The 2017 VMAs are making queer history

the voice and vision of a new generation
Graphic credit: Aria Goodman

The 2017 VMAs are making queer history

August 27, 2017

Tonight, MTV will host one of the most queer-inclusive Video Music Awards (VMAs) in the show's thirty-four-year history.

The annual awards show, taking place at The Forum in Inglewood, California, will feature the music and music video collaborations of a number of notable LGBTQ-identified nominees. MTV named six out LGBTQ nominees for the 2017 categories, which looks to be the highest number of out queer artists ever nominated in one VMA show. Beyond the quantity of nominees, this year’s VMAs are focusing on quality of inclusive representation of the award show itself.

On Saturday, GLAAD announced that six transgender service members will walk the VMA red carpet. GLAAD and SPARTA, an LGBTQ service members and veterans group, will be joining transgender service members Sterling James Crutcher, Logan Ireland, Jennifer Peace, and Akira Wyatt, and trans veterans Laila Ireland and Brynn Tannehill on the red carpet. GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis walked with the service members as well as August Getty, an LGBTQ philanthropist and fashion designer.

This news follows the June 2017 annoucnement that the VMAs would eliminate gender-specific categories and rename the iconic astronaut trophy the “Moonperson.” The VMAs' strides for expanding representation demonstrates a greater movement at MTV for intentional inclusion of non-binary, transgender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and gender fluid artists and fans.

As for the artists, this year’s out LGBTQ nominees include Young M.A., Halsey, Miley Cyrus, Sia, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, and Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony. The experiences, genres, and styles of these six artists vary immensely but it is their willingness to openly express their authentic selves that links these nominees together in 2017.

2017 VMAs LGBTQ nominees:

Young M.A.

Nominated for Best New Artist

As noted by her nominated category, Young M.A. is a VMAs rookie, who’s hit single “Ooouuu” placed number 11 on the Rolling Stone “50 Best Songs of 2016.” Young M.A., who identifies as a lesbian, does not shy away from personal details in both her interviews or in her music.


Nominated for Best Collaboration (“Closer” by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey); Best Cinematography (“Now or Never” by Halsey – Cinematography by Kristof Brandl); Best Editing (“ Closer” by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – Editing by Jennifer Kennedy)

While this is Halsey’s first year as a nominee, the pop phenom is no stranger to VMAs fame. In 2016, Halsey performed “Closer,” with The Chainsmokers in what would be the beginning of a 52-week streak for the song as a Top 40 hit. Arguably this year’s most celebrated LGBTQ artist, Halsey is also being recognized for “Now or Never,” a single off her sophomore album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. Perhaps Halsey’s greatest gift thus far to her LGBTQ fans was her collaboration with Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui on “Strangers,” another single from Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. Both singers are out bisexual women of color and used the promotion of the song to discuss the importance of representation in music for LGBTQ people. 

Miley Cyrus

Nominated for Best Pop Video (“Malibu” by Miley Cyrus)

Only 24 years old, Miley Cyrus has spent nearly a decade as a VMAs nominee and performer. Her 2017 bid is for the video accompanying the single, “Malibu,” from her upcoming album Younger Now, slated for release in September. Miley, who identifies as pansexual, continues to run the Happy Hippie Foundation, the organization she founded in 2015 to support LGBTQ youth and “fight injustice facing homeless youth.

Lauren Jauregui

Nominated for Best Pop Video (“Down” by Fifth Harmony); Best Choreography (“Down” by Fifth Harmony ft. Gucci Mane – Choreography by Sean Bankhead)

The youngest LGBTQ nominee, Lauren Jauregui, has already become a VMAs staple with her group, Fifth Harmony. Nominated for the group's song “Down” featuring Gucci Mane, Jauregui and Fifth Harmony will perform for the first time at this year’s VMAs. In addition to her stellar performance and celebration of her identity in Halsey’s “Strangers,” Jauregui contributed a powerful open letter denouncing President Donald Trump and the executive order that banned Syrian refugees from entering the United States. It is no coincidence that Jauregui took this open letter as a moment to discuss her identities as Cuban-American and bisexual, as the ban impacted LGBTQ refugees fleeing their nation in fear of discrimination.

Billie Joe Armstrong

Nominated for Best Rock Video (“Bang Bang” by Green Day)

This year’s most experienced group with an LGBTQ artist, Green Day returns to the VMAs as a nominee for their “Bang Bang” video. Billie Joe, who is bisexual, will celebrate the band’s incredible thirtieth VMA nomination in his two-decade tenure as front man.


Nominated for Best Choreography (“The Greatest” by Sia – Choreography by Ryan Heffington)

Sia is celebrating her fourth straight year as a VMAs nominee. This year, her hit song and video “The Greatest,” featured stunning imagery of what many critics and fans saw as tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, which occurred just over two months prior to the video release. Sia, who is bisexual, has continued to advocate for LGBTQ people in 2017. Sia recently appeared in a video, produced by Billboard and GLAAD, vocalizing her support for transgender people and service members in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement to ban transgender people from joining the military service.

Future of representation:

MTV is making strides for increasing representation beyond the artists. MTV announced the elimination of gender categories for all future VMAs, and renamed their iconic astronaut trophy, the “Moonperson,” to be gender inclusive.

In doing so, the VMAs followed in the historic footsteps of the MTV TV & Movie Awards, which eliminated gender categories for the annual awards show in April 2017. The decision to expand the categories to be gender-inclusive did not come without pushback, misinterpretations, and haters. Yet, the overwhelming positive response to breaking down the award show’s binary gender categories peaked in a pivotal onstage moment shared between Emma Watson and Asia Kate Dillon. The moment occurred when Dillon, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated non-binary identified entertainers, took the stage to announce the nominees and winner of the first ever category of Best Actor in a Movie.

On stage, Dillon poignantly remarked, “the only distinction we should be making when it comes to awards is between each outstanding performance.”

Additionally, the elimination of binary gender categories within the show puts a much-needed pressure on the music industry to find equitable ways of supporting and honoring female, transgender, non-binary, and queer femme artists as much as the industry has uplifted and celebrated cisgender male artists.  

Let us choose to hold industry leaders accountable for equitable representation – not to exclude and divide artists because we are afraid they won’t. Change will not come easily but it will not come at all without our voices and our actions demanding equity, justice, and representation for all artists.

the voice and vision of a new generation