It’s Pride Month! Throughout June, HollywoodLife is celebrating with The Sound Of Pride, where celebs and stars of the LBGTQ+ community pick songs for the ultimate 2023 Pride Month playlist. It’s the perfect soundtrack to planning your Pride party, researching how to protect LGBTQ+ rights, or reading about the history of Pride Month. Chris Freeman, bassist for the all-gay rock band, Pansy Division, and frontman for the queer-themed celebration band, GayC/DC, joins in to add some bite to the playlist.
“Well, I’m not a fan of the music that’s typically associated with Pride, like disco or EDM, so my list is going to more rock/punk/pop,” says Chris Freeman when tasked with selecting artists for The Sound of Pride. For over thirty years, Chris has stood alongside Jon Ginoli (and in front of a series of others, most notably Luis Illades) as part of Pansy Division. On top of that, for the past decade, Chris has fronted the first and only all-gay tribute to AC/DC, the undeniable GayC/DC. So, when it comes to picking tracks for the perfect Pride Month 2023 playlist, Chris was not going to bust out the disco hits.
Instead, he wants to get the adrenaline flowing and the blood pumping. He wants to get mad. “Our community has really been hit hard over the last few years, and especially this year, the temperature has risen to a level I haven’t seen since the ’80s with Anita Bryant,” says Freeman, referring to the “Paper Roses” singer-turned-anti-gay activist of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign – which successfully repeal an ordinance that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation – used children and religion to shield anti-LGBTQ+ views, a campaign that has drawn comparisons to the anti-“woke” activism of current Florida Senator Ron DeSantis.
“This is why Pride was important in the first place,” says Freeman, referring to how the Stonewall Uprising sparked the modern Gay Rights movement in America. “Starting around 2008, it felt like we’d hit a plateau where we could take a rest and just enjoy our successes,” he adds. “Now, we have good reasons to be angry again. I’d love to see more activism and community connection come back to Pride rather than having just another music festival with a different title.”
Thankfully, the youth are in the streets, and there are efforts to combat the ongoing attacks on the LGBTQ+ community (most notably, trans people and trans people of color.) While finding out how you can help secure equality for all Americans, read below what Chris picked for The Sound of Pride.
Tom Robinson Band, “Glad To Be Gay”
“This was a song that, at the time (1978), I would never let anyone hear me playing for fear that they might find out I was gay. And while it’s a bit dated now, it still makes me feel jubilant when the chorus comes in.”
Soft Cell, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
“This was an album I could not stop listening to, and it became my crutch as I came out. It gave me the courage I needed to tell my best friend first, a huge step as any gay person can tell you.”
Editor’s Note: The entire album is solid. For the playlist, we’ll add “Sex Dwarf.” These are serious times, but we can also afford to not take ourselves too seriously.
Bronski Beat, “Smalltown Boy”
“I first heard this song at a disco in London called Heaven Under the Arches in 1984. It was such a heartfelt song and really hit home for me as my parents kicked me out of the house at 16.”
Lou Reed, “Walk On The Wild Side”
“Not only was this one of the coolest sounding songs on the radio when it came out, but tucked away in the lyrics are all of these characters that I wished I could meet. Such a beautiful and revealing song.”
The Kinks, “Lola”
“This song came out well before I hit puberty, but I got into the Kinks late in my teens and once I actually listened to and understood the lyrics, I realized how brave the Kinks really were for putting out such a potentially incendiary song. If only all straight men could be as open as Ray Davies!”
HL: How does this year’s celebration feel when compared to last year’s?
Chris: Our community has really been hit hard over the last few years, and especially this year, the temperature has risen to a level I haven’t seen since the ’80s with Anita Bryant. I feel it started when 45 (I will not type his name) started his run for president and gave permission for people to feel okay about being shitty to other people. Since then, we’ve been slowly maneuvering our wagons back into a circle, and that’s evident in what we just saw happen with the Dodgers and the Sisters.
We won that battle, but there are a ton more headed our way. This makes Pride all the more important this year. This is why Pride was important in the first place. Starting around 2008, it felt like we’d hit a plateau where we could take a rest and just enjoy our successes. Now, we have good reasons to be angry again. I’d love to see more activism and community connection come back to Pride rather than having just another music festival with a different title.
What unsung heroes would you like to see get some spotlight during Pride 2023?
To be honest, I’d like to vote for myself and my bands, if that were possible. I’ve been in Pansy Division, the first all-gay rock band ever, since 1991, and I’ve continued putting out more gay-related music and performances in GayC/DC for the last 10 years and MARY for the last 5. Plus, I’ve produced albums for gay bands like IAMLOVED and artists like Kelly Mantle. The issue is that it’s ‘rock music,’ which most LGBTQA+ audiences just aren’t interested in.
Since I know that’s not going to happen, my vote goes to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They may have gotten a lot of press already thanks to the Dodgers, but IMO, they can’t get enough press or praise. Honestly, I’ve seen the work they do first-hand. I moved from Seattle to SF in 1987 and I watched literally dozens of my friends (and 5 boyfriends) die of AIDS over the next several years. Some of them became homeless and broke when family or landlords would cast them out for being sick. The Sisters were right there helping out in every way they could. These are some of our community’s biggest heroes, and they deserve all of the accolades they can get.
Do you have any major memories from Prides past?
The first Pride I went to was the most memorable. It was 1982 in Seattle, [and] I was just about to turn 21. Prides back then were not big corporate music festivals with a pink triangle slapped on. These were the bravest of the brave showing themselves in the free-est way possible and allowing themselves to be seen publicly by people like me, who needed to see how many there were of ‘us,’ and what spectacles we could make of ourselves. It was life-changing as there was next-to-zero visibility back then. There was far more at stake for being out publicly back then, like, you could lose your job if anyone from work saw you.
What’s on tap for June (and the rest of 2023?)
Pansy Division is playing a few Midwest shows in the middle of the month, ending with Chicago Pride; and GayC/DC is playing a Pride event at the Hard Rock on the Las Vegas strip. Also, keep a lookout for our video of “Hold Your Head Up,” which should be out by the time you read this.
Do you have a Pride message for the world?
Pride is more than an opportunity to party with your besties at a pop concert. It’s a chance to seriously evaluate one’s place in the world, to discover what you stand for, what makes you unique, a chance to be counted as the ‘other’ that you are. And to open oneself up to other ways of being ‘other’ and embracing those who challenge social norms. These are the true groundbreakers moving society forward, not backward. At least, that’s what it was for me back in 1982.