12 country music stars who are proving the genre is more inclusive than ever.
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Garth BrooksGetty Images
Brooks was an ally long before other country musicians even considered it an option: The country star won a GLAAD award back in 1993 for his song “We Shall Be Free,” in which he croons about being “free to love anyone we choose.” He also performed alongside George Michael at an Equality Rocks concert back in 2000.
The Grammy winner credited his late sister, Betsy Smittle, who was a lesbian, with inspiring him to speak out for equality. “If you’re in love, you’ve got to follow your heart,” he told George magazine in 1999. “And just trust that God will explain to us why we sometimes fall in love with people of the same sex.”
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The Dixie Chicks are infamous for standing up for their beliefs, from raising awareness about domestic abuse to standing in opposition to the Iraq War. In 2007, when the Chicks were on hiatus, sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robinson recorded “Ain’t No Son,” about a young man rejected by his father for being gay.Getty
More recently, the trio took a stand against North Carolina’s HB2: While many performers cancelled their North Carolina concerts in protest, the trio gave out hats that read “No Hate in My State” to audience members and teamed up with HRC to educate people about LGBT issues.
Dolly PartonGetty Images
Dolly has been a champion of LGBT rights, not to mention a gay icon, for most of her career. And she hasn’t been afraid to call out her Christian community for its intolerance.
“They know that I completely love and accept them, as I do all people,” Parton said about her gay fans in a 2014 Billboard interview. “I think everybody should be allowed to be who they are, and to love who they love. I don’t think we should be judgmental. Lord, I’ve got enough problems of my own to pass judgment on somebody else.”
Parton also famously argued for same-sex marriage, saying that gay people “should suffer just like us heterosexuals.”
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LeeAnn Rimes fought back tears in a 2014 interview with GLAAD when she praised her friend and fellow country star Ty Herndon for coming out of the closet.
“I hope that we’re moving forward and not back,” she stated. “I get really emotional about it because people should be able to love who they love. It’s as simple as that.”
Willie NelsonGetty Images
Willie has been a longtime supporter of equality, telling Texas Monthly, “I’ve known straight and gay people all my life. I can’t tell the difference. People are people where I came from.”
In 2005, he even contributed “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other” to the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack. “I had it on the bus for 20 years, and people would come in and I’d play it,” he explained. “When Brokeback Mountain come out, it just seemed like a good time to kick it out of the closet.”
Kacey MusgravesGetty Images
Musgraves is not only a rising star in the country scene, she’s the reigning queen of allies, winning CMA Song of the Year in 2014 with “Follow Your Arrow,” which features lyrics like, “Make lots of noise/ Kiss lots of boys/ Or kiss lots of girls/ If that’s something you’re into.”
She tweeted her support after CMT host Cody Alan came out last month, saying, “You’re paving the way for others in the country music community to be themselves proudly. Country music was built on real songs and real people telling stories about real life. So, it’s exciting to see the genre embrace exactly that.”
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Wynona landed the cover story in Ladies Home Journal back in 2005, and chose to discuss her work for YouthAIDS, a nonprofit educating young people about HIV. That same year, she told conservative Christians who attacked her for performing on a gay cruise that she would never discriminate.
“I’ve had the biggest gay following in the history of country music…since 1980-something. I think it’s just the more you talk about love, the more you talk about God, the bigger of a target you are. So, bring it on.”
Carrie UnderwoodGetty Images
The American Idol winner got some backlash for supporting marriage equality before her peers. “I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love,” she told The Independent in 2012.
Asked how she balanced her religious beliefs with her pro-LGBT views, Underwood proudly declared that her church is gay-friendly.
“Above all, God wanted us to love others,” she said. “It’s not about setting rules, or [saying], ’Everyone has to be like me.’ No, we’re all different. That’s what makes us special. We have to love each other and get on with each other.”
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Perhaps one of the most surprising allies on this list is conservative Toby Keith. Despite being one of few acts willing to perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration, the “Red Solo Cup” singer has no problem with marriage equality or the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“That whole gay issue thing, that’s never bothered me,” he told CMT in 2011. “We’re going to stop somebody from getting a marriage license because they’re gay? You won’t stop them from living together, so what have you accomplished?”
Criticizing politicians for spending time and money on block equality instead of working on real issues, he added, “I never saw the reasoning behind getting in people’s personal lives.”
Us neither, Toby.
Reba McEntireGetty Images
“I’ve always held the belief that people should not pass judgment on how others want to live their lives,” Reba told NewNowNext in 2015.
The country legend also expressed her empathy for out country singers, telling PrideSource, “It’s really, really sad what they’re living with before they decide to come out… the pressure society puts upon them, their families, and what they put upon them, whether they accept it or they don’t.”
Martina McBrideGetty Images
In 2009, McBride was asked if she feared backlash from her “conservative, straight, Middle American” fans over her support of gay people.
“Honestly, I just have to do what’s right for me. What I believe… that I feel like tolerance is very important,” she told Out. “I have three daughters and that’s what I teach them. I think we should all be tolerant of each other and embrace each other’s strengths and differences and uniqueness and beauty.”
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When Rascal Flatts released “Love Who You Love” back in 2009, they were speaking directly to the LGBT community.
“We actually have some gay people that work with us, and we have a lot of friends that are gay, too, and I know that this song has inspired them,” lead singer Gary LeVox told CMT. “I know that coming out was tough on their parents, and on them, and the whole entire family. For a long time, some of them didn’t get to hear ‘I love you’ from their dads or be accepted in that way… It’s helped a lot of our friends.”