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Musicians’ Census LGBTQ+ Report: What Comes Next?

In Focus

This spring, the Musicians’ Union, Help Musicians, and Come Play with Me partnered to release the LGBTQ+ Musicians Insight Report. Analysing data from the first ever Musicians’ Census, this report revealed the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ musicians with unprecedented detail. 

Following the report's publication, we gathered a group of Leeds-based artists for a conversation about queer joy, intersectional identities and what they hope the next steps for more sustained, genuine LGBTQIA+ inclusion might be. 

Interview by David Simkins, condensed for clarity. 

The Participants:

Ben (he/they) Producer, musician in Little Hand Feet & Pop Vulture Cathy Kio (she/they) Artist and session player 

NikNak (she/they) Music creative, producer, DJ, turntablist 

Mollie Coddled (she/her) Songwriter, producer, artist 

43% of LGBTQ+ musicians suffer from poor mental health. Of these, 90% have experienced or witnessed discrimination and over twice as many trans musicians reported poor mental wellbeing than musicians in the overall census. 

To start, what’s your message to any LGBTQ+ readers who are themselves experiencing poor mental well-being and discrimination? 

Ben: It's okay not to know your identity or where you fit in. I experienced this in the past, but what got me through it was following my heart. So trust your instincts. You might not know it at the time, but the path you're going down, if it's an authentic path, will lead you towards the right people. 

Cathy: Go where you're welcome. Go where you find your community. Don’t pressure yourself into doing more than you're comfortable with, you don't need to be brave all the time. Sometimes it's okay to just be where you're accepted and where you're safe. 

NikNak: There's more support out there than you realise. And it’s flexible. Some people prefer going to therapy, some prefer going to a collective safe space, and some prefer to figure it out on their own with their support network. Find out what works for you. 

Many musicians, especially those of the Global Majority, witness or experience discrimination related to sexuality (37%) and gender identity (25%), but they did not officially report the majority of these incidents. 

Why don’t victims and witnesses officially report discrimination and what would encourage them? 

Cathy: When you're an independent artist, who do you report to? The promoter? The sound engineer? There's not really a clear system. If something happens in the moment where other people can see. But sometimes, if you report discrimination and you make a big deal out of it, you become 'the problem' and alienate yourself. The process of reporting something adds so much time, energy, and emotional toll on top of the whole experience of being discriminated against. Sadly, sometimes it just feels easier to let it go. 

Mollie: When someone discriminates against you, your body goes into a fight or flight mode. My head’s going, “Get out. Don't talk to them. Don't escalate it. Don't make it worse.” When you've processed the incident a couple of days later, you wish you’d said something or got justice for what happened. But in the moment, it’s a lot safer to say nothing. So, we need more open conversations in the music industry about how to create safe spaces and protect queer people. The venue or the manager should take care of it. I don't think it's the artist’s responsibility to escalate that situation. 

Twice as many LGBTQ+ musicians experience work-related abuse and harassment as a career barrier than musicians in the overall census. Some respondents alluded to code-switching or being highly selective about their performance venues. 

What’s your experience of thinking twice before you head to work as an artist? 

Cathy: When I’m choosing a venue to perform in, I have to consider my intersectionality. Personally, I find that the racial aspect of my identity affects me more than the queer aspect. I'm first-generation Nigerian British; my parents are both Nigerians, and Nigeria is not a safe queer space at all. So I keep thinking, “How will my own community feel about what I’m doing?” I see aunties and uncles giving me dirty looks when I'm walking down the street with my girlfriend. So how am I supposed to stand on a stage and perform to them? It's really sad, but I have to think carefully about which venues I play in my hometown'. 

Mollie: Because I’m not a man, sometimes venue staff don’t think I’m the artist. They think I’m the merch seller or someone’s partner. You're underestimated from the moment you walk in the door and anything you say from there on out isn’t respected. So you can’t even be in charge of your own gig! 

