Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Justin Utley

Out country singer/songwriter Justin Utley occupies a spot more rarified than out professional athletes. Country music is about the last frontier waiting to be conquered by gay men. But wait! He’s also a Utah born-and-bred Mormon. Well, a former Mormon. He was able to escape the clutches of the church and take his act to New York.

That was quite a change for a kid who once was a best-selling Christian artist in Salt Lake City's Mormon community. Justin’s charismatic stage moves and commanding vocal presence have made an impact on the New York music scene. His debut album as a solo artist, "Runaway," blends singer/songwriter sensitivity with hard-rock attitude, all delivered with plenty of hungry big-city energy served up in a country/folk style.

"I was the prince of Mormon pop with a couple of Mormon albums that did pretty well when I was 15," Utley confesses with a laugh. "The Mormon Church also has its own movie industry, and I've written songs for some of those films. There's this strange alternate universe of Mormon film and music in Utah. You go to the multiplex and you have the major nationwide releases playing right next door to a missionary movie."

Utley grew up in a conservative house and was "forced into taking piano lessons" at a young age. He put music aside until high school, when he returned to the keyboard and started writing songs to release the emotions he couldn't get to any other way. He also found his way into musical theater.

"My mom got me into a play singing Disney songs, and that kinda spawned my career," he says. "As I got older, I was in everything from 'Bye Bye Birdie' to 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.' When I told her I was gay, she said, 'I thought you just had commitment issues, but I should have known. You spent too much time alone with those He-Man action figures.' "

After high school, Utley started Found, a mainstream rock project that won a Slammy (awarded by Salt Lake's indie newspaper The City Weekly) for best new band. He also won Best Singer and Songwriter and was a featured performer at the 2002 Winter Olympics, but Salt Lake City was getting too small to contain his musical ambitions. "After the Olympics, I realized I had to get out of town to make the next step. There's a punk rock scene, but it's very localized. You rarely get noticed from outside. The gay scene is very underground in its own little sphere. Gay Pride draws about 30,000 people, but there's only one gay club in the entire city."

Before he left, Utley decided to come out, which was a generally positive experience. He also left the Mormon Church. "Brent, my first boyfriend, passed away suddenly during the process of coming out, and that was difficult. When I told my mom, she said she was sorry she didn't get to meet him, that he never came over for dinner. Everyone I told remained a part of my life and was supportive – except my Mormon bishop, who told me that Brent died because God did not approve of that kind of relationship.”

After coming out, Justin became a noted activist and advocate for civil rights and LGBT equality in the United States, and an outspoken personality against the Mormon church's use of conversion therapy, a method Utley endured for two years at Evergreen, after serving a two-year full-time mission for the church.

"I wrote a letter to the church excommunicating myself. They say they allow everyone to worship as they please; yet they create an environment that's closed and make plenty of pro-family anti-gay contributions. They don't really live by the live-and-let-live rule they profess to follow."

Utley worked on "Runaway" while he was in the process of moving to New York, bouncing between sessions in Salt Lake and the Big Apple. He played most of the instruments himself, but invited Lance Yergensen, his band-mate from Found, to lay down some shredding electric guitar parts. The music has a bright live feel, bursting with energy and confidence. "Goodbye, Goodbye" is a rocking kiss-off to a faithless lover with a big anthem-like chorus; "Little White Lies," based on Utley's disillusionment with the Mormon Church, has a '50s R&B feel and searing guitar work from Yergensen, while "Crash & Burn," one of Utley's most requested songs in his live set, is a bittersweet tune about overcoming life's difficulties, marked by Utley's pleading, emotional vocal.

Utley wrote and produced "Runaway" by himself. "My studio has digital and analog equipment because analog captures something digital can't. It opens up the soul of the music a bit more. "Runaway" has an introspective feel, with lyrics that I wrote before and after coming out, so the images are open enough that everyone can relate to them.

In June 2010, Utley released "Stand for Something." a single written to inspire and motivate to take action towards securing LGBT equality in America, ending youth homelessness, and increasing community awareness. The single was nominated by the LGBT Academy of Recording Arts for 4 OutMusic Awards, including Best Songwriter and Artist of the Year, winning Best Country/Folk Song of the Year.

1 comment:

  1. Justin's new album, Nothing This Real, was released on 11.11.11 with a packed media-showcase in New York City. The album features 9 new songs plus a live version of "Stand For Something", appropriately recorded at the Utah Pride Festival where Justin kicked off his 5 month international Pride tour.

    There is not one weak song on this album. His story and his emotion are weaved throughout each track. I am in love with this CD.

    Check him out at and