Grand Standing for Equality
Steve Grand photos by Joem C. Bayawa
Steve Grand can’t stop smiling. At this moment, it's been less than 24 hours since he launched a Kickstarter campaign to independently fund his first full-length album, and his $81,000 goal has already been surpassed.
“I’m still taking it all in,” he says. “I knew my fans would come through for me, but I never could’ve imagined it would be so quickly.”
Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time Grand has found himself overwhelmed by an outpouring of online support. His debut music video, “All-American Boy,” which boldly depicted a story of unrequited love in the form of a same-sex crush, went viral shortly after he uploaded it to YouTube July 2. Within days the video had racked up more than 1.5 million views and the singer-songwriter found himself in the guest seat of several high-profile media outlets, including Good Morning America, CNN, and Out magazine.
But despite his growing fan base (his GrandFam, as he affectionately calls them), the Chicago native insists his rising star is as much a product of his music as it something larger.
“It’s not just about the album, it’s a movement,” he says of the impressive response to his crowdfunding effort, which has now raised more than $160,000. “I think a small pocket of people feel like I’m helping the voice [of LGBT people] be heard, and they’re making a statement by supporting the record.”
LGBT people deeply desire to see their stories reflected in pop culture. It’s a message the 24-year-old says became clear shortly after his debut single went viral, and the stories he heard from fans moved by his music were in turn moving him.
“One of the first stories that touched my heart was from a gentleman named Tyler,” Grand says. “He took a picture of himself with a message that said something like, ‘I’ve waited the better part of my life for someone like you to come around,’ and he thanked me for telling a story that is unique to us as gay men.”
But the singer who is now blazing a trail as country music’s gay all-American boy wasn’t always able to raise his voice with pride. From an early age Grand says he often felt like he didn’t fit in, but the reason he sensed he was different didn’t become clear until an unforgettable five-hour car ride home after a few weeks away at Boy Scout summer camp.
“Over that last week when I was at camp, I found myself drawn to a particular camp counselor,” he says. “I was 13 years old and he was probably around 17. While I was there I wanted to be around him and spend time with him. It wasn’t until I left that I felt this horrible ache, this emptiness in my heart, and this intense longing. I thought about that the whole ride home because it was something so new and so intense for me. Somewhere along that ride it occurred to me, I think I love this guy. I’m gay.”
Raised as a Catholic to believe homosexuality is a sin, Grand’s epiphany unlocked a spring of self-hatred. It was a feeling that was amplified after he came out to his parents and was sent to a Christian counselor with the hope that his sexuality could be cured.
“I was not in what is known as 'conversion therapy' or 'ex-gay therapy,' but I was seeing a Christian therapist and my parents did send me to him with the intention that my sexuality was something that could be changed,” Grand says, clarifying previous inaccurate reports that the singer had undergone so-called reparative therapy in his youth. “Of course we all know the idea that you can change your sexuality is a total farce, and even when I was trying to change there was a part of me that knew it would never work. [By the time I was in high school] I had kissed a boy and by senior year I was dating a guy, even while I was still going to my therapist. It was a difficult time because I was going through an identity crisis.”
Today, Grand says the shame he once felt about his sexuality is a thing of the past. Though he says it's clear the negative messages he received from his family and faith contributed to his feelings of self-loathing in his youth, he doesn’t hold a grudge.
“I’m so proud of my family for how far they’ve come,” he says, noting that his family members are now his biggest supporters. “They’ve done a complete 180. It’s really brought us closer as a family.”
Grand also feels the trials he endured before accepting himself as a gay man are now part of the reason he is driven to raise his voice as an LGBT advocate. In addition to being outspoken though his music, the singer has also partnered with numerous equality organizations including Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, the Anti-Violence Project, and the Human Rights Campaign.
“I think when you’ve come a long way in life, you have a sort of fearlessness,” he says. “I spent so much of my youth being afraid of not being accepted, that I wouldn’t be loved, afraid that I was wrong in the eyes of God and to overcome all that is a really big deal. I’ll never minimize that.”
His latest single and music video, “Back to California,” continues Grand’s tradition of writing and performing songs from the perspective of a young gay man and provides a sneak peek at what fans can expect to hear from the artist’s upcoming album. But while Grand says he’s proud to join the chorus of voices who are fighting to bring visibility to the experiences of LGBT people, he knows he can’t speak for the entire community.
“Not all gay people are the same,” he says. “I think that’s what people are waking up to and that’s a sign of progress right there. We come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and cultural backgrounds. No one person should ever represent the entire gay community. I certainly don’t. But I read messages every day from people all over the world who have responded to my story and tell me how my music made them not feel so alone. So even if I just represent a small pocket of people, I’m good with that.”
With his crowdfunding goal surpassed, Grand plans to use the additional support to take his message even further and prove there is a desire to see out LGBT artists in today’s popular music landscape.
“The original $81,000 was enough to fund my record and put my album out there. That was the minimum and I didn’t want to ask for more,” he says. “But record companies spend millions producing and promoting an album. So I say let’s get on their playing field and make this have that big of an impact.”
Still smiling, he adds that the cash he's received will be well spent.
“I’m not even renewing the lease on my apartment. I’m just going to live in my parents’ basement, write music, and this summer I’m going to be touring," he says. "All I want to do is make great music that touches people and continue to tell honest stories.”
Watch Steve Grand's offical Kickstarter video, which includes his latest single "Back to California," below.