the roots of queer clubs can be traced back to the early 20th century. many of these spaces existed in secrecy, then in the aftermath of the stonewall uprising against police violence in june 1969, queer clubs began to emerge from the shadows. the uprisings served as catalyst for transformation of queer nightlife.
in the 1970s and 1980s, clubs continued to serve a profound role personal and collective liberation. these venues provided a space that offered a sense of freedom and refuge from homophobia and discrimination and music played a pivotal role. the songs , which often times could only be heard in queer spaces – months before they crossed over to mainstream pop radio, were a sonic invitation for everyone to come out to dance and be free on the dance floor.
below are a few of the songs that soundtracked the celebration of coming out to and/or inviting people into your world. may we all find a dance floor to move and be with abandon as we sing, or lip sync, to our favorite songs!
I WAS BORN THIS WAY | CARL BEAN
defiant in its profound message about gay pride, self-acceptance, and self-affirmation, “i was born this way” was initially released in 1975 by motown recording artist valentino. two years later, in 1977, carl bean, also on motown, covered the song and made it an anthem on and off the dance floor. bean’s version was remixed and re-released as the “better days” remix. it ignited dance floors again – almost a decade later.
I’M COMING OUT | DIANA ROSS
written by the prolific producer nile rodgers, “i’m coming out” was inspired after nile saw multiple diana ross drag performers in a bathroom at a new york queer club in 1979.
although the term “coming out” had been used to describe self-disclosure around sexual orientation and gender identity since the turn of the 20th century, ross was surprisingly unaware of the concept until nile told diana, “..this song is gonna be your coming-out song. we think of you as our black queen…”
I AM WHAT I AM | GLORIA GAYNOR
“i am what i am” was initially written for the 1983 broadway musical “la cage aux folles.” gloria gaynor, first lady of disco, released a dance version later that year. “i am what i am,” became a global queer anthem during a time when “coming out” was fiercely encouraged to build community and organize around the still unfolding AIDS crisis.
COMING OUT OF HIDING | PAMALA STANLEY
philadelphia-born and raised pamela stanley scored a string of dance hits in the early 1980s. Her most notable song was the Hi-NRG classic “coming out of hiding.”
released nationally in 1984, “coming out of hiding” became a massive club hit, reaching #4 on billboard’s dance chart, and became an anthem among gay men during the onset of the AIDS crisis. a time when severe homophobia threatened to chase LGBTQ folks back into the closet.
NEW ATTITUDE | PATTI LABELLE
by the release of “new attitude” at the end of 1984, patti labelle had already cemented herself as a queer icon for her fashion, performance style, and resilience. she was also one of the first recording artists to support and perform at AIDS benefits.
if a jolt of energy could be a timeless self-empowering anthem, it would be “new attitude.” the song’s uplifting message of self-confidence, transformation, and embracing one’s connection with queer audiences.
COME INTO MY HOUSE | QUEEN LATIFAH
“welcome into my queendom, come one, come all…,” the opening line of the first verse of queen latifah’s 1990 hip-hop/house track “come into my house” is an invitation into her world, extended to those of us who were either exiled from or denied entry into kingdoms that valued hyper-masculinity and conformity. and visitors are greeted with the song’s refrain, “give me body!,” an invitation into her world and community.
GO WEST | PET SHOP BOYS
originally recorded and released by queer disco group the village people in 1979, “go west” is an unapologetic rallying cry about gay freedom and migration to san francisco. english synth-pop queer duo pet shop boys’ 1993 cover was hopeful and reflective in its yearning for acceptance and community. a theme that resonated emotionally during immense loss during the height of the AIDS crisis.
FREE, GAY & HAPPY | COMING OUT CREW
in the 1990s, as LGBTQ+ culture continued to gain mainstream visibility, the coming out crew’s 1995 exuberant dance track “free, gay and happy” captured the unwavering power of queer joy and hope. written and performed by renowned vocalist sabrina johnston, “free, gay and happy” became a club hit in both the US and UK.