This story has been updated (see below)
Country star Ty Herndon—known for his handful of mid 90’s hits such as “What Mattered Most,” “I Want My Goodbye Back,” and “Living In A Moment”—came out as gay on Thursday morning (11-20), making him the first openly gay male country music star in the mainstream in the history of the genre. The announcement was made in a series of stutter steps, when entertainment show Entertainment Tonight apparently accidentally made the announcement early by putting up an image up on their website of Herndon with the caption “Country Star Ty Herndon, I’m Gay” under their “Current Videos” section. The television show teased the announcement Wednesday night, and Herndon was set to come out on Thursday’s show. Subsequently, People Magazine has run a story confirming Ty Herndon’s coming out, with quotes from the country singer.
“My mother probably knew I was gay before I did,” Herndon tells People. He says he first realized he was gay at the age of 10, and felt guilty while sitting in church, thinking he was gay. Herndon was born in Mississippi, and raised in Alabama. “I remember sitting down with her and having the conversation…she was more concerned about me having a happy life. You have to be able to do that in your own skin, and [my family] has seen me struggle with being gay my whole career.”
Ty Herndon says one of the things that motivated him coming out was seeing Kacey Musgraves win the CMA Song of the Year for “Follow Your Arrow,” saying that he welled up in tears at the win. “I felt so proud of my city. I hope that trend continues; I pray it does.” Herndon says one of his main motivations for coming out is to let others know “They can be loved by God, they can be married one day, they can have a family, they can give their parents grandkids. And they’re not broken, they’re not sinners and they’re perfectly beautiful.”
Ty Herndon, who was married twice and divorced both times, has had a troubled past amidst his short-lived success in country music in the mid 90’s. In 1995, Herdon exposed himself to an undercover police vice officer in Ft. Worth’s Gateway Park. After passing Herndon walking in the park, the officer asked him, “What do you like to do?” Herndon apparently proceeded to take down his pants and began masturbating. He was arrested, and also was found in possession of methamphetamine. Herndon copped to the meth, and pled down to spending 30 days in rehab, but denied the sexual encounter. “As for the charges that were brought against me, that’s absolutely a bunch of [expletive],” Herndon said at the time. “The moral of the story is, don’t take a leak in the woods, ’cause it can get you arrested.”
Herndon was also mugged in a Los Angeles park by three men at gunpoint. After Herndon’s second divorce, he filed for bankruptcy. He’s also been sued by a dentist and a former manager over financial troubles. “I have made a lot of mistakes in my life,” Ty tells People. “They’ve been my mistakes, and I own them. I’ve done a lot of work around forgiveness with people that I’ve hurt and people I’ve not been honest with because of my sexuality.”
The 52-year-old Herndon initially moved to Nashville to pursue a country music career, but after failing for almost a decade to make it in the business, he moved to Texas where he finally began to find some traction, being named the 1993 Texas Entertainer of the Year. Later in 1993 he was signed to Epic Records, who released his biggest albums, including the Gold certified What Mattered Most and Living In A Moment. Herndon released a total of four albums with Epic before being dropped for poor sales, and subsequently releasing three independent albums, most recently 2013’s Lies I Told Myself.
What This All Means For Country Music
As the first openly gay male country star in the mainstream of the genre, this announcement will certainly move country music in the direction of accepting a more active male star being gay in the future, but doesn’t secure that fate for a style of music known for its conservative leanings. As an artist whose mainstream relevance ended arguably 15 years ago, this is more the equivalent of a football player coming out as gay after his retirement. That doesn’t mean that Ty Herndon does not have a music career ahead of him, but this is not the crossing of the Rubicon that the genre would experience if one of country’s top tier stars of today was to make a similar proclamation.
What it does do is define 2014 as a watershed year for gays in country music. With Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” winning Song of the Year, with the openly-gay Brandy Clark winning a CMA Award as a songwriter, and now Ty Herndon’s announcement, the boundaries for gays are moving further than ever before. It also adds to the legacy of Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” as being a big impetus for Ty Herndon’s coming out.
Now country music will go through the business of sorting out how it feels about the matter.
UPDATE: Billy Gilman also says he’s gay.
Billy Gilman has also come out today, November 20th, to tell fans he’s gay. In the five-and-a-half-minute long video, the former child country star gives credit to Ty Herndon for inspiring his decision.