Column: How Ari Gold broke barriers for LGBTQ musical artists

I lost another friend on Sunday.

It’s been a heartbreaking theme for 2021 – losing friends.

It all started with NBA writer Sekou Smith on January 26, the anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s death. On Super Bowl Sunday, it was baseball writer Pedro Gomez. And on Valentine’s Day, singer Ari Gold, after a battle with leukemia.

Yeah, I know, “Entourage” fans, I know. But my Ari was the first – something I often reminded me of. Something he liked to be in general.

In 2004, her video for the song “Wave of You” – a tribute to photographer Herb Ritts, who died of HIV-related complications in 2002 – became the first by an LGBTQ artist, who was absent, to be broadcast – premiered on Logo TV.

Ari was a trailblazer, helping to pave the way for mainstream LGBTQ performers at a time when deciding to go out was considered professional suicide.

It’s hard for some to remember those days, with artists like Frank Ocean and Lil Nax X now selling millions of records and collecting Grammys, but the post-disco music industry hasn’t exactly rolled out the door. red carpet for openly queer artists.

Early in their careers, musicians like Elton John, George Michael, and Boy George were shy about their sexuality, if not downright locked in. According to his good friend Patti LaBelle, the great Luther Vandross died in 2005 without coming out; she said “it was hard for him”. It was also difficult for many of his LGBTQ fans, as we wondered if his heart was breaking like ours in his love songs.

Ari started out as a singer when he was just 5, landing a lead role on a CBS children’s album, “Pot Belly Bear: Songs and Stories,” which went platinum, among many. other childhood musical projects.

Being open about your sexual orientation has been an important part of her career trajectory. He has had some mainstream success, collaborating with songwriter Desmond Child, opening for Chaka Khan, singing for Diana Ross. But radio broadcasting was not on the cards for openly gay singers of the late 90s and early 2000s.

You have to understand, he was making music that was shamelessly gay at a time when the country was debating whether to add a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. At a time when Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were considered brave for portraying lovers in “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005.

I once asked him if he ever regretted going out, citing the glass ceiling that was evident to openly gay men in pop music. He answered my question with a question, “Do you regret being a gay man in sports?” “

I didn’t tell him anymore.

He was a close friend of RuPaul and Laverne Cox, two LGBTQ artists who were among the many to pay tribute to him on social media. Cox said on Sunday: “So many people have come and gone with my life over the past 25 years, but you have been a constant. As I have grown and evolved, you have evolved with me. The spiritual journey we both took made it clear why we stayed in each other’s lives for so long.

It was Ari – brilliant, generous and fiercely loyal. He was my date when I won a journalism award at the GLAAD Awards in 2009. We encouraged and supported each other long after we decided to just be friends. We understood the homophobia that was trying to pull us down and we made a commitment to make each other uplift.

I remember listening to his 2007 song “Good Relationship” and being amazed that I could finally sing along with an R&B love song from a man who didn’t force me to change pronouns. His semi-autobiographical lyrics exploring topics such as sanity, race, and encounters with locked up men were not a traditional fare. His ballad “Bashert (Meant to Be)” was a testament to his Jewish faith.

When the title of that song became the title of his solo New York musical, it was just another example of how he’d rather make it happen than wait for it.

Ari, the entertainment industry wasn’t ready for your voice or your bravery. But that did not silence you. Instead, you kept moving forward for yourself, for your family and friends, and for the community that you knew could no longer be denied. And we won’t be, my friend. We will not be.

@LZGranderson

William N. Fernandez