It's been a little over a year since musician, actor, and activist Janelle Monae kicked down the closet door, and probably became the most well-known pansexual ever. Since then, she's leaned even more into authenticity, using her platform at every turn to discuss how the LGBTQ+ community is still fighting for equality.
On June 24, the Electric Lady launched a limited-edition bottle with Belvedere Vodka at The Shed in New York City. With this partnership, Monae is challenging everyone to imagine a "Beautiful Future" with the pillars of equality, diversity, and self-expression. The launch event drew notables like Angelica Ross, Christian Siriano, Nico Tortorella, and Dascha Polanco.
"What drew us to Janelle is that she's an iconoclast. She's herself and she's going to do it her way," Rodney Williams, president of Belvedere Vodka, told Out. "I think what endears us to her is her courage to not just encourage other people, but to share her own story and very personal journey about identity. It's moving, it's inspiring. Janelle champions voices that are not always heard and should be."
Just before the end of Pride Month, Out spoke with Monae on the importance of the Stonewall Riots, what chosen family means for her, and why this Belvedere partnership is unlike anything she's done before.
What does the importance of the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots mean to you and your work?
Well, I owe every woman, every human being, who fought for me to have the freedom that I have today. I owe them my life and my life's work. It came with a cost and a price and I hope that the art that I create and the conversations that I elevate have helped push our community forward. As I walk in my truth may more folks walk in their truth. And may I watch other people walk in their truth and inspire and encourage me to continue to walk in mine. I feel like our community is becoming stronger and stronger.
I attended my first pride in New Orleans. I had never gone to Pride and it was great to just be amongst so much love and self-acceptance. And it was a beautiful thing to see young Black girls with their moms there supporting them. I think about growing up in this Baptist environment, community, and home, and how at Church there were some folks in the congregation who would straight up say that being a queer woman and being in the LGBTQ+ community meant that you were going to hell.
I looked at my sexuality as something to be afraid of. The fact that I have come this far in my journey is a blessing. It can bring tears to my eyes just thinking about how far we [as a community] have come and how we still have a lot more work to do, more hearts to change, and more minds to change.
You've been such a testament to authenticity, even before you came out. Could you talk about the importance of your chosen family and the Wondaland family? How do they factor into your life?
Oh, they're everything. When I left Kansas City and I moved to Atlanta, I started to realize that the world didn't begin or end with my hometown. There's a whole world out there and so many people like myself who are searching and wanting to find out more about who they are. And I got to opportunity to really peel back my layers and just be. I didn't have to pretend to be anything other than where I was at that time. As I was creating music with my Wondaland family, I felt safe. I felt safe to talk about certain things. I felt safe to explore my sexuality. I felt safe to question religion. I felt very safe questioning everything I had been taught. Those are the people that I feel most comfortable with as I go through my journey. I've said this before, but sexuality is not a destination, it's a journey. And we're constantly on a journey. I'm thankful to have a chosen family for the times when I felt like my own church wouldn't accept me. Wondaland has been my sanctuary.
You've always been very selective and intentional about what you attach your name and your work to. So what made this Belvedere opportunity perfect for right here, right now in Pride Month?
When I heard about the theme, "A beautiful future," and they asked me what that meant to me, and they told me that I would have the opportunity to continue that conversation for other marginalized voices. It's not about speaking for marginalized folks, it's about sharing the mic, amplifying voices, and using my platform to do that. I felt like this was a great opportunity to encourage folks while they are having cocktails and drinking response.
Let's talk about the future. Let's talk about what it means to lean into your authenticity and not try to participate in a system that wasn't designed for you. How can we build our own and how can we show up for each other? A beautiful future looks like when those who are privileged can stand up for those who are less privileged. By just starting that conversation, we can make progress. Belvedere supports that and we've talked to so many trans women, trans men, nonbinary [folks], Black women, Black men, immigrants, and we've asked them this question. When they say what a beautiful future looks like to them, you're able to take that in and say, "How can I be a better ally? How can I help make that a reality for you?"