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Country Queer Documents the Genre’s Shift to LGBTQ+ Inclusivity

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Dale Geist (right) started the website and media company Country Queer at the encouragement of his friend, musician Cindy Emch (left). (Sarah Stierch)

If Dale Henry Geist’s life had taken even a slightly different direction, he might be living off the grid right now.

“I got as far away from mainstream society as was comfortable for me,” he says of a short stint in Colorado in the early 1980s. “[But] came to a sort of decision point between whether I was gonna withdraw entirely and go maybe live on some commune somewhere, or find a way to be a part of society…and I decided I’d rather do that, because I wanted to still have some kind of influence.”

All these years later, he does. As the publisher and creator of Country Queer, a music website and media company devoted to uplifting LGBTQ+ voices in country music, he’s established an essential outlet for folks that have long struggled for representation in a hetereonormative genre.

Geist is an Americana musician himself, and previously worked for the roots music magazine No Depression. But despite what his country bona fides might suggest, he didn’t grow up in a place often thought of as a stronghold of country fandom: Cortland, New York, a town of 20,000. Though country was the dominant genre in Cortland, Geist was “a rocker.” But as he nerded out on artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young when he got to college at Northwestern University, he found that all rock ’n’ roll roads lead to country. “There’s country songs on every Rolling Stones album from 1968 to…1978,” he says.

Back then, Geist says he felt like he was hiding his true self—at least to those other than his closest friends and family. Growing up, he didn’t know of anyone who felt the way he did. Except David Bowie. “[As a teenager], I read an article in Newsweek about David Bowie that used the word ‘bisexual’ and I had an a-ha moment: ‘Yep, that’s me.’”


It was after the Pulse shooting in 2016 that he felt compelled to come out on a public level. “I was in my 50s by then,” says the artist, who’s been living in the Bay Area since 1985. “I figured I was complicit in allowing harm to come to queer people by letting people believe that I was straight. It was the least I could do.”

For years, Geist noticed a gap in the music media he consumed. “Queer people were missing!” he exclaims. “In country and Americana, anyway.” And he wanted to do something about that himself. He registered a domain name, but what to do with it was still a bit of a mystery to him. He talked to a friend, Oakland musician Cindy Emch of the Secret Emchy Society. “It’s a good idea,” she reassured him. And that’s when he knew. “I have to do this,” he says. “Nobody else is doing this, it seems like the right thing to do.”

The blog launched in September 2019, and not long after, Geist noticed that folk-rocker Aaron Lee Tasjan was following Country Queer on social media. Shortly after that, both masked crooner Orville Peck and singer/Music Row songwriter Brandy Clark agreed to interviews with Country Queer staff, and Geist sensed something was up. “[That was] another level of like, ‘Oh! I guess among artists and publicists, they know who we are,’” he says. “And they think that somehow we can do them some good.”

“The first thing I ever read on Country Queer were the heartfelt and meaningful words of Mary Gauthier…writing about folk rock geniuses the Indigo Girls,” says Tasjan of the article that first endeared him to the website. “As a queer person, it’s continued to mean a lot to see these stories rolling out and to see how many people who identify differently are connecting with them.”

Sonoma County musician Avery Hellman, who crafted 2020’s delicate and enchanting Songs of Sonoma Mountain, feels similarly: ”When I first heard about Country Queer, I was so thrilled to find that community that combined a connection to and love for country…with an ethic of inclusion,” they say. “CQ has developed much needed space in the country music industry.”

Country Queer arrived in the blogosphere just as mainstream country was facing a reckoning with its history of, intentionally or unintentionally, shutting out just about anyone who didn’t fit the cisgender, white male mold that has ruled country music for so long. Though a few outliers like Charley Pride and Freddy Fender dot country music’s history (and a handful of women like Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells and Dolly Parton topped country music charts in the 20th century), the overwhelming majority of country stars have been truck-drivin’, whiskey-swillin’, ostensibly straight white guys. In the genre’s history, Black musicians often went overlooked despite inspiring or helping write songs by some of the genre’s biggest white stars. And even in pockets of the scene that were more racially diverse, or accepting of women, queer and trans artists were practically unheard of.

However, in-roads are being made through recent acts like all-woman country supergroup The Highwomen, openly gay performers like Orville Peck and Brandi Carlile and Mickey Guyton, who became the first Black woman to be nominated for a Grammy as a solo country artist just this year. As more conversations take place about making country music more inclusive, Country Queer is here to document this sea change and predict approaching waves.

Right now, Geist is impressed by the singer D’Orjay the Singing Shaman, who calls herself a “new kind of outlaw” for not fitting the typical country music mold. “She’s great. That’s sort of like a bottom-line thing,” he says. “I check out everything that gets sent to me, and nine times out of 10 it’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty good’…but as soon as I heard her I was like, ‘Hooooly shit.’”

Not only are Geist and his six staff writers tastemakers, they’re starting to become a go-to source for industry news. They first announced Amythyst Kiah’s return to the studio, for example, and a new collaboration between Brandi Carlile and Brandy Clark.


So there’s that influence Geist wanted to have back in Colorado, even if it’s so far contained to a niche audience. As he says, “We just want to move the needle a little bit.”

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