Advocacy has been a part of LeAnn Rimes's life for a long time. The pop singer, who became a household name at 13 years old in 1996 with the release of her debut country album, Blue, has been supporting and speaking on many causes throughout most of her career, including the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, Stand Up for Kids, and the antibullying LGBT youth organization the Trevor Project.
Twenty-one years since her debut, and with her latest album Remnants just released, the longtime advocate remains as passionate as ever about championing equal rights, especially for LGBT people — so much so that she was recognized in March as the Human Rights Campaign's Ally for Equality awardee.
PRIDE got the chance to speak to talk to LeAnn about why being an ally for LGBT people is so important to her, the messages of love in her new music, and her upcoming headlining performance at this year's PrideFest celebration in New York City.
PRIDE: You’re headlining PrideFest in New York! Is this your first Pride performance? What are you looking forward to the most?
LeAnn Rimes: I’ve performed at a few Prides. I’ve done Charlotte and Orlando. Those are the two I can recall at the moment. But this will be my first New York Pride, and I’m so excited. The energy at all the Prides that I’ve performed at are always so beautiful and just happy. There’s just a different kind of love in the air. I look forward to that celebration because every one I’ve ever performed at is just a true celebration and it has been a joy to go do.
You’ve done a lot of work for a bunch of organizations like the Trevor Project and you were just honored with the Ally for Equality award by the Human Rights Campaign. As an ally of 20+ years, why do you feel the need to be vocal about LGBT issues and the other causes you are passionate about?
To be able to have a platform to create change or to at least create a conversation is something that I don’t take for granted. I’d like to use it in every positive way that I can. As a child, I was kind of always told to not really have an opinion about things. "Don’t talk about politics. Don’t talk about anything that someone might disagree with you on. You won’t sell albums." And so for a while, I always had that kind of playing in the back of my head, and even though that was there, my heart always led.
My uncle passed away from AIDS when I was 11, and growing up in Mississippi and in Texas at that time, being gay was very taboo, and it was not discussed. I never quite understood how he was treated for being gay. It didn’t make any sense to me. I think it’s something that’s been a part of my life and has been in my heart for a long time now. Like I said, I just immediately led with my heart. Humanity comes first, and music comes second. It’s something I’ve never thought twice about, not speaking out. First off, I have such amazing fans that have stuck by me. We’ve been very good to each other, the LGBTQ community and myself, and outside of that, I’m a big supporter of equality across the board. I truly believe in human rights, and not just for the LGBTQ community, but just across the board. I have no qualms about speaking about it at all.
Your latest single, “LovE is LovE is LovE,” is a beautiful message for LGBT people about acceptance and rejecting hate. Although the message is timeless, why do you think it’s so important to keep letting your fans and listeners know that love is the ultimate goal, especially in this day and age?
In this day and age, more than ever, are we needing light in the world. There’s so much darkness, and we’ve had a breeding ground for hatred that has developed over the past several years. Through social media, through media, we all seem to form friendships over negativity and over putting other people down. We need to make ourselves better.
There needs to be a shift. It is shifting and I do feel it is shifting. As much negativity and darkness is out there right now, I do feel that there is a movement and people are starting to shift things. I think it naturally happened for me with this latest record. We were writing so much about love. Everything that was coming up was all about love. I’m like, "What are we doing? There’s so many love songs." But I understood the message as it was coming through. I think the message was really powerful, and something that I needed to be a part of that movement. Through my music I’m able to do that. "Love is love" is something that just stuck with me. I saw it everywhere as a hashtag, and it just came out one day over the track that we were playing around with, and then it became this really deep conversation about how far can our love extend? Can we disagree with people and still extend love to them? Not have to like them, but can we still extend love to them?
It’s the whole "hate the hate, love the hater" thing. If you can see past people’s actions. It says a lot about them when they’re attacking someone and going at someone. A lot about their insecurities and how much they honestly dislike themselves. That kind of perspective, for me, has changed a lot of things and given me empathy and understanding for that, coming from that place. Life happens, and people have a change of heart. Hopefully our minds can start expanding instead of contracting, and our hearts can start expanding instead of contracting. That’s the biggest thing. We’re too focused on what’s up there and what’s in our hearts. We’ve lost that and closed ourselves off to one another.
As an artist, to be able to speak on that and to be able to consciously put out in the world some kind of light and of hope is important to me.
Country music has a lot of LGBT allies, like Kacey Musgraves, Dolly Parton, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, etc. but to outsiders, the genre still has kind of a very conservative reputation. What do you think the country music industry needs to do to shed that reputation?
It’s time, and the more and more people speak out about it, I think that shifts. I’ve had a lot of friends who have come out in the last couple of years who are artists. Ty Herndon, Billy Gilman, people that I’ve known that were, but it was so quiet they had to hide themselves. It was just tragic for me, and it was so sad to watch. For them to be able to be free and to be making music still, is so inspiring. It’s inspiring to see people living in their truth. These are our peers. These are people that we respect and love, and hopefully more and more people will come out and be supportive. I think it just takes time, time to shift things. Like I said, people need to open their minds and hearts a little more.
Last year, Beyoncé did a country song. Even though you’ve done dance and pop already, is there another genre of music you’d want to cross over into?
Is there anything I haven’t touched upon besides rap? Maybe that! I never say never to anything. I just love creating and having fun with it, especially music. There’s no boundaries.
I would love to sing opera. I’ve always been really interested in that. It’s so beautiful, and there’s such control. It’s a totally different way of singing, so I would want to maybe tackle that one day. It would be kind of interesting.
LGBT people love their pop queens. If you could collaborate with another popular pop singer, who would it be and why?
There’s many that I would love to work with. I think Adele would be fabulous. That would probably be my first choice. That would be amazing.
What message would you want to send to your young queer fans living in small towns in the middle of the country who are still figuring out who they are and who might be a little scared?
As kids, we always think that when we stand out, it’s a bad thing. Our little quirks and all the things that make us us, we try to hide so much of that. Even the past few years, I’ve realized I’m living so small and hiding these pieces of myself. I thought I needed to hide to fit in. It’s the hardest thing to know when you’re a kid.
Everything that makes you you, that’s what needs to be celebrated. That’s what will be celebrated. You can’t really take anything personally. People’s hatred and negativity towards you is truly coming from them and what is going on inside of their lives and hearts. That’s probably one of the best pieces of advice. Don’t take anything personally. If you can start doing that at a young age, you’ll definitely get far in life and with peace of mind and with peace in your heart.
Listen to LeAnn's latest album, Remnants, here; watch the video for her latest single, "LovE is LovE is LovE," below; and catch her headlining performance at this year's PrideFest in New York City this Sunday, June 25!