Michael McCarron (Punk Out)
We recently had the chance to chat wth Michael McCarron, founder of Punk Out – a non-profit organization dedicated to the cross section of the LGBT communitiy and the alternative music scene, providing resources and support for those going through the coming out process, and encouraging musicians who identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender to be more visible.
Why did you start Punk Out?
I’m a high school teacher by day and I’ve always been really passionate about teenagers, and also music, and the alternative music scene. I’ve written for several websites, I ran my own website, I was the Music Research Director for Property of Zack, so I’ve always been really active in the scene; and then on top of that, I’m gay myself. I always wanted to do something in the guise of what To Write Love On Her Arms does, I think they’re a fantastic organization. But I always wanted to focus this primarily on helping out teenagers and young adults who identify as LGBT, and I was given that opportunity when I moved in with my roommate (Jessica Weber, Punk Out Co-Director) who has a lot of experience in non-profits, and her response was, “Yeah, we should totally do this”. And it just sprouted out of that.
Was there something missing in either the LGBT or music communities that you were trying to fill?
Yeah, I think there was. There’s a lot of organizations that deal with the alternative music scene that focus on causes that kind of surround the LGBT community, but there’s not a specific organization that helps out punk rockers who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The other thing we’re trying to focus on is that a lot of organizations help fans first, and we were always musician-centric. We want to help out the musicians first, because I think oftentimes they get lost in the wayside. Through my work for the better part of the last 6 or 7 years I’ve met a lot of people in the music community that have come out to me and say, “You know, I don’t feel comfortable in this scene being who I am.” At Punk Out we’ve always held the mantra that if we can help the musician, the musician can do the hard work for us by helping the fans.
At Punk Out we’ve always held the mantra that if we can help the musician, the musician can do the hard work for us by helping the fans.
What was Jessica’s non-profit background before Punk Out?
When she was in college she started her own TWLOHA chapter, so she has great experience in not only working with non-profits and getting them off the ground – and we’re modeled after them, I think they have a model that really works in our music community. We do a lot of things that are mirrored off what they do, and Jess comes with that experience. They have to go through tons of training to start their own chapters, she had to fly down to Florida – there was a whole bunch of stuff that she had to do. And on top of that, she’s done a lot of grant work, and a lot of independent projects herself; she did a cross-country trip where she received grant money from the state of Pennsylvania. She has a lot of experience organizing and implementing projects and ideas. She was the perfect person to partner with, plus we live together and our office is our apartment, so it’s really convenient for us to go about that.
Did you have an idea of where you would get the funding for Punk Out?
We had the idea at first of starting with crowd-sourcing and seeing where that goes. A lot of the funding has come out of our own pockets so far. From there our next step is to focus on grants and seeing what we’re eligible for.
You mentioned working for Property of Zack, what other connections did you have within the music community?
I worked for Property of Zack for 4 years. I started off as a reviewer there, and then I became Music Research Director, and I was the primary liaison between the industry-side and the website-side. I built a lot of relationships doing that. And then I also wrote for Under The Gun Review, and those websites all work in the AbsoluteVoices conglomerate so we all had an opportunity to talk to each other build a lot of relationships that way. Also, working as a teacher, I meet a lot of gay students, and it’s a great opportunity for us to bridge those gaps.
Where did the idea for the “What Are You?” project come from?
That’s been so much fun. That comes from Jess. She did a photography project where she asked people if there was one thing they could tell the world, what would it be? She thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do a project called ‘What Are You’?” The idea being that oftentimes when you ask a member of the LGBT community, “what are you?”, the people asking that question are expecting them to say “Oh, I’m gay”, or “Oh, I’m bi”, something like that – but in reality what you find is a lot of people identify as something other than what their sexuality is. And that’s what we were trying to highlight, this idea that, yeah, I’m gay, but if you came up to me and asked me, “Mike, what are you?” I would tell you, “I’m an educator. I’m a non-profit organizer. I’m a music lover.” All of those things would come way before I even mention my sexuality. The idea is to shift the view of our community off of the sexuality, and more on what the individual is personally, how they identify themselves.
A selection from the What Are You? project.
Are there artists that you are looking to collaborate with?
My dream would be to work with Tegan and Sara. But that’s a pipe dream. I said that I would quit everything if that ever happened. We’ve worked with Drew Justice of On My Honor, just recently Jordan Black from Like Pacific. We’re really open to working with anybody. We’re not focused on whether or not someone is a member of the LGBT community, our allies are probably the most important part of this whole project because they represent the majority of people. So we’re looking to work with any artist, big or small, that wants to help get our message out.
Be Punk. Be Out. You can be both of those things.
In five years, what are the kinds of projects you are looking to do? What resources do you hope to provide?
We have a one-year plan and a five-year plan right now. Our ultimate goal is that we would love to get our name out there in any way, shape, or form. We want to be at festivals, we want to be at Warped Tour, we want to have bands wearing our t-shirts – getting our name out there to show that there’s a whole different sub section of our alternative music community that isn’t being heard. We want to build networks with other bands and artists, as well as labels and managers.
Our whole goal is to try to help artists who are in the closet come out and be more visible. By them being more visible, it makes fans more comfortable in who they are. I think back to when I was a teenager and I was in the closet, and music was so important to me – how my world would have changed if one of my favorite artists had come out as gay. It would have changed everything for me. And that’s the basis for this entire organization. There’s so many great things that came out of Drew Justice coming out publicly on Alternative Press, and the response from fans was incredible. People hold these musicians in such high regard. When gay teenagers see their favorite musicians be comfortable in who they are or support organizations that support people in the LGBT community, it really goes a long way for the folks in the closet.
Musicians have such a voice, they reach so many people – way more people than I could ever reach. The idea is to empower the musicians so they can do the heavy lifting. So they can get the message out to the fans that, “It’s ok to be who you are. It’s ok to love who you love.” And that’s the whole concept behind Punk Out. Be Punk. Be Out. You can be both of those things.
For more information, check out PunkOut.org.
(Words by Josh. Photos by Colleen Stepanian Photography. Interview date: 7/11/14)