On the latest episode of the "WTF With Marc Maron" podcast, JUDAS PRIEST singer Rob Halford, who publicly declared his homosexuality back in 1998 during an appearance on MTV News, discussed the discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in America and other parts of the world continue to face in their daily lives. While more U.S. states every year work to pass laws to protect LGBTQ people, we continue to see state legislatures advancing bills that target transgender people, limit local protections, and allow the use of religion to discriminate.
"People are terrified," Rob said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET). "We have been part of a group of people that have been murdered, burned alive, whatever, tortured — all the most horrific things have happened to gay people, as they have for other minorities, whether it's the Jewish faith, the fucking Holocaust. So, yeah, as much as it's terrible, it's been terrible since day one. When is there gonna be an end to it? I don't think there'll ever be an end to it while we have the attacks going on, the extremist attacks for political reasons or for bigotry. You can't get rid of bigots; you can't get rid of that kind of mentality of people, but don't give them a bigger voice. And that pushes on to people. It's, like, 'Man, I would love to come out, but if I go walking down the street and somebody's gonna hit me in the back of the head with a baseball bat.' So what a terrible thing to have to walk through, as a gay person that's in the shelter of your own mind, but put that forward to people that are openly out and people know about it down your street. 'Hey, have you heard so and so? They're a f*g. Let's go kick the door in.' All that kind of mental stuff is going around. But even when you come out. I mean, I get it all the time. Not so much compared to some people, but I get bashed through texts. I see what people say about me and all that kind of stuff."
Halford went on to say that he was surprised by the outpouring of support after he publicly came out more than two and a half decades ago. "Yeah, because you fear rejection," he explained. "That's the primary reason. 'People won't love me because I'm gonna tell them who I am.' Does that make sense? Well, it does if you're a gay person and maybe you've got the kind of a job that… for whatever reason.
"I question whether if I had not have come out like I did, would I still be in the closet?" he continued. "Because I talk about in the book about having to hide because it was suggested to me by people in the industry, 'Don't tell them that you're gay. It'll be the end of the band.' What a horrible thing to think about, but it's a fact. The guys in the band knew, and the people in the label knew."
Rob also reflected on what it was like to be a closeted man in the 1980s while so many other rock musicians at the time dipped their toes into the glittery waters of glam androgyny. "Particularly through the '80s, when everything was peaking in metal, and a lot of the guys looked like women — the hair years," he said. "My friends from MÖTLEY CRÜE, POISON, my friends from POISON, and they're good friends. I'm just saying, just think of how some of us were looking then.
"How did he get to that place? Because we had the NEW YORK DOLLS way before that… But what was the tipping point? What was the tipping point when guys started to look that way? I can't think. Was there a band? Was there a person?"
He continued: "I think it was a case of, 'We've gotta do this too. Otherwise we sink in the shit. Guys, we're all gonna go down to CVS and get like a bucketload of makeup and hairspray and nail paint. We've gotta do this. If we don't look like this, it's the end.' And that, then, was the dark side of the business. You had to really follow my leader. 'Look, they're top of the charts. We've got to look that way. We've got to sound that way.' And it's not that far removed now, to some extent, particularly in popular music."
Two years ago, original JUDAS PRIEST guitarist Kenneth "K.K." Downing confirmed during an appearance on MACHINE HEAD frontman Robb Flynn's "No Fuckin' Regrets With Robb Flynn" podcast that he, the other members of the group and PRIEST management knew about Halford's sexuality and were accepting, although Rob at the time was advised to be discreet given the macho hetero nature of the metal world.
"We always knew Rob was gay," K.K. said. "Because the thing is back in the days — in the '60s and particularly early '70s, when everything was still kind of behind closed doors and stuff like that — people felt a bit more comfortable around us because we would hang around in groups and gangs and we would always know that that guy is different to us and that girl is different."
According to K.K., Rob's sexuality didn't matter to him and the rest of PRIEST. "The main thing is… Obviously, to me, Rob being gay, apart from [having] a great voice, I thought Rob was gonna stay in the band forever, and he's obviously gonna be theatrical, he's gonna be obviously articulate with words — and he was; he was all of that," Downing said. "Sensitivities and all of that, and the showmanship — so all of these ingredients [were] great attributes to have as a frontman. And I proved to be right."
