It happened so quickly. That’s how Kristen Ellis-Henderson describes what it was like being asked to pose for the now historic marriage equality kiss on the cover of Time magazine. The bassist for the all-female country-rock band Antigone Rising and her spouse Sarah Kate Ellis-Henderson both made headlines when they announced they were married, pregnant and giving birth three weeks apart. Their modern family became the inspiration for the cover story, which focuses on the ins and outs of same-sex love and parenting in America.
Of course, being the poster child for a cause so close to the LGBT community’s heart comes with its share of responsibility for the out rocker, like deciding if she should wear her Pat Benatar concert tee for the photo shoot. She fesses up, and talks about what it’s really like being in the equality spotlight and how marriage and family have influenced her music.
AfterEllen.com: What’s it like being a Time magazine cover girl?
Kristen Ellis-Henderson: It was powerful and insane. We got this phone call back in 2009 when marriage equality didn’t pass [in New York State] and we were seriously contemplating leaving New York and moving somewhere it was legal. We became a go-to couple. The Huffington Post did a video series of our wedding. And Time magazine called us and asked if we were interested in talking about equality and shooting a few photos — eventually they asked if we were open to kissing on the cover. At first we were just standing there holding hands — but we ended up kissing for 40 minutes.
AE: Were you prepared to go so public on such a national scale?
KEH: When I spoke to the writer, she’s like, “I know you’re out, but this is coming out on a much grander scale.” You’re on the cover of Time kissing our wife – it is big. But we come out every day. I feel like I’m always coming out and it’s changed our lives in a big way. Sarah and I are part of great movement – and I’m so proud of it. I feel really lucky.
AE: Did you ever expect you would be talking about these issues as a rock star?
KEH: No. But you know what? It’s kind of like what you fear the most. Fifteen years ago when the band was just coming up, our collective fear was that our homosexuality, our gayness, would hamper our success. We were worried it would hold us back. We wanted to be signed to a major label and have that opportunity, but there was definitely an understanding in our band to keep a lid on it. I was always known as the gayest. “Kristen will be the gay one.” But we were all gay and we were worried our record label would not want us or sign us. We didn’t even tell our manager. We didn’t want them to feel like they had to lie.
AE: What time period was that?
AE: How have things changed?
KEH: It’s so different in 10 years time, even the need for a major label has changed. In a sense, I kind of think that you would hope that a major label would have gotten wise. [Coming out and being out] is a marketing tool, a built-in audience who will be loyal. They obviously wanted us to be more mainstream and to make sure we were marketable to a wider audience. But since we’re out and more vocal about it, our crowd is more diverse. I look around and wonder, “Oh my God, how do you even know about us?”
AE: Why is marriage equality such an important issue for you?
KEH: Before we were married, we were living like we were married, but it’s so different now that we are married. We got married in a church, which is a whole different level of commitment. We have two children. We own a house together. Our lives are intertwined. The actual officially getting married in front of your friends and family also makes me feel so much more settled. It’s hard to believe that it’s not legal across the country. But I remember when I was in my 20s and living in the West Village, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind that gay people would have gotten married.