American Idol singer Rayvon Owen is celebrating this Valentine’s Day by coming out and living his truth. He chose to come out today in a music video released exclusively on Billboard. HRC had the opportunity to sit down with Owen and ask him a few questions about this incredible step.
How did the idea of coming out in your music video come about?
I was given an incredible platform with American Idol and I felt I had a responsibility to do something positive with it, especially if there was a chance that it would help others. When it came time to storyboard my new music video, the director, not knowing I was gay, presented the idea of a female love interest. At that moment, I knew in my heart that it needed to be a man. Authenticity suddenly became more important to me than hiding who I am.
What does coming out mean to you? To your family?
I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, which is a very conservative place. Church and spirituality was, and still is, an important part of me and my family's life and it was hard to feel safe about coming out because of how often the Bible is misinterpreted to make LGBT people feel less than—and not worthy of—God's love. It wasn't until I went to school in Nashville, Tennessee when I started to accept this part of myself and come to peace with my religious beliefs and relationship with God. Coming out means not hiding certain parts of myself and loving myself for who I am, completely, as God made me.
Coming out has not been easy for some of my friends and family, who still live in Virginia and are very conservative, but I've been lucky enough to have a solid support system. I know that with time, the others will come around.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing LGBT people in 2016?
I am by no means an expert on LGBT issues and I've only just recently gotten more involved with certain causes, like World AIDS Day. It's refreshing to see how much the public perception of the LGBT community has evolved in the past few years but I know that there is still a lot of hate in the world: I was sickened last year when I saw the footage of ISIS members throwing gay men from roofs; I can't believe that there are still many states in which LGBT people can be legally fired or denied housing just for being LGBT; and it breaks my heart to hear about how many young people are kicked out of their homes for being LGBT. A major specific issue that we face is the discrimination against LGBT people of color, who are almost twice as likely to experience physical violence and homelessness. Even in 2016, we still have a long way to go to reach justice for all LGBT people.
Who inspires you?
I'm grateful to artists like Sam Smith, Troye Sivan, and Frank Ocean who have shown the world that their sexual orientation doesn't change the fact that they're insanely talented. Through their music, they help people (especially LGBT people) feel less alone and show them that they can reach for the stars and make their dreams come true. I'm also inspired by Shane Bitney Crone, who turned a terrible tragedy into an inspiring story that has helped thousands of people understand how important marriage equality is.
What advice do you have for LGBTQ youth?
To LGBTQ young people: surround yourself with people who love you unconditionally and who lift you up. Find your tribe. I promise there are people out there who will understand and love you. Life is short and tomorrow is never promised, so be proud of who you are and spend time with people who make you happy. You are no less a child of God than anyone else. You are worthy of love and happiness and shouldn't settle for anything less.
HRC congratulates Owen on taking this bold step. Coming out - whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or allied – matters. When people know someone who is LGBTQ, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other.
Whether it's for the first time ever or the first time today, the experience of coming out and living openly covers the full spectrum of human emotion -- from fear to euphoria. Coming out -- whether it is as LGBT or allied -- is a deeply personal journey for each individual.
For more resources on Coming Out, visit HRC’s Coming Out Center
IRVIN RIVERA / www.graphicsmetropolis.com