Trans Visibility in Music: How GLAAD Award Nominees Kim Petras, Shea Diamond & SOPHIE are Changing the Industry

This year’s GLAAD Media Awards category for Outstanding Music Artist recognizes some of the most incredible talent in music today, including three transgender artists who are bringing trans visibility and artistry to the forefront of the industry.

Soul singer Shea Diamond has found a different road to success. Starting at the age of 20, Diamond spent 10 years in a men’s prison for robbing a store at gunpoint in order to pay for gender confirmation surgery. During her time in prison, Diamond channeled her lifelong passion for music to find her voice as a songwriter. Following her release in 2009, she moved to New York City to pursue her passion for music and trans activism. It was a video of Diamond singing her powerful anthem “I Am Her” at a Trans Lives Matter event that spearheaded her career in music, catching the attention of pop producer and hitmaker Justin Tranter. Soon after, Diamond signed onto Asylum Records and in June 2018, she released her debut EP, Seen It All, which was executively produced by Tranter. In October 2018, Diamond performed at the GLAAD/Justin Tranter Spirit Day concert. In an interview with Variety, Tranter praised Diamond for creating “soul music with the most honest, progressive, underdog perspective that one can imagine. Her voice is sent down from heaven to help her tell the raw poetic truth about the hell she has overcome.”

As she continues to emerge into the spotlight, Diamond seeks to challenge the status quo and acts as a powerful representation of maintaining authenticity and perseverance in the face of adversity. “To be a 40-year old woman, a trans woman, to make it to that age it’s not really heard of,” Diamond told Variety in 2018. “People don’t want to see the struggle of what it takes for a trans woman to survive...The trans experience is a person who isn’t doing it for entertainment purposes. Everything this person does is for survival. What does survival look like? It looks like [me].” Like Petras, Diamond hopes that that she can “blur the lines of what gender is and sexuality is” with her music. Diamond told Variety that she doesn’t want to be looked at as, “’Oh, that’s a trans woman’ or ‘that’s a woman of color’” but rather as “somebody who is making some dope music, some music that has to be made.” She continued by saying, “I want to exact change – I believe we can do [that] through our music but we have to come together and stop demonizing each other. This isn’t a competition.”

25-year old German singer-songwriter Kim Petras has become one of the most exciting names in pop music since the release of her debut single, “I Don’t Want It at All”, in August 2017. A few months later, Spotify included Petras in the launch of their program RISE, which is “designed to identify and break the new wave of music superstars.” Later that year, Petras was named by PAPER Magazine as one of the artists “most likely to dominate the pop charts” in 2018. Her emergence in pop music has caught the eye of many established names, leading to recent collaborations with Charli XCX (“Unlock It”) and Cheat Codes (“Feeling of Falling”). Her most recent EP, titled Turn Off the Light, Vol 1, was ranked as one of the 20 best EPs, Mixtapes & Playlists of 2018 by Idolator. To date, Petras’ music has been streamed more than 65 million times.

Although Petras was one of the youngest people to undergo gender confirmation surgery at the age of 16, she has still found that people doubt her ability as an artist based on the fact that she is transgender. In an interview with PAPER Magazine in December 2017, Petras mentioned, “A lot of people didn’t believe that I could be a great songwriter, or be super talented, and be transgender. I feel like a lot of people felt like ‘transgender’ would set you up to not be able to do that. I just want to prove people wrong. I want to get a Number 1 on the [Billboard] Hot 100.” However, Petras is also set on making a career for herself that is not defined by her transgender identity. In a May 2018 interview with HuffPost, Petras stated, “I just hate the idea of using my identity as a tool. I’ve never written a song specifically about being transgender. It made me the person I am and that’s a big part of me, but I think music…goes deeper than your gender or your sexuality. I really fell in love with music and I hope that people can see me for my music and all the things that I am.”

After beginning her music career in a band called Motherland, Scottish singer-songwriter-producer SOPHIE started her solo career in 2013 with the release of her debut single, “Nothing More to Say”. However, it was the 2014 release of breakout tracks “Lemonade/Hard” that caught music critics’ attention, making the top ten of year-end lists published by Complex, The Washington Post and Pitchfork. By 2015, SOPHIE had begun writing and producing music for major artists, including Madonna (“Bitch I’m Madonna”) and Charli XCX (“Vroom Vroom EP”). After achieving additional production and writing credits with artists such as Cashmere Cat and MØ over the next two years, SOPHIE began to release solo music again in 2017, while also publicly announcing her identity as a transgender woman. The release of her 2018 album OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES has continued to highlight that SOPHIE is a forced to be reckoned with, as it earned the electronic producer a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album. With this nomination, SOPHIE has become the first openly trans artist to ever be nominated in this category.

Despite being accused of gender appropriation before announcing that she identified as a transgender woman, SOPHIE has decided to take the high road by expressing herself through her music. “It’s not my vibe to call people out, because I speak through my music and that’s all I need,” SOPHIE told Teen Vogue in 2017. She continued by saying, “Let people be who they want to be – viewed as artists, not under any other category.” Similar to Petras and Diamond, SOPHIE’s artistry seeks to blur the lines of gender and sexuality. In her interview with Teen Vogue, SOPHIE stated that “People do think in binaries, and when you confuse what those are, they’re like, this is wrong. But this is what I’m here to do.”

For a full list of the nominees for the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, including Kim Petras, Shea Diamond and SOPHIE, please visit