Amidst the post-mortem tributes, the legendary rocker’s subtle gesture in support of the transgender community is once again coming to light. As Petty and the Heartbreakers performed their 1976 classic, “American Girl,” in cities across the country on their 40th anniversary tour this summer, an image of transgender actress Alexis Arquette appeared on a screen behind them as part of a montage.
As far as Petty is concerned, the move was par for the course. Although the singer-songwriter was not known as an overtly political artist, he’d reportedly sent former Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann a cease-and-desist letter after she played “American Girl” at a 2011 rally. Similarly, he’d asked former President George W. Bush to stop using his 1989 single, “I Won’t Back Down,” on the campaign trail 11 years earlier.
The image of Arquette, who died of complications from HIV/AIDS in 2016, had reportedly been featured on the band’s tour since it kicked off in Oklahoma in April. However, it took on an added significance during their July 26 performance at New York’s Forest Hills Stadium. Earlier that day, President Donald Trump had announced his controversial plan to ban transgender service members from the U.S. military on Twitter.
Regardless of Petty’s intent, the image’s inclusion made headlines in Billboard and The New York Post, among other publications. Meanwhile, Missouri-based rock station KSHE 95 called the move “an inadvertent swipe” at Trump’s trans ban.
It eventually caught the eye of Alexis’s brother, David Arquette. In a July 27 Instagram post, the 46-year-old “Scream” star praised Petty for honoring his sister in concert.
No doubt the image will now stand as a lasting tribute to two artists gone far too soon.
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