Country singer Ty Herndon hopes that the support he received after coming out last year is indicative of a progressive Nashville, one that's becoming more tolerant toward the LGBT community than in years past.
"One of the biggest fears I had in coming out and being authentic was that I wouldn't get to continue doing what I do for a living, and that's country music," he told The Huffington Post in an interview. "How great is it that I have the opportunity, for the first time in my life, to sing about truth? That makes me a very happy man."
Herndon, 53, sees his latest project as a prime opportunity for him to pay that happiness forward. On June 12, he'll take the stage at the first Concert For Love and Acceptance at Nashville's City Winery, which he is co-hosting with Meghan McCain, the daughter of former Republican presidential hopeful John McCain and an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights.
Earlier this year, Herndon performed at "TrevorLIVE LA" for The Trevor Project.
"How great is it that I have the opportunity, for the first time in my life, to sing about truth?"
The show, which will also feature performances by country artists Jennifer Knapp, Billy Gilman, Jamie O'Neal, Desmond Child and Melinda Doolitte among others, coincides with the 2015 CMA Music Festival and is being co-sponsored by GLAAD.
Herndon calls the forthcoming show "a milestone" that will hopefully start to shatter the general perception of the genre as unwelcoming towards the LGBT community. Plans are already in the works to make the concert an annual one, he said.
These days, he comfortably attends red carpet events with longtime boyfriend Matt Collum, but that wasn't the case for singer Chely Wright, who saw her record sales plunge and even reportedly received death threats after coming out as a lesbian in a 2010 People Magazine interview.
Herndon made his first public appearance with boyfriend Matt Collum (left) last December in Los Angeles.
"We went through a lot of the same struggles [of] hiding who we were in a business that we thought we couldn't be in if we were gay or lesbian," Herndon said. "Her coming out was such… oh my gosh! None of us knew she was going to do that."
Herndon, who was still in the closet at the time, says his own fears prevented him from supporting Wright publicly. Still, he added, "That was the day I made the decision to start the process of my own coming out. Yes, she got pretty beat up [but] for me, it really was a lot different. I can't help but give her a lot of that credit."
Currently at work on a new album, Herndon says his music will reflect his coming out, even if any lyrical references are kept gender-free in an effort to reach as wide of an audience as possible. He describes his new material as delving into "Alanis Morissette"-style territory, but ultimately emphasizing "change, victory and love" even if the "drums are louder and the guitars are screaming."
In May, Herndon performed at the 2015 GLAAD Media Awards in New York.
"To see that kid having such a chance at life because he was so brave so early, and yet to understand the 75-year-old man who is finally at peace with himself because he was able to walk out of that fear…if I've been a small part of any of that, it really is humbling."
Overall, the past year has opened Herndon's mind to the sheer scope of the LGBT community. Ultimately, he sees being a role model as secondary to simply expressing "life experience, good and bad" through his music and performances. He says he is "humbled" by fans who say they've found inspiration in his coming out story.
"I have parents bringing 15-year-olds to my shows, and they say, 'My kid just came out, and he wants to be a singer. And all I can do is look at them and go, 'My God, look at this special kid you have,'" he said. "And then, I'll have a 75-year-old man come to my show and say, 'I just came out to my entire family, and I was received with love.'"
"I relate to that struggle on so many levels. To see that kid having such a chance at life because he was so brave so early, and yet to understand the 75-year-old man who is finally at peace with himself because he was able to walk out of that fear… if I've been a small part of any of that, it really is humbling. I receive that," he added.
The Concert For Love and Acceptance will take place June 12 at City Winery in Nashville, Tennessee. Head here for more details.