Rob Halford looks back on being a closeted gay man during the 1980s glam metal era

Rob Halford Judas Priest
(Image credit: Jeff Hahne/Getty Images)

Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford has opened up about how it felt as a closeted gay man to watch the androgynous glam metal scene of the 1980s take over.

In a new interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, Halford remembers his surprise at the success of glam metal, given the homophobia of the 1980s. 

“When you think about the glam rock movement, what it was, specifically, two bands that really pushed that for me were Mötley Crüe and Poison — and, to some effect, Cinderella maybe some Winger, L.A. Guns,” Halford says. “There was a lot of stuff coming through at that moment in the glam rock era. And definitely Sebastian [Bach, then-Skid Row singer], you know, when guys looked like girls. And that worked. 

“I could never quite figure that out, because of the homophobic stuff that was going on in the 80s. And there’s all these guys with makeup on, looking … I have to watch my words here, but you know what I’m saying? Looking in a specific way, that everybody else is like, ‘Yeah, man, they’re really hardcore,’ and all that kind of stuff. And then me as a closeted gay man, it’s like, ‘Am I missing something here? How am I not able to come out for fear of losing my career and my band, but these guys are going out there looking like they do, and everybody’s falling over them?’ Not everybody, but, you know, just the general perception of the imagery was just, everybody has to look that way. Everybody has to dress that way. It [was] a remarkable time in heavy metal and rock to think about in a broader sense.

“And I love those guys,” he continued. “While we’re talking, I must get the message across that I love those guys. I love their music, I love what they achieved and everything. They’re very, very important. And maybe there was a sense of opportunity within the LGBTQ community because these guys were there then, doing what they did. Maybe they opened a little tiny chink in the door for acceptance. Because a lot of guys used to go to the shows looking like that. One of my friends here in Phoenix in the 80s used to put the makeup on and the hair and everything. They would look like that, and then they’d go out to see those bands. 

“So in terms of the anthropological aspect, the social connection between looking like that and it being cool and accepted without any pushback was quite remarkable. It’s a really interesting part of that time in heavy metal. And I include myself — not entirely, in that respect, but if you look at [Priest’s] Turbo [album], you look at the way that we’re looking, look at the way Glenn’s [Tipton, Priest guitarist] got his hair and Ken’s [K.K. Downing, then-Priest guitarist] got his hair, we were all in that same melting pot, really. The 80s was a remarkable time for metal, glam rock, rock, whatever you want to call it. The visual presentation was extraordinary.”

Halford came out publicly on MTV in 1998, during a period when he had left the band. In a 2010 interview with the Guardian, Halford said: 

"I understood that it could have been destructive. People were fascinated, but what would the knock-on effect have been? As it turned out, when I came out of the closet I was away from Priest. Back in the 1980s, though, I think there could totally have been a backlash. You protect your interests, don't you? I was also thinking about the rest of the band." 

Halford further discusses his experiences in his memoir Confess, which was published in 2020.  Judas Priest are currently working on a new album, and later this month will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

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