Editor's Note: PolicyMic is collaborating with HeadCount, an organization that works with musicians to promote participation in democracy. HeadCount has launched a great new social media campaign #SoundOff to make Twitter a key tool in influencing policy. #SoundOff helps you tweet messages at Congress on the issues you and your favorite musicians care about most. Visit #Soundoff or join Fun. at MostNights to help in the fight for LGBTQ equality.
It’s been a year and a half since Fun.’s “We Are Young” hit the airwaves, setting off a rapid ascension to fame for the musical trio alongside a slew of anthem-worthy songs for the music lover in all of us. The band, comprised of Nate Ruess, Andrew Dost, and Jack Antonoff, went on to win Song of the Year for “We Are Young” at the GRAMMYs, along with one of the night’s highest honors Best New Artist. As impressive as their musical prowess is, the group has somehow found the time to devote serious thought and energy to their LGBTQ rights organization The Ally Coalition (TAC). Along with designer Rachel Antonoff, the men of Fun. formed TAC to fight for LGBTQ rights and inspire people to take the action needed to achieve equality for all. I spoke with Fun.’s guitarist Jack Antonoff about gay rights in America, the TAC mission, and why every one of us has a role to play in this fight for equality.
Elena Sheppard (ES): You are such a vocal supporter of the gay community. When and how did gay issues become so important to you?
Jack Antonoff (JA): No real story. It’s important to me in the same way it’s important to a lot of people. It’s the most important issue of our time. It’s the most serious human rights issue of our time, and I think everyone gets to a point when they start to really reflect on things and they realize that they’re either a part of the problem, or a part of the solution ... and silence is definitely a part of the problem. We wanted to do everything we can, in a time when people need to be doing everything they can.
ES: What exactly is the hope for The Ally Coalition? What is the goal and what are you trying to achieve?
JA: We’re trying to achieve a number of things. On a very tangible level we’re trying to raise a lot of money. We’re raising money for a lot of homeless and outreach LGBTQ youth centers. Looking at the range of homeless kids, 30-40% of homeless kids are LGBT – which is a really shocking statistic — and the reason for that is because of how some people feel about them. These kids are being kicked out of their homes, or forced into the street. It’s a huge issue and there are some amazing places popping up all over the country – the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, or the Oasis Center in Nashville, to name a few – that are taking kids in. We visited these centers personally and it’s amazing. They have like 10 beds, but they have three or four times that number of people coming to them that need shelter and need help. We’re donating a lot of money to those places, and raising a dollar for every ticket sold [for our concerts], and donating a dollar every time someone takes a picture with an Ally Coalition sign.
Then there is the intangible web portion of it ... The idea here is supporting the young allies no matter who they are, both by being allies for each other and going out there and going on record to say that we do not tolerate homophobia and that we support these issues. We are trying to help people to do that via social media. The allies are showing what we won’t accept and showing that what we’re fighting for is change ... Someone saying that they support gay rights on their Facebook page can have a massive impact on their 100 friends and family who maybe thought it was OK to be homophobic … we can back those people into a corner better by simply going on record saying you’re a supporter.
ES: I think the social media aspect of it is really interesting because that’s a place where teens bully each other for exactly the reasons that you’re talking about. Just the idea that you guys can find the positive potential in social media is really impressive and empowering.
JA: It is also helping people, because there are a lot of people who want to go on record, or want to make a statement but don’t necessarily know how to do it. Maybe they don’t want to go on their Twitter and be like, “I support gay rights!” It’s about finding positive interesting ways to help guide people into establishing themselves as allies, or as being political on this issue.
ES: I think a lot of people, a lot kids especially and teens, don’t really know what to do when they’re in a social situation and someone tosses around a phrase like, “that’s so gay.” What would your advice be to someone in a real life situation like that when they are afraid of the peer response?
JA: That to make great change is not easy. Those of us in this day and age when there’s still opposition – and obviously the hope is that there won’t be in the future – those of us now who are enduring some of that heat ... are doing it for a future when it will be a complete non-issue. It’s an honor to think that together we can make a difference.
ES: Two of your songs both “We Are Young” and “Carry On” have been adopted as, sort of, queer anthems. Was that intentional, or a happy coincidence?
JA: A happy coincidence. I think that there’s a part of us that always sort of felt like our own kind of underdogs, and these songs intentionally or not-so-intentionally are reaching out to people who feel possibly hopeless or feel like some kind of underdog, and I think that the LGBTQ community is the ultimate underdog right now.
ES: Since the Supreme Court’s decision passed favorably for gay rights I think a lot of people have the impression that the fight is over … from your perspective, what needs to happen now? What’s the next important fight or fights?
JA: Well the fight is very significantly not even close to over. There still aren’t civil rights in many, many places so I think the most specific thing that needs to be accomplished is that there should be absolutely no differentiation in equal rights across the board. I think with African American Civil Rights the parallels are strong and obviously what we learned from that is that it’s a long process for people to really rid themselves of racism, or in this case homophobia, and for a nation where that’s been engrained in the culture it can take generations for that to completely go away ...
ES: Celebrity has given you a soapbox to really talk about the issues that matter to you. Do you feel like with fame comes an obligation to speak your mind? How do you see the role of celebrities fitting in with grassroots action?
JA: I think we have an obligation to engage on certain issues but I think that just because we have a soapbox doesn’t necessarily mean that we're supposed to yell on it. In this day and age due to what’s going on with LGBTQ rights if you are not speaking up whether you are someone who has 100 million Twitter followers or you’re sitting at a dinner table with your friends and family we all have equal obligation to discuss this issue and to do everything we possibly can.
ES: Are there other musicians and artists out there who you really admire for their advocacy for the LGBTQ community?
JA: Yeah. Sara Bareilles I think is an amazing advocate. Tegan and Sara, who are gay, I think have been incredible role models and managed to share political ideas throughout their entire career. Lady Gaga has done something that is really incredible, no matter how big she is, or how engrained she is in pop culture she keeps on thinking about the issues. They are all just wonderful, so all of them.
ES: What would you tell young fans struggling with their sexuality and pride?
JA: That things get better every single day, and that there’s a very hopeful future, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.