NikNak: Last year, I was programmed to play at a club and support an artist, but a friend told me this artist has a history of domestic abuse and served time in prison. Immediately, I was very triggered and spoke to the promoter, who had no idea and hadn’t done their due diligence. But I decided to go ahead anyway and do the gig in protest. On stage, I wore a t-shirt with statistics about gender diversity printed on it and every tune I played was by a female. Even though it was exhausting, I wanted to subvert the headline artists’ expectations. Unfortunately, my point was proven; the artist made a derogatory comment about me during his performance. I reported this to the promoter, who was shocked and rightly so. If we want to have a proper, sustainable, badass music industry where everyone is protected, respected, and supported, it comes down to education. It comes down to people accepting that they can and should do better. 

Ben: As a cis, white, straight-presenting male, people would speak to me even though I was just a session player and it wasn’t my band! Sometimes I take for granted that I will be safe and valued in a space. But as I’ve moved towards drag performance and being more overt with my queer identity, I’ve become more aware of it. I'll be performing with a target on my back, especially with the sharp rise in crimes against trans people. Every time you show up authentically, it’s a protest. It’s a resistance. It's scary. But making yourself visible to other queer people strengthens our place in the artistic world. 

Mollie: As a musician, you're putting yourself in the spotlight. Sometimes you write a song and you're like, “I don't know if I want everyone to hear about this, because then they’ll know how I'm feeling.” And when your song provokes negative reactions from people, it's hard not to let that affect you. But by being on stage and sharing your experiences, you’re representing your community and they’ll certainly relate to what you're saying. I often find that you get the most positive outcome when you put your heart on the line. 

16% of LGBTQ+ musicians are not open about their sexuality with their co-workers, of which 58% are female. Furthermore, the report revealed that trans musicians earn almost £10,000 less than non-LGBTQ+ musicians. 

What does good allyship at work look like and how can colleagues foster a more inclusive working environment for LGBTQ+ musicians? 

NikNak: It’s hard to find venues and promoters that are doing all of this authentically. They might describe themselves as inclusive, but then say something that immediately tokenises you and you’re like, “Right, I see why I’m here.” 

Cathy: Venues could be doing more. For example, Wharf Chambers in Leeds has a code of conduct and if people don't respect each other in that environment, then they're not welcome. It’s important for more venues to have that attitude, rather than shrugging off discrimination towards people from certain demographics. Especially when you’re performing at the venue as an artist, you should be protected while you're working. 

Mollie: The demographics of the staff working in the venue are also really important. If venues hire staff inclusively, you feel more welcome in that space as soon as you enter. 

Testament to the resilience of the community, 84% of LGBTQ+ musicians think that in spite of all the barriers they face, they will still want to work in the music industry in 5 years’ time. 

What is the most important change over the next five years that would enable you to lead a financially sustainable music career as your authentic self? 

Cathy: When people say, “I'm looking for an indie artist,” they're not always looking for someone like me. If they were, I would have more opportunities. People expect you to make a certain type of music because of who you are, or the way you look. So intersectional representation and integration is a massive problem in genres. To solve this problem, we should normalise everyone being who they are and creating the music they want to create. I like having a niche as a black queer indie musician, but it would be nice to have more representation around me. 

Ben: The mainstream should recognise great artists regardless of their sexual identity. The separation of queer nights from straight ones needs to be addressed too. But also, being queer is so fun. And to be queer amongst other queer people is so fun, so it’s still nice to have these safe spaces. 

Mollie: I don’t want to be the token queer artist. Enough of that! I want to see equal splits, I want to see all of the marginalised communities across all festival lineups. So many queer people can't have a sustainable music career because there aren’t as many opportunities for us. That's not our fault. We can't fix that as artists. The responsibility lies with decision-makers. They need to put queer people higher up their priority list. 

NikNak: It’s all well and good pointing to statistics about discrimination. We've been talking about these issues for a long time! But who's actually going, “OK, here’s what we do next.” We need to see action being taken. 

Ben: It’s simple, but people actively sharing and celebrating queer artists goes a long way. 

On that note, you can find our artists through Instagram at @popvulturetheband @cathy.kio @mollieiscoddled @niknakdjmusic

Listen, share their music, and tell your friends about this article. You are part of the solution, together we can create a more inclusive music industry. 

To educate yourself on LGBTQ+ discrimination and other intersectional experiences in music, check out

Finally, if you’re experiencing poor mental health or facing discrimination as a result of being LGBTQ+, you’re not alone. For further resources and support, go to or call 0800 0119 100 today.

Words by David Simkins (he/him)
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