Patrick Haggerty, who led the proudly queer Lavender Country, has died. According to a statement posted to the band’s official social media pages, the 78-year-old activist and musician died on Monday (October 31) after suffering a stroke a few weeks ago. “He was able to spend his final days at home surrounded by his kids and lifelong husband, JB,” the statement reads.
At the front of Lavender Country, Haggerty led what is believed to be the first openly gay country country band, recruiting friends around Seattle, Washington to record 1973’s Lavender Country. With tracks like “Come Out Singing” and “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears,” the group defied the stiff conservatism that still restricts country music nearly 50 years later. The album faded into obscurity until a 2014 reissue from the label Paradise of Bachelors, which brought new attention to Haggerty’s groundbreaking work. Haggerty self-released a second Lavender Country album, Blackberry Rose, in 2019, which Don Giovanni Records reissued widely earlier this year.
“Patrick Haggerty was one of the funniest, kindest, bravest, and smartest people I ever met,” Don Giovanni Records wrote in a statement. “He never gave up fighting for what he believed in, and those around him who he loved and took care of will continue that fight.”
Paradise of Bachelors co-founder Brendan Greaves wrote in a tribute, “He was more than a hero; he was also a friend, mentor, comrade, and fatherly figure for us and our families. He was hilarious too; it was always an adventure spending time with him.”
Born on September 27, 1944, Patrick Haggerty grew up on a dairy farm near Port Angeles, Washington with nine siblings. Haggerty knew he was gay from a young age and credited his father with being open-minded and supportive, even in rural America in the early 1950s. In a 2015 recording for StoryCorps, Haggerty recounted a formative school encounter where his father advised him not to hide who he is.
Haggerty enlisted in the Peace Corps after graduating high school, but was kicked out for being gay. Seeing the passion and efficacy of the Stonewall riots in the summer of 1969, Haggerty dedicated his life to social justice activism, becoming a passionate advocate for gay rights, anti-racist justice, tenants’ rights, and more. He was an active member in the AIDS justice organization ACT UP with his husband of more than 30 years and ran for a city council position twice.
After retiring from professional work, Haggerty continued to volunteer at elder care facilities, singing old country songs and other favorites at patients’ request. He said the regular performances kept him in shape to tour in support of Lavender Country after its 2014 reissue, and Haggerty recruited local bands to play with as he toured the United States with his songs. In 2016, Lavender Country was the first band announced to play at a North Carolina music festival after the state had passed HB-2, its anti-trans “bathroom bill.”