LGBTQ+ Icons: Rob Halford

Every Friday this LGBTQ+ history month will see us look at and celebrate an iconic LGBTQ+ musician. Our first featured person is the man dubbed as the "Metal God", Rob Halford.

Born in Sutton Coldfield on 25th August 1951, Robert John Arthur Halford joined Judas Priest in 1973 and with them, he would quickly become a pioneer of heavy metal. Though not the first heavy metal band the world had ever seen (beaten by fellow Brummies Black Sabbath), Priest engineered a different form of metal which was characterised by speed, twin guitars and melody.

But it wasn't just the style of the music that changed metal; Halford's vocals also set a new precedent. Whilst Ozzy Osbourne before him filled his vocal lines with dread and doom, Halford was much more melodic and, at times, operatic. Along with contemporaries such as Ronnie James Dio and Bruce Dickinson, Halford helped to influence the vocal style of later metal bands, a style often heard today in Power Metal with the likes of Dragonforce, Sabaton and Beast in Black.

His vocal style was also eclectic. Priest's 1980 hit 'Breaking the Law' saw him adopt a very laid-back style, using only his natural voice and keeping it very simple, hardly requiring any effort from the talented singer. However, on the other end of the scale is 'Painkiller', in which every single member of Priest unleashed their full power, with Halford being no exception. His high screeching vocals on the song truly showcase his range and ability to tear into the high notes without losing any power. It's a shattering performance that shakes you to your very core and certainly one of Halford's most impressive moments.

Not content with just influencing the music, Halford is also credited with introducing the leather-clad look which later became commonplace amongst metal musicians, setting the scene for the future generations. We're talking the iconic all-black look of jacket, studded belt and wristbands and chains. It quickly became adopted by metal musicians globally with the clothing of choice either being denim or leather. The denim came first but the leather was Halford.

For years, he was simply a heavy metal legend, but in 1998 he, pretty much by accident, became the first metal musician to publicly come out as gay. During an interview with MTV in which he had only planned to promote his upcoming album, the revelation simply slipped out during an answer. He immediately broke down and said "It's a wonderful moment when you walk out of the closet. Now I've done that and I've freed myself. It's a great feeling for me to finally let go and make this statement, especially to The Advocate, because this magazine has brought me so much comfort over the years. Obviously this is just a wonderful day for me."

The reason he had not come out sooner was the fear of losing his fanbase, and he has since revealed that there are now certain parts of the world he can no longer visit. Furthermore, he remains disappointed at the lack of progress made even with the last twenty years. "You'd think there would have been some kind of change and people would have moved on after such a long time. Now that I'm moving through my OAP heavy metal years, I thought a lot of it would be gone by now. And it's a shame. We don't really get to spend a lot of time on this planet together so there's no point in wasting it being divided."

Wise words from a God there.

But fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom. His fans and contemporaries all gave him huge amounts of support and he has said that coming out was "the greatest thing I could have done for myself." Beyond himself, however, it would also have been a huge moment for many gay metal fans.

Indeed, though homophobia certainly exists in the metal community, Halford's very existence has helped to combat that. In 1973, heavy metal unknowingly gained a queer member and Halford spent the next 25 years establishing himself as one of the greatest singers the genre would ever see, influencing fans and bands the world over, before then coming out as a gay. By that point, he was already a bonafide legend and learning that he was gay was a huge step for heavy metal. He's not an icon because he's gay. He's an icon because he's a supremely talented man and it just so happens that he's gay as well.

The advantage of this is that homophobes cannot possibly argue that he's only famous because of his sexuality. Ludicrous an argument though it is, it is a popular one for homophobes to throw at gay celebrities, but also one that Halford is completely immune to. Instead, he is proof that being gay has nothing to do with how talented or successful you can become; it is neither an advantage nor a barrier. It's just who you are.

Halford is now approaching the age of 70 but he doesn't seem to be slowing down at all. Priest remain in business, he continues to perform (when COVID isn't around) and his vocals sound practically as strong as ever. Though he is no longer the only gay person in metal, he was the first, and in being the first he paved the way for the future - just as he did with his vocals and his clothes. He, by accident or not, is a pioneer for metal's LGBTQ+ community.

Let it never be forgotten: the God of Metal? He's gay.