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A podcast about live music, why it matters and what comes next.

'Visibility is danger': How laws targeting LGBTQ+ Texans are impacting Austin’s music scene

A demonstrator wears a rainbow shirt and a face mask as another holds an LGBTQ+  flag
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT News
Demonstrators rally in support of transgender youth outside the state Capitol in 2022.

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The past few years have been turbulent for the LGBTQ+ community in Texas. State lawmakers have taken aim at drag shows, trans athletes and gender-affirming care for minors. The climate pushed some to leave the state, while others thought it was more important to stay and fight.

LGBTQ+ members of Austin's music scene say they've felt a sense of unease and fear. Pause/Play hosts Miles Bloxson and Elizabeth McQueen spoke with a few about how the laws have impacted their lives and their art.

They spoke to Maggie Lea, co-owner of Cheer Up Charlies, as well as Austin musicians Caleb de Casper, Lizzy Lehman, Jack Kaulfus and Pelvis Wrestley's Jammy Violet.

These excerpts have been lightly edited for clarity.

On how they first heard about these laws

Maggie Lea: I got word of it right when, I think, Equality Texas made a post about it, so pretty early because they did come out with it ahead of other folks. And then my dog sitter works at the Legislature. I had heard the rumblings about all these different anti-LGBTQ bills that were about to be released.

I remember I made a post about it on Cheer-Ups. I was just telling the community, like — Hey, we need to gather and get together. And this is possibly going to be a bigger fight than we think.

Jammy Violet: I found out about the earliest versions of the drag ban bill on Thanksgiving of 2022. I was about to have Thanksgiving lunch with my family. A lot of my family is very conservative. A lot of my family isn’t. But it was just extremely disregulating to go and sit down and try to have a nice dinner. Like, I begged you guys to pay attention to this stuff, and I know that you want me here, but now I got to go.

Jack Kaulfus: I was extremely upset because at the time I was working at a high school here in Austin, and we just have a lot of trans youth at that school. They’re at every school. But at that school, they felt comfortable being out. They felt comfortable forming clubs, doing activism, speaking about their truth, even pursuing — if they wanted — gender-affirming care. And they were really supported in that atmosphere.

So it was really difficult to watch them become afraid, because a lot of them grew up in Austin thinking that we are this really beautiful progressive bubble. And if you just find your people, then you can be safe. But, this rhetoric that was coming out of the Legislature really scared them. We still did what we could. But, I mean, as a teacher and as a mentor there, I wasn’t able to explain it away, and I wasn’t able to protect them from everything they were hearing on the radio and on the TV and from their uncle at Thanksgiving.

On what it was like protesting these bills at the Texas Legislature

Caleb de Casper: I guess the best way to describe it is after this session, I took six months off from my life. … One thing that we were told by Equality Texas when we were there is that you need to take time for yourself or you will burn out, which I did, because you don’t know if people there want to hurt you. You don’t know if there are mentally unwell people there. You’re in a spotlight while you’re there, especially if you’re a person that people are listening to.

The whole time you’re there, you’re like burning through your adrenaline and you’re burning through all those chemicals in your body. So you go home at the end of the day and you are just totally wiped out.

On how these laws impact their art

Lizzy Lehman: The album that I put out — that Jammy was a part of — it’s called Technicolor Love. It’s really about queer visibility and saying, you know, we’ve always been here. We will always be here. This is a scary thing for us to come out and say, but it has to be said at this point. I don’t think that I could write about anything else except for what is happening in my life and in the world.

Caleb de Casper: My first album was [about] finding myself as an artist and as a queer person, and that translated well to all people. And that was a very celebratory, anthem-based album. Very positive. But my next album is a little bit darker because this is what I’ve experienced now. So I’m trying to find ways to write about realistic things without pessimism, and it’s going to be different.

On how these laws impact their desire to perform live

Lizzy Lehman: I am not playing out these days. I’m recording and releasing music and writing, but it feels scary to want to get up and perform in a public space, even here in Austin. One thing that’s interesting is I feel like a lot of people are like, “Oh, Austin, you know, it’s really liberal and it’s great there.”

But it’s become increasingly more conservative, and we hear about more and more hate crimes happening. And it just feels there’s a general sense of unease for a lot of my friends and for myself, for those who are in the LGBTQ community.

Jammy Violet: To Lizzie’s point about performing live, it becomes this never-ending minefield. Because when you are a performer, you’re not only a performer, you’re a promoter. Being non-binary, queer, trans artists — visibility is danger. So our job is to actively put ourselves in more and more danger.

Without fail whenever Pelvis Wrestley has a higher visibility moment, like even being [KUTX] Artist of the Month, it turns into spending days combing comment threads, removing the death threats. It becomes this very strange thing where it’s like, I really want my project to do well, and I really want people to hear this art that I care so much about, but also I don’t. And it’s really difficult to fully want to succeed when it comes at such a high cost and such a high risk.

Elizabeth McQueen is an audio producer and podcast host at KUTX 98.9, Austin’s NPR music station.
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