K.K. also touched upon the revelation in Halford's "Confess" autobiography that the singer spent much on his time on the road in the 1980s and early 1990s "cruising" for one-night stands in gay bars, public restrooms, and other gay meeting places. Asked by Flynn if he was aware that Rob was doing it, K.K. said: "Yeah. Absolutely. My eyes have seen a lot. [Laughs] Even in the mid-'70s, if you come off stage and Rob's in the shower with one of the crew and stuff doing things. I mean, it is what it is. You don't have to go in there until it's over and whatever. It is what it is. 'Cause Rob had to put up with lots of things from us. It's the same thing — no different… It's the same thing — fair's fair. We're all there in the van. We're ready to go. 'Okay. Where's fucking Dave? Okay. He's in there still with a girl. Somebody go and get him.' We need to go. We need to get to the gig or from the gig. And these things happen. It's rock and roll. A lot of things were put down to rock and roll because it was rock and roll in those days."
Elsewhere in the interview, Downing talked about Halford's efforts to maintain the image of heterosexuality in the media — most notably through PRIEST's studs-and-black leather biker outfits, which defined the look of the heavy metal genre for years to come — even while living a secret, double life as a closeted gay man.
"In all fairness to Rob, Rob was a team player," K.K. said. "He knows that his image and the way that he was in the day and everything, it appealed to guys [and] it appealed to girls. And he was cool with that. The same with me, because your audience is your audience. We had so many people that did have an awareness, obviously, back in the day. But we are entertainers and we're performers. But [we had] a great belief in the music and the image and just everything around it. I still had immense pride in Rob as a great frontman and entertainer and a great vocalist. And he played the part as well, equally, as we thought we did in the macho, macho that wasJUDAS PRIEST. Because we'd done the outfit, the leather and the studs, and I think anything to do with anything else ancillary — sexuality or anything — was just not a part… it wasn't on the stage. In Rob's mind, maybe it was here and there, but, to us, it was so ferocious and full-on, delivering up this music in the way that we did it, to me, I felt so proud of all of the bandmates. Because we'd done the uniform, and it was unique at the time, and it was such a powerful feeling. 'Cause we were getting off on that, what we had. The audience could sense it, I think. And that's why we were never afraid to play with any band, because we had the uniform that nobody else could put on at the time."
In "Confess", which came out in September 2020, Halford detailed the struggle of being gay while writing about how he and his bandmates started attracting groupies as PRIEST became more commercially successful. "Well, I didn't," Halford clarified. "None of our fans knew that I was gay at this point, of course. If any misguided girls made a play for me, I could politely brush them off. But if I wanted some action on the road — and I really, really did — how the hell was I supposed to go about it? For straight blokes, the ritual was easy. They could invite a girl to come backstage. Would you like a drink? Would you like to come to our hotel? Would you like to see my room? I couldn't do any of that."
Halford continued: "If I fancied a guy in the crowd, how did I go about it? What were the chances of him being gay (or, if he was, of admitting it)? What if I got it wrong, made a misjudged pass and got a smack in the mouth? And, of course, the overriding fear that was to limit my existence for decades: What if it got out that I was gay, fans didn't want anything to do with a band fronted by a queer, and it killed JUDAS PRIEST stone dead? PRIEST was the most important thing in my life, and even if I were willing to sacrifice it for my sexuality — which I wasn't — I simply couldn't do it to Ken [K.K.], or Glenn [Tipton] or Ian [Hill]. It wouldn't be fair on them. It was my problem, not theirs."
Rob also wrote about how PRIEST came to adopt its iconic leather look, saying: "The biggest myth about this new stage gear is that I had somehow masterminded the image as a cover and a vent for my homosexuality — that I was getting a thrill from dressing on stage as I'd like to dress in the street, or the bedroom. This is utter bollocks. I had no interest in S&M, domination or the whole queer subcult of leather and chains. It just didn't do it for me. My sexual preference was for men, sure, but I was — and still am — pretty vanilla. I've never used a whip in the boudoir in my life. Or, have I? Hang on, let me think for a minute…"
In 1998, Halford became the first metal icon to announce he is gay during an MTV interview, despite knowing about his sexuality since he was 10.