Sep 18, 2016

How "I'm Coming Out" Became a Gay Anthem

I'm coming out
I want the world to know
Got to let it show

How can this not be a gay anthem?

You're leaving behind the years of darkness and despair, the big lie that your parents, friends, teachers, and the media have told you, that you do not exist, or if you do, you are a dangerous, deviant sinner.

You exist.  You are not a dangerous, deviant sinner. You have survived.  And now you want the world to know.

There's a new me coming out
And I just had to live, and I want to give
I'm completely positive
That I am coming out!

"I'm Coming Out" was written in 1979 by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers of the disco group Chic ("Le Freak").  They were actually straight, but often went to gay clubs, and one night at the GG Barnum Room they saw some drag queens impersonating Diana Ross.  They thought a song about the gay community would be a positive addition to her new album, Diana.

Disco queen Diana Ross was already a legend, with ten albums, a string of hit singles, and starring roles in Mahogany and The Wiz.  But she was also a conservative Christian who thought gay people were all evil and going to hell.

During a 1983 concert, she reportedly complained: "I have seen the evils of homosexuality; AIDS is the result of your sins."  Later she denied making the statement, blaming it on a misquote by a reporter.

But in 1979 she balked at the idea of a song about gay people.  "People will think I'm gay!  Why are you trying to ruin my career"?

So Edwards and Rogers told her it was about the "coming out" tradition of young girls who are ready to enter adult society.  And that's what she believed.

"I'm Coming Out" premiered in September 1980, and quickly moved up the charts to the #5 position on pop charts in the U.S..  Meanwhile, the gay community embraced the song.  What gay person in the 1980s didn't use it as a coming out anthem?

Diana Ross continues to be oblivious, insisting that the song is about "coming out" into society, although she has become more tolerant of her gay fans.  She says "I don't judge."

In 2007, her son Evan Ross landed a role in the movie Life Support as a HIV+ gay man, and was worried that his mother would be upset -- but only because the character smoked.

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