There are many (living and dead) people out there who are considered gay icons. They don't have to be gay or identify as LGBT in order to have this honor bestowed on them. Simply put, they are gay icons because they have done something that has helped us progressed over the years in terms of acceptance, visibility and more.
Belinda Carlisle is one of those people. The legendary singer has been making us bop our heads with her infectious hits, both solo and with The Go-Go's, for nearly forty years now, and has been a major supporter of the LGBTQ community in the process.
She is the first celebrity we are featuring in our Gay Icon series, and Belinda was nice enough to sit down with me over the phone (she currently resides in Thailand) to discuss what the community has meant to her, when she and The Go-Go's discovered their major fan base, and her touching story about her son James' coming out process. Take a look.
You’ve been in the music industry for forty years now, starting around a time where the LGBT community was starting to have a larger presence in the world. At what point did you, or fellow members of The Go-Go’s, realize you had a large gay following?
Oh, gosh. I would say probably from the very beginning. When I look back, they always seem to be a very big part of our fanbase. I don’t think it ever really started. Even in high school, 90 percent of my friends were gay and lesbian, so it was never a definitive moment of “Oh my god, we have an LGBT following!” because they were always there from the beginning. They were always very supportive and always took care of us and were always there. Always, always, always.
Was there a particular moment that stuck out for you personally when someone who identifies as LGBT reached out to you as a way of saying thanks?
I can’t think of anybody, like a personal friend or something, but I get letters all the time and messages on my social media where they say you really helped me come out or be myself. I think that’s because The Go-Go’s were so authentic that it inspired a lot of fans out there to be the same way. We were never anybody else but ourselves, and I think that was inspiring to everybody.
I know you are a massive supporter of LGBTQ rights. Do you have a favorite memory of or with the community that sticks out to you the most?
I think it was the first time I was able to march in the parade for gay pride in Los Angeles as part of PFLAG, which is an amazing organization. They were the ones that my son was on the phone with when being coached on what to say when he wanted to come out to my husband and me.
I have a real special place in my heart for PFLAG, because I know the amazing work that they do, and through the past five years I have done a lot with them, but to march with them in the parade was incredibly awesome. To see thousands and thousands of gay and straight people supporting the community, I was like “Wow!” I remember back in early 80’s when the first patient was stricken with AIDS and that’s when the community was really small. Now, to be able to look around me and see thousands and thousands of people being authentically themseles made me proud to be part of it and I can’t wait to do it again.
I want to talk to you about your son James, who has been an openly proud gay man for quite some time. What was his coming out process like and was it easier for you given your support of our community during your lifetime?
Well, I mean, my husband and I always suspected that he was gay through the years. But, I have to say, when we living in France and were driving home, James said there was something he wanted to tell me. Then his lip started to quiver, and he was really hesitant, and I was like “well now you have to tell me.” Then he said, “I like boys,” and I still had to pull over to the side of the road and confront this. It wasn’t a shock, but at the same time the first thing that came to my mind was what kind fo world was it going to be for my son.
So I still had to digest it. Also, those feelings are probably pretty typical for a parent for a child to come back to them which is “Is it something I did?” Which I know is not true, you are born gay, and I thought “How am I going to tell my husband?” because James is his only son and I know for some men that it might be a reflection on their masculinity. I told my son “Don’t say anything to your dad yet, I really have to figure this out.”
Even as gay friendly as I am, and my husband is the same, it was still a heavy-duty thing. It still took a good two months for me to figure out how to tell my husband. PFLAG coached my son and told him “You come out to your mother first, not your father because you never really know how he is going to react,” which I thought was really, really smart. Regardless of my history in the community, and my friends and everything, having your child come out to you is still a heavy-duty thing.
What are you hopeful for the most for the LGBTQ community moving forward?
I think we are just feeling a reaction to the progress right now, but I have a lot of hopes for our future generations as the younger ones are so incredibly outspoken like the kids from the Parkland shootings. I’m actually hoping to still be around when we elect our first gay president, because I do think that will happen at some point.
I want to talk about your music career as well, because its been simply illustrious. Is there a major moment that sticks out more than others, either solo or with The Go-Go’s?
One surprisingly emotional moment, and it may seem kind of silly, was when The Go-Go’s got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As silly or political as it may be, its still pretty amazing. I think, over my solo stuff, it was a moment that I’ll never forget. My family and friends were there, and it was just a very emotional moment for all of us.
Do you remember where you were when you found out your song “Heaven is a Place on Earth” hit number on the Billboard charts?
I was doing a show, it was some kind of benefit at Universal Amphitheater. It was a multi-bill charity event, and I think some of the guys from the band Chicago came up to me on stage with a bottle of champagne and said, “You’re number one!” and the audience went wild. It was pretty amazing. The Go-GO's had a number one with Beauty and the Beat and that was it, so to have the number one song and album in the country as a solo performer was incredible.
What else do you have coming up that your fans should know about?
The biggest thing is the Go-Go’s Head Over Heels musical which debuts on Broadway July 26th. That’s going to be a big deal. Solo wise, I have a tour coming up this summer in the states with ABC, a great band. So even though I live over here in Thailand, I’ll primarily been in the states all summer which I’m really looking forward to.
Thanks for the chat Belinda and for being such an amazing supporter of the LGBTQ community!