Katy Perry has opened up about her Christian upbringing and being taught to “pray the gay away at Jesus camps” while accepting an award for LGBT rights advocacy.
The 32-year-old pop star made an emotional speech while accepting the National Equality Award at the 2017 Human Rights Campaign Gala in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Perry referred to her breakout hit single, I Kissed a Girl, in describing herself as “just a singer-songwriter”.
“I speak my truths and I paint my fantasies into these little bite-sized pop songs, for instance: I kissed a girl and I liked it.”
The song was controversial upon its release in 2008, criticised as being demeaning to gay people – particularly when considered in the light cast by her first single, UR So Gay (“and you don’t even like boys”).
But Perry implied on Saturday night that it was based on lived experience.
“Truth be told, I did more than that. But how was I going to reconcile that with the gospel-singing girl raised in youth groups that were pro-conversion camps?
“What I did know was that I was curious and even then I knew sexuality wasn’t as black and white as this dress.
“Honestly, I haven’t always gotten it right, but in 2008 when that song came out, I knew that I started a conversation that a lot of the world seemed curious enough to sing along to.”
Her more recent advocacy for LGBTQ rights, including her campaigning for Hillary Clinton before the US election last year, led to her being honoured with the HRC’s National Equality Award on 18 March.
Chad Griffin, the HRC president, said in a statement that Perry had used her “powerful voice and international platform to speak out for LGBTQ equality”.
“Her compelling advocacy, from the stage to the campaign trail, has had a profound effect on the lives of LGBTQ people -- and, in particular, young people. Katy’s message of inclusion and equality continues to inspire us and the world.”
Perry’s religious upbringing is widely known, with her parents both Protestant pastors. In 2001, before her breakout pop success, she released a collection of Christian gospel songs as Katy Hudson.
“My first words were ‘mama’ and ‘dada’, ‘God’ and ‘Satan’,” said Perry on Saturday night. “... When I was growing up homosexuality was synonymous with the word ‘abomination’ and ‘Hell’, a place of gnashing of teeth, continuous burning of skin and probably Mike Pence’s ultimate guest list for a BBQ. ... So most of my unconscious adolescence, I prayed the gay away at my Jesus camps.
“But then in the middle of it all, in a twist of events, I found my gift. And my gift introduced me to people outside my bubble, and my bubble started to burst.
“These people were nothing like I’d been taught to fear. They were the most free, strong, kind and inclusive people I had ever met. ... Oh my goddess, what a revelation – and not the last chapter of the Bible.
“Suffice to say, it’s been a long road for me and I’m sure a long road for many of you out there. I know it doesn’t always feel safe to live out who you are, but here’s the thing, though: I would not have chosen a different road. ...
“You don’t get to choose your family, but you can choose your tribe.”
I will never cease to be a champion, an ally, a spotlight and a loving voice for all LGBTQ-identifying people. ❤🌈💪🏻(part 1) https://t.co/Swaz38wUwr— KATY PERRY (@katyperry) March 19, 2017
I feel sparkly as fuck! Truth be told, I think a lot of that has to do with the magic that has rubbed off on me, from all of you.✨🌈❤(part 2) https://t.co/IZrjbVGdXP— KATY PERRY (@katyperry) March 19, 2017
Perry also spoke about embracing the identity of feminist.
“One time I said I’m not a feminist because I don’t grow hair underneath my arms and stuff like that, because I really didn’t understand what that meant.
“This whole time ... I’m a feminist.”
She concluded her speech with a plea to continue the fight for equality, pointing to her own experience of breaking out of her “suppressive shell ... retiring [her] past frame of mind”.
“We all know everything good takes work, but we can’t let our past get in the way of our brilliant future.
Actor America Ferrera was awarded the Ally for Equality award, presented to her by Girls creator Lena Dunham. Australian singer-songwriter Troye Sivan performed.
Founded in 1980, the Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organisation in the US.