I thought I’d dedicate an article to a personal hero of mine, Mr. Rob Halford. It’s not a name that many in the gay community are familiar with (or so I have found), but it should be. For those of you who are unaware, Rob Halford is the lead singer of Judas Priest, an immensely popular British heavy-metal band that arguably found their heyday in the 1980s alongside bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon. His vocal range and power revolutionised the style of the genre. He was one of the pioneers of operatic metal vocals that would become both popular and influential in the scene.
In 1998, Rob Halford came out of the closet, making him the first openly gay heavy-metal singer, and I think that’s something to be applauded. He became a role model for gay heavy-metal fans, including myself. I remember reading a letter in Metal Hammer magazine from a gay metalhead, thanking Rob Halford for having the balls to come out and making people like himself feel less isolated and alone. This letter had presumably been forwarded to the man himself, and he’d taken it upon himself to reply. He spoke of the same isolation and confusion, which he has said in interviews led him to depression and substance abuse. It’s something I think a lot of gay heavy metal fans can identify with. I spoke with someone a while ago, who said that growing up in the Eighties, he advertised a fanzine for gay metal fans in Kerrang! magazine, but had to stop it after three issues due to so much demand. And I think that’s the message that Rob Halford was trying to get out as well; you’re not alone.
The other thing that no-one really expected was how tolerant and accepting the metal community were of Rob Halford when he came out. There is an expectation, I guess, that a subculture so hyper-masculine and politically incorrect at times would be more closed-minded. While Halford has admitted there is an undercurrent of homophobia within metal, he stated that the response he received was overwhelmingly positive. In my more limited experience, I’ve never received any homophobic jibes or abuse from the metal community. It’s remarkably tolerant. The studded leather clothing that Halford made so popular in the metal scene was all secretly bought from gay sex shops. That could get anyone’s back up. But this isn’t the only time that alternative subculture has been surprisingly (to some) tolerant. Recently, when Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! announced her transgender status, the response was once again largely positive.
In an interview with Spinner, Halford is quoted as saying “I’m invisible, really, in the gay community, and that’s just because of where I do what I do – metal. Obviously, there are – in my musical world – gay, bisexual, lesbian metalheads. I get the e-mails and I meet these people, and that’s wonderful – to be able to have that exchange. But for all intents and purposes, I’m the invisible metal man in [gay] culture.” So I hope that if you weren’t aware of Rob Halford before, and even if you don’t like the music, you’re able to appreciate the support he’s given to so many LGBT people in the metal subculture.