The 20 Queer Qs series seeks to capture LGBTQ individuals (and allies) in a moment of authenticity as we get to know the subjects, what makes them who they are, and what they value.
These intimate conversations aim to leave you, the reader, feeling like you just gained a new friend or a new perspective.
On this 20 Queer Q’s, get to know singer & songwriter Leland. He’s written for a slew of artists like Selena Gomez, Rachel Platten, Daya, Betty Who, and others! Leland frequently works with Troye Sivan and collaborated on his new album Bloom. Learn about how he feels holding another guy’s hand in public, his advice for LGBTQ+ youth, what he believes allyship to be, and more.
Name: Brett Leland McLaughlin
Preferred Pronouns: He/Him/His
Sexually Identifies As: Gay
What do you love about the LGBTQ+ community? I think the LGBTQ+Q community has some of the funniest people, the wittiest people, and the most talented people that I’ve ever encountered.
What are your thoughts on dating in the LGBTQ+ community? I can only speak to my experience. I have dated some wonderful people and I’m dating someone amazing right now and just like the straight community, whether or not it’s harder or easier to date depends on what’s going on in your life. It’s harder to date if you’re financially struggling, it’s harder if you’re driven and focused on your career, so I think it depends on your situation. I’m not a trans woman of color so I can’t speak from that perspective, but as a gay man, I can say that I’ve dated some wonderful people and it has been harder. I wasn’t trying to date someone in Mississippi so that might be harder.
What does pride mean to you? Not just accepting your sexuality, but being confident and open about and acknowledging that being queer isn’t easy for everyone depending on where you live. So it’s being grateful for the situation that I can be a queer man while acknowledging that there’s a lot of work to be done.
Who is someone you consider to be an LGBTQ+ icon? Just because I’m so close to this person and the ins and outs and the things that he does that he doesn’t speak about to help the LGBTQ+ community, I would say in my opinion, Tyler Oakley is an LGBTQ+ icon just because I’ve seen where his content has shifted over the years. It’s always been amazing, but it’s turned into something so important and educational to where new queer kids who are coming up may not know to appreciate their elders and what their elders have done for them so they can have this confidence of being who they are while being queer and open. So someone like Tyler who is bringing awareness and importance to different queer experiences, someone like that to me, makes an LGBTQ+ icon.
What’s a song you consider to be an LGBTQ+ anthem? “Born This Way” is unapologetically queer, it still makes me feel the same every time i hear it.
What’s advice you have for LGBTQ+ youth? Find a mentor. I have an unspoken queer mentor when I was growing up in college. I would take these songwriting workshops in Nashville and I wasn’t really out, didn’t have an out group of friends at the time, and I wasn’t out to my family. But the instructor of one class was Darrell Brown who has written some iconic country and pop songs, he was openly gay and married to his husband at the time so to have someone like that to look up to, to have a mentor, though we didn’t talk about it, once I was out, then for he and I to talk about it, hear his experience, and get his advice for career and personal stuff. So the best advice is to find a mentor whether through email or in person.
Who is the most important ally in your life? I would say my best friend who is straight and my next door neighbor. It’s been an interesting journey as a friend with to watch him evolve into that. To educate himself as I became more open about my queerness and understanding what my queerness meant. He also sought to understand what being an ally meant. Being an ally is more than just going to pride with your LGBTQ+ friend. It’s being beside them in a protest and understanding what they’re going through and doing what you can to help.
Do you believe in love? Yes.
What values would you like in an ideal partner? Loyalty, Drive, Wit.
Use 3-5 words to describe your coming out experience? Christmas, Emotional, Funny
Fill in the Blank: Love is _______. Hard
What hopes do you have for the LGBTQ+ community in the future? To come closer together and tackle issues that might not even be facing you and your queer experience, but to come together as a queer community and attack issues that everyone is up against or different sections of the community is up against. You have to fight for your whole LGBTQ+ family. I’d love to see more collective passion for more activism.
What is something you want to change about yourself in the next 6 months? I want to balance my life more from focusing just on myself to focusing on myself and how I can help others. Maybe helping new queer writers who don’t know how to get a foot in the door or queer kids who are going through what I went through growing up in Mississippi who don’t have an outlet or someone to talk to, just focusing on things beyond myself.
I was talking to someone about this the other day and he said when you move to LA or New York, any place where it’s going to be hard where you have to buckle down and work, it’s very easy, because you’re only focused on surviving. It’s very hard to come out of that mode because for so many years, you’re programmed to think, “I need to pay rent, I gotta survive.” So then you reach a point where you’re financially stable and can take some time to shift some energy somewhere besides myself, which is scary because you wonder how it all worked out and now how do I make the most of my time to help others?
What’s your earliest memory that you felt you were different? I remember in middle school, walking up to a circle where guys were talking about things they’d done with girls and I just remember not being interested in the conversation whatsoever. I also remember when they talked about kissing girls, I remember thinking I want to kiss a boy. I didn’t even contemplate that sticking out as a weird thought, it was just natural for me.
What do you feel most insecure about? My body.
Have you found your chosen family? Yes. They make me feel supported, funny, they make me feel like whether I’m killing it as a writer or will not have songs come out for the next 10-15 years, I still feel like I have a support system and they make me feel confident and make me feel attractive whether I gain or lose 30 pounds.
What is the title of the current chapter of your life? Planting Roots
Did you ever / still feel uncomfortable holding another guys hand? It depends where I am. In LA, New York, London, or Berlin, yes I feel comfortable. In Mississippi, no. There’s some insecurities and fears that are so deeply embedded in you that it’s gonna take your entire life to get rid of those and one of those is holding my boyfriend’s hand in public in a place where I know we might get weird looks.
It’s also fear based, do I want to hold my boyfriend’s hand and potentially get in a fight with someone? Or is that a real fear? You still hear things all the time, even at Prides people get attacked. I grew up in a different place than my boyfriend so we have different fears but it depends where it is, but it is a thought that enters my head.
Fill in the Blank: In 5 years I want to _________ . Keep making music and keep having great friends.
What value or quality has being a gay man given you? It’s given me a determination and a motivation to work harder than anyone else knowing that I can potentially not be given opportunities because I am queer or be looked over for opportunities or be taken less serious. Once I fully accepted who I was with my sexuality and felt liberated by it, it gave me this freedom to express myself when it comes to the music I want to make, how I move my body, my fashion. It gave me this sense of freedom that I don’t think I could’ve had otherwise.