Rufus Wainwright blasts ‘ferocious’ targeting of trans community: ‘It’s like a war now’

Rufus Wainwright stands with trans friends amidst rights anti-LGBTQ+ hate.

Award-winning singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright has spoken out about the renewed “battle” for gay rights and how trans people are “under full attack” by right-wing legislation in the US.

“Gay Messiah” hitmaker Wainwright – who came out as gay in the late 1980s – said that “although clearly there was a dark underbelly of homophobia brewing” in the early 2000s, as the LGBTQ+ community reeled from the impact of Section 28 and the AIDS crisis, matters have worsened in recent years.

Speaking to The Telegraph on Saturday (2 September), the Canadian-American artist continued: “I don’t know how things are in England but in America the battle is back on.

“There has been a dramatic swing back against gay rights. It’s pretty horrific.”

Wainwright has been consistently involved in LGBTQ+ rights advocacy throughout his career, protesting against Russia’s gay propaganda laws during a 2014 concert in Moscow. In 2020, he called out Tennessee legislation that would allow religious adoption agencies to turn away gay couples.

As acclaimed composer returns to the UK to perform a music from breakthrough albums Want One and Want Two at the annual BBC Proms, he reflected on how progress on LGBTQ+ rights has been lost over the past two decades.

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Rufus Wainwright performs in Barcelona in July.
Rufus Wainwright performs in Barcelona in July. (Getty)

“I have certain, quite old- fashioned opinions on trans stuff,” Wainwright said. “I do occasionally like to debate what direction should be taken with children and all that.”

Although he did not expand, he admitted that “there isn’t even room for those conversations anymore because trans people are under full attack from the government”.

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“The amount of legislation that is being passed,” he explained. “How the right-wing has glommed on to gay and trans people as a target is so ferocious … It’s like a war now. You have to fight for one side or the other, which is never good for anyone.

“But I’m a gay person with lots of trans friends and so I have to choose that side.”

Across the US, Republican-controlled states such as Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Kansas have introduced a raft of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, rolling back the rights of queer and trans people.

In 2023 alone, over 550 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in the US according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), with 225 specifically aimed at restricting the rights of trans people.

Libraries are banning LGBTQ+ books, trans youth are losing access to vital gender-affirming care and several states are considering bans on drag. Canada issued an updated travel advisory for people visiting the US in August, warning of the risks for LGBTQ+ travellers.

Wainwright also expressed his sorrow at the loss of queer Irish singer Sinead O’Connor earlier this year. Best known for the smash-hit 1990 single “Nothing Compares 2 U”, O’Connor was known as a fierce human rights advocate before her death in July 2023.

“I feel she wanted to go,” Wainwright said. “In a certain sense I’m happy for her, that she was able to release herself from her pain.”

Wainwright is not the only musician to make their views clear on the ongoing backtrack of global LGBTQ+ – and particularly trans – rights.

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Many artists have come out swinging for trans rights in recent months, with acclaimed Irish musician Hozier calling supporting trans people a matter of basic “human decency”.

Megastars Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga have also unapologetically uplifted trans people in front of their audiences.

Prom 66: Want Symphonic – Want One will be performed by Rufus Wainwright at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 5 September at 7.30pm, followed by Prom 67: Want Symphonic – Want Two at 10.15pm.

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