A Place For Everyone: The Story Of Punk Out

Hello, everyone! We are very happy to learn that you were able to find time in your schedule to spend a few minutes learning about the modern music industry. This post is a little different than our typical content, but the change was needed in order to properly explain the need for and importance of the company at the center of the story being shared.

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We have written a lot about the community and widespread digital family one gains when they enter the music business, but we have admittedly done a poor job of highlighting the people who ensure that sense of universal acceptance is guaranteed to everyone who enters the world of entertainment. We all know there will likely always be people who do not agree with or condone the way other people try to live their lives, regardless of the fact the way that other person lives their life has no impact on the first person’s existence, but fortunately for all mankind more and more people are open to the idea of universal acceptance with each passing day. We wanted to make it a point to highlight the efforts of one person working hard to make sure people not only feel welcome in music, but that people who do judge others question the motivations behind their actions, and after a bit of research we knew Michael McCarron was the person we needed to meet.

You may know Michael McCarron from his various roles around the music business over the last few years, but in recent months its been his work with the organization Punk Out that has made the biggest impact on the industry as a whole.  Punk Out, as you will soon learn, is dedicated to connecting and supporting lesbian, gay, and transgender, as well as questioning (LGBTQ) musicians and fans through the alternative music scene. We asked Michael to talk about all of this, the reason such a group is needed in music today, and the story behind how he became involved in this project. It took a while, but he eventually came back to us with a brilliant editorial that is both moving and deeply inspiring. You can read his words below.

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I’m gay and before I came out swingin’ from a South Philly basement, I honed my homo sensibilities on the mean streets of suburban Philadelphia in the early 2000s. I flew my queer flag high, rocked the rainbow scarf even on hot summer days, and I threw some ‘bows in the pits of local Lansdale basement shows. The Scene was my home and it welcomed me and my queerness with open arms. 

Actually, that is an utter fabrication of my teenage years. In reality I was a deeply closeted kid who hid behind long hair. I was ridiculed by classmates for wearing a Hawthorne Heights shirt, presumably because their emotional music was equated with femininity, and gosh, that’s a horrific crime. And my trips to Lansdale basements involved heteronormative acts, such as engaging in your run-of-the-mill ridicule of “fan girls,” as well as a prayer that I would not be outed for what I was and am. The Scene that I used in order to scaffold my sanity from my insecurities, frustrations, and fears was simply not welcoming to kids like me. As I learned more about this de facto segregation, I dug deeper and deeper into the closeted abyss. I was forced to hide from the most central support system I relied on. The irony was all too apparent to my adolescent mind. It was devastating. 

Age has a way of distancing us from what seemed inevitable, and looking back I see that there were points of intervention that could have changed a lot of my typical adolescent story. Like many people, I used music to cope with my insecurities and looked to the alternative music scene for acceptance when it seemed like no person or institution would accept me. But the Scene screwed me over. It did not accept me. 

Looking back I can’t help but think what if? What if I knew Buddy Nielsen of Senses Fail was struggling with a lot of the same shit I was struggling with. Or that Laura Jane Grace was battling her own society-stamped identity? What if I knew my idols got it? How much more confident would I have been? Would I have told Steve from Biology class that I thought he was cute? Would I have reported my high school gym teacher for calling a classmate “gay” after he was unable to do a full pull-up? I can’t be certain without an ounce of doubt…but I might have. That is why this past March I started Punk Out.

Punk Out is an organization dedicated to connecting and supporting lesbian, gay, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) musicians and fans through the alternative music scene. We believe that musicians have a unique opportunity to do good and to influence youth culture because they have a stage and capture the attention of the youth unlike any other individuals present in a youth’s life. Kids often come to embody their favorite music and musicians. We believe that when musicians speak out, they make an impact no other individual can make. That is why we want musicians who identify as LGBTQ to be proud and visible. We encourage musicians who identify as LGBTQ to come out and be proud of who they are, for when musicians do this, their fans might find the courage, where practical, to do the same. Yet, what many forget is that these same musicians lack many of the supports necessary in order to come-out that their closeted fans lack. This is where Punk Out comes in. We hope to be that support network for both musicians and fans. We’re all in this together. 

Starting an LGBTQ organization that is intertwined with the alternative music industry and predicated on encouraging musicians to come-out of the closet poses three unique challenges. First and foremost is finding musicians who identify as queer and convincing those musicians to take a stance that may involve personal challenges or risks but will better the Scene overall. It is a difficult sell, especially when there are a limited number of role models for those musicians to emulate. It takes tremendous courage and strength to come out in whatever community you frequent, but in the alternative music scene, a scene that is all too commonly misogynistic and homophobic due to the a need to be seen as tough, the strength and courage needed is amplified. Second, I created Punk Out because there were no similar resources already in place. This brings the obvious challenges of not being able to imitate the achievements of like-minded organizations. Our workaround was, and is, to study the successes and struggles of other organizations, such as To Write Love On Her Arms, in order to find parallels between what they are doing and what Punk Out is aiming to do. The third challenge is one any founder and director of a volunteer organization can sympathize with: finding people with enough time to devote to your cause. Punk Out demands a lot of time, and when you are running an organization that is based on volunteerism, finding highly qualified and skilled individuals to volunteer their efforts on a consistent basis is difficult. Punk Out is a labor of love…with the emphasis on labor. 

Punk Out was born out of a need to aid a desperately underserved community within the alternative music scene. It was born to accomplish a personal vision and attain a universal goal. But there is so much more to do. We see a future where all people, regardless of gender and/or sexual identity, are welcome to mosh in the pits of every pop-punk, hardcore, and metalcore show. We see a future where there are hundreds of Laura Jane Grace’s, Buddy Nielsen’s, Tyler Carter’s, Drew Justice’s, Tegan Quin’s, Sara Quin’s, and Phoenix Arn-Horn’s. We see a future where kids who are queer flock to the alternative music scene because of its acceptance of LGBTQ people. We are Punk Out and together we sing.

Michael McCarron is the founder of Punk Out. For more information on his efforts, please visit the organization’s official website.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.