By Linabel Ramirez
Music defines moments in our lives. It takes us on a journey through our soul and saves us from the most challenging moments of our lives. Diedra Meredith, CEO of OUTmusic and the Chairwoman of the LGBT Academy of Recording Arts (LARA), also known as singer Deepa Soul, can relate to this. Music saved her life.
Meredith created the Freedom of Expression = Music Equality (FOE=MEQ) campaign, a social media advocacy campaign that raises awareness about the power of music and the importance of freedom of expression for the queer community. The FOE=MEQ campaign is also a fundraiser to support LARA and the upcoming OUTmusic Awards. We got to talk with Meredith and she shared with us her motivation for creating FOE=MEQ, the need for amplifying queer voices in the music industry and the importance that music has played in her life.
What motivated you to create the FOE=MEQ campaign?
I created the campaign to give a face to the organization [LARA] and its mission. I wanted people to see what LGBT music culture looked like.
What did the LGBT music culture look like when you were growing up?
I wish I had the knowledge to know. All I knew was that I felt very different from other girls, but I had no one to identify with to even know what an LGBT person was.
Young people today have a better opportunity to explore their sexual orientation and to know what recording artists are LGBT.
When you entered the music scene, what was the LGBT music scene like?
Growing up in New Orleans as a young female musician was phenomenal! I was one of the most celebrated female trombonists in New Orleans. It was all about how good of a musician I was. Playing and studying music made me better at everything else. To be honest, music saved my life.
How did music save your life?
Growing up in the Deep South Bible belt, one can only imagine what it would be like for a young girl struggling with who she might be. I tried like hell to be like “normal” girls. I spent many days feeling lonely in a room full of friends because deep down I believed I was an abomination.
I immersed myself into my music. If it were not for my music, I did not feel like I had anything to look forward to. I became a master trombonist with five other instruments under my belt. It was all about my music. It truly was my freedom. It was the one place I could go and be myself one hundred and fifty percent.
Is there still a stigma against being LGBT in the music and entertainment world?
In the mainstream music and entertainment industry the stigma associated with being openly LGBT is still an issue. Although you see the success of artists like Adam Lambert, Ricky Martin and some other famous recording artists who came out post being successful, the time has yet to come for a major label to sign more openly LGBT recording artists. Perhaps Conchita Wurst will be the first! Change is coming, but we have a long way to go.
As an out lesbian artist, have you been personally impacted by the stigma against LGBT people in the entertainment industry?
I am out and proud lesbian recording artist Deepa Soul. In 2005, I landed my second top five Billboard Dance Chart hit single “As I Am,” produced by the legendary superstar DJ Junior Vasquez. I was given the opportunity to sign a major record contract, but was being encouraged to not be openly lesbian. The crazy part for me was that the lyrics to the song “As I Am” clearly stated my stance on being me. “As I am take me as I am love me for me or let me be…”
Rather than go in the closet, I walked away from the opportunity because my pride, my dignity and my conviction to live an authentic life meant so much more. I felt that by conforming to the suggestion to pretend to be straight or live under the guise of “don’t ask, don’t tell” did not make sense to me, especially in the music industry. Your art should be your most authentic expression. So I took the road less traveled and became a staunch advocate for Freedom of Expression without conformity.
Has the changing tide towards acceptance of LGBT musicians impacted your career as an artist?
After almost seven years of dedication to this movement, and walking away from the industry, I, along with my dear friend DJ and producer Ranny, released another record. The single “FEVA” was an instant success on Billboard’s Club Play Chart in the fall of 2013, breaking out in the #3 spot alongside Britney Spears who held the #1 Breakout and Miley Cyrus who held the #2 Breakout single that week. “FEVA” also crossed over to the EDM Billboard top 40 at #25.
Why is the FOE=MEQ campaign necessary?
The Freedom of Expression = Music Equality campaign is needed because we need to be included in history! We need to raise awareness and much needed funds to support the efforts of OUTmusic the LGBT Academy of Recording Arts to ensure that the achievements and contributions of LGBT recording artists, performers and creative industry professionals are acknowledged, celebrated and included in media, music and entertainment history.
LGBT music culture and heritage should be celebrated equally and it’s up to us to make it happen. The more LGBT people are known for their contributions, the more opportunity we have to change hearts and minds. We as a community and industry need to come together to raise more awareness and funding, as the OUTmusic Awards are not traditionally funded and backed like mainstream music award platforms, like the Latin Grammy Awards, Country Music Awards and Black Entertainment Music Awards.
What do you hope to achieve through the FOE=MEQ campaign?
We hope that the Freedom of Expression = Music Equality campaign will go viral on social media to bring the people together to celebrate and amplify the musical soundtrack of the LGBT Equality movement.
Much like the NoH8 photo campaign, we want to encourage out and proud LGBT recording artists, entertainers, creative industry professionals, advocates, activists and friends and allies to join the movement to appear in the FOE=MEQ campaign. The more people who join the movement, the more awareness and funds we can raise to create change and make history.