Melissa Etheridge is looking back at her start in the music industry and how she was asked to hide her sexuality.
The singer recalled to SPIN FIRE’s Free Speech + Other Dirty Words that when she was signed by Island Records in the mid-80s, there was a jarring moment that came shortly before she released her self-titled 1988 debut album. She said, “There was a meeting at an office with a conference table where everybody was sitting round, and someone said, ‘So, what are we going to do about the gay thing?'”
Melissa remembered advocating for herself at that meeting and responding with, “I am not going to pretend I am something else and find a guy to take pictures with — I am going to be me.”
“They said, ‘Well, as long as you don’t flag wave.’ This was before we had the rainbow flag,” Melissa added. “Four years later, I was flag waving!”
Melissa publicly came out alongside singer Janis Ian on January 20, 1993, during former President Bill Clinton‘s inaugural celebration.
Melissa also reflected on the difficulty of protecting everyone’s right to free speech, even if it upsets her, noting that. Recalling her disagreement with Eminem over the slurs he used in his 2000 song “Criminal,” she noted that freedom of speech “works both ways.”
“We want the freedom to say what we like even though it offends others; I gotta let him be even though it offends me. Because that’s freedom,” she said. “The American Experiment is about can we all live together inside those differences?”
Melissa also revealed the discomfort she felt when continuing her show on Sirius XM because the platform also hosted conservative firebrand Steve Bannon‘s Breitbart Daily News. She admitted, “Free speech is hard.”
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