Beyond Bluegrass

Written by: Tatiana Hargreaves

I sit here writing this at the airport, flying home after spending Pride week in San Francisco — five days, three marches, and lots of tunes. (I bet 1920s Tennessee fiddler John Dykes never thought his music would be played at the San Francisco dyke march.) Last year, as a recently-out queer, I watched Bluegrass Pride from a distance. This year, I walked along the float, celebrating my queerness and my love for old-time and bluegrass. As a queer old-time and bluegrass musician, I support Bluegrass Pride. I am invested in this community and I plan to be a part of it for the rest of my life. I am thrilled to see bluegrass musicians finally taking a stand on something I care about outside of traditional music. Because of this, I want to take this opportunity to mention some concerns I have.  Before I continue, I want to say that this is as much a critique of myself as of Bluegrass Pride. To me this week was a call to action — a reminder to keep fighting.

As Pride, in general, becomes more mainstream (Bluegrass Pride marched between Netflix and eBay…), I want to make sure that we acknowledge and understand that Pride started as a revolt led by trans women of color against transphobic laws and police violence. Pride is a protest, not just a celebration. If we say we’re celebrating Pride, then we’re celebrating all queer people, trans people, and especially those who have had their voices silenced.

I want to be sure that Bluegrass Pride is not about being proud to be a bluegrass musician, but about supporting people who need to be supported. If we are supporting queers in bluegrass, then we have to show that support in our daily lives as well. Bluegrass Pride should recognize that we are aligning ourselves against injustices inside AND outside of the bluegrass community. Discrimination within the bluegrass community reflects the issues in our local communities as well.

As Black lesbian feminist author Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” If we truly want to make bluegrass more inclusive and diverse, then we need to take steps in our daily lives to act against the reasons why it isn’t. Bluegrass music comes from poor, rural America and yet our festivals and camps are too expensive for many people to attend. We are often nostalgic for the golden age of American music; an era filled with genocide, slavery, lynching and sexual violence. We idolize figures of power who are amazing musicians, yes, but also racist, homophobic, and sexist. I’m not saying that we need to disregard the musicians that have come before us, but we need to start looking at them in a multidimensional way. We can’t move forward if we don’t reckon with the past. If we say we’re a part of Bluegrass Pride, then we need to have open community dialogues about homophobia, racism, and sexism and not be afraid to call out members of our community. I’m sure there are plenty of women to say #MeToo about someone in the bluegrass community. I know I certainly can.  

If you’re wondering, how do I start working on all of this? A simple first step could be educating yourself. Read books and articles by people of color, trans people. Support indigenous communities, people of color, immigrants, trans and queer people. All of these struggles are connected, from the struggle of working-class white people to Brown, Black and Queer liberation. Support your local chapter of Black Lives Matter, join Showing Up for Racial Justice (aka SURJ, a racial justice organization for white people who want to be more actively anti-racist). Don’t question people’s gender and sexual identity. Don’t ask a Black or Brown person “where are you really from?” Don’t call the cops on that person you think is “suspicious” who just happens to not be white and living their daily lives. As the South African anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu famously stated, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the Oppressor.”

Bluegrass Pride is a chance for us as a community to no longer be neutral in these situations. And this is just the beginning. If we really want to celebrate PRIDE then we have to step up and work hard. Bluegrass Pride is about taking bluegrass music into the future, so are we going to hold up to it? Bluegrass Pride is an incredible first step, but we still have a long way to go. Just this year, I realized that all of my closest friends within the music world (old-time and bluegrass) are queer. Perhaps that says more about me than anything else, but I do believe that we are the future.


I know a lot of the terminology is confusing and new! Here are some resources that can help!

For definitions of “queer,” “transgender,” “cisgender,” etc..., check out:

Also, check out the “genderbread person” for ideas on how to think about the difference between gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, and attraction.

Here are some organizations to check out!

Also, here are some books I’ve read recently, or want to read that can be a good starting place for a lot of this stuff. Below are some links to more in-depth reading lists.

  • Women, Race, and Class.  By Angela Davis. A great comprehensive history of the connections between all of these things!
  • Gender Failure. By Ivan Coyote & Rae Spoon. Written by two transgender and gender non-conforming Canadian performers and musicians.
  • Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. and Sister Outsider: Collected Essays. By Audre Lorde. Both incredible and important reads. Audre Lorde encompasses so many elements of being a Black person, a poor person, and a queer person in America.
  • The New Jim Crow. By Michelle Alexander. The groundbreaking book about the systematic racism of the prison industrial complex.
  • An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. This one is next on my reading list!
  • This Bridge Called My Back. Edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. This is an incredible collection of writings by women of color from the 1970s/80s.
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race.  By Beverly Daniel Tatum. Written by a psychologist, this book explores how ideas of race develop throughout childhood on to adulthood.

Other reading lists and resources:

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