As music fans, we’ve all spent plenty of time looking up towards those on a stage. For many of us, music has been there—from the first pair of headphones to the latest earworm; from the bully on the playground to the horrible boss. Music becomes a safe place; it is something we can turn to when we have nowhere else to go. At the same time, musicians become people we admire. We look up to them for that strange connection we feel through their music. This gives musicians a powerful role in society as their personal lives are amplified through lyrics. Punk Out, an organization based out of Philadelphia, attempts to harness and develop that influence to help others.
Punk Out was birthed from people with personal connections to the alternative music community who wish to improve the inclusivity and openness of the community as a whole. The organization focuses on the position of LGBTQ individuals within the alternative music community and strives to provide resources and support to those in need. Unlike many music-community focused organizations though, Punk Out wants to help the musicians as much as the fans. According to founder Michael McCarron [pictured above], the primary goal of Punk Out is “to encourage musicians to be visible and to come out.” The organization sees musicians as both a group needing help and a group able to help.
“Our idea is, ‘Well, let’s not go for the fans, let’s go for the musicians,’ because that’s an underserved population to begin with,” McCarron explains. “Then let’s use that musician—basically leverage that musician’s stage for lack of a better term—to kind of spread our message, which is ultimately everybody should be out, everybody should be proud, everybody should feel comfortable in the community.”
Punk Out takes a unique approach by targeting musicians rather than fans. By using this tactic, the organization doesn’t attempt to be the sole point of guidance and support but instead attempts to strengthen and create those sources of guidance. This method could be likened to the aphorism “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Rather than trying to be the only help, Punk Out wants to establish the entire community as a place of help, starting with the most visible members.
McCarron, who has been working with the alternative music scene for a decade, believes the alternative music community can provide beneficial support to LGBTQ individuals. The Punk Out founder explains that in his own life he felt a disconnect with the stereotypical gay culture and a lack of visible LGBTQ members in the alternative music scene only made it more difficult to come to terms with his personal identity. “I never saw my type of people, the kids who want to mosh, I never saw that in the gay community and I think because of that I was more apprehensive to come out,” McCarron reflects. “What we’re trying to do with Punk Out is be like, ‘Listen, the queer community is not that small little niche that you see on TV, it actually encompasses a wide array of people.’”
With Punk Out, McCarron and his team are attempting to improve the general culture of the alternative music community. They believe that a large number of LGBTQ musicians exist but don’t publicly identify themselves. Punk Out wants to encourage these musicians to increase their visibility and openness about the subject in the hopes that they can become role models for struggling LGBTQ individuals.
“I’ve been out since I was 20, but I knew as a teenager that I was gay,” McCarron recalls. “If I knew that the singer of my favorite band or the guitarist of my favorite band could relate to the issues that I was going through, I think it would have changed my coming out for the better. A lot of people look at music and they use music as a crutch, as a way to get through really difficult times, but no one really seems to address a lot of the issues directly that a lot of queer youth face.”
Punk Out is attempting to speak directly to those issues. The organization formed in the spring of 2014 and has been working hard to establish itself as a resource for LGBTQ individuals. The group’s website contains an “Artist Corner” where musicians from up-and-coming bands such as On My Honor, Like Pacific and Manic Pixi can share their stories with fans, a blog where the Punk Out team discusses issues they find important, and links to useful resources. Punk Out spreads beyond their website as well. The group works to encourage music publications and websites to think critically about the artists that they support, plans to organize a fundraising project for homeless youth (“Despite the fact that the LGBTQ community only makes up five percent of the population, 40 percent of the homeless youth population is queer,” McCarron explains), and hopes to get more speaking settings to discuss LGBTQ issues.
Of course, the organization always wants to grow bigger. “We want Laura Jane Grace to be the face of Punk Out,” McCarron says with a bit of wishful thinking in his voice. The Punk Out founder notes a quote from the transgender Against Me! singer about how badass a chick in high heels screaming in your face can be. “You get enough Laura Jane Graces in high heels screaming at your face and you can win over some crowds,” he says.
Punk Out’s dreams don’t stop there. The organization plans to help as many people as they can and just take things as far as possible in general.
“We’re trying to take over the world. We’re trying to scare the ultra-conservative people that the gay punks are taking over the world,” McCarron says with a laugh. “Music is a place where a lot of people turn, and it should be a safe place where queers can turn as well.”