It took Shea Diamond over 30 years to reach the pop mainstream. The trans-identifying artist, who identifies as a female and prefers she/her pronouns, was incarcerated at various men’s correctional facilities in Michigan between 1999-2009. Throughout the grueling experience, Diamond honed her songwriting craft, and after her release, she moved to New York and focused her energy on trans activism. There, she earned a high-profile co-sign from non-binary songwriter to the stars Justin Tranter (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, DNCE), who spotted Diamond singing acappella at a Trans Lives Matter event.
Now a major advocate for the singer, Tranter executive produced her debut EP Seen It All, and helped ink her a record deal with Asylum Records, distributed by Warner Music Group’s Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA). “Shea transcends labels and limitations, even genre,” Asylum president Kenny Weagly told Billboard last year. “She isn't just an amazing trans or LGBTQ artist, but an amazing artist overall.”
The newcomer's most recent single -- “Don’t Shoot” -- dropped in June and was co-helmed alongside Tranter. The defiant protest anthem addresses the rampant gun violence that has plagued the U.S. for decades and was pegged to the fifth annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day. With two separate mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend, the song's plea -- to end the violence leveled against black, queer, and trans communities around the world -- has never been more vital.
“‘Don’t Shoot’ was one of the most difficult songs I’ve ever written, but also one of the most truthful songs to date,” Diamond tells Billboard. “It put my pain and disappointments into words, my hopes for a better world, a safer world for people who look like me and experience the darker sides of life." The song also muses on the toxicity of hate that has infiltrated mainstream politics in the U.S. "The song takes a deeper look into my existence and the role I play in a world that claims they don’t see color but allows it to consume them and gives power to the hate that is produced out of fear. Not a song to make millions but a song to change the current condition. The music we listen to nowadays fuels the fire of violence and division but rarely gives hope and inspires.”
As part of Billboard's inaugural Pride Summit tomorrow (Aug. 8) at Los Angeles’ 1 Hotel, Diamond will appear on the "Emerging Artists: We See You" panel alongside Bayli, Daya and K Flay. To fete the occasion, the soul-pop singer curated an exclusive Pride playlist including a mix of choice LGBTQ+ icons — Todrick Hall, Rupaul, Kim Petras, and more — as well as a handful of pop's chief allies — from Lizzo and Katy Perry to Julia Michaels and Imagine Dragons.
“This list is a collection of movers and shakers in the music industry," says Diamond. "They're either apart of the LGBTQ+ community and/or dope allies leading the way to acceptance and equality."
Below, Diamond opens up about five of the set’s standout cuts.
"I discovered Lizzo last year, but this year I got to see her perform in person. Beyond her amazing performances is the confident woman that just gets it. A prominent advocate for the LGBTQ, she has inspired me to think outside of the box in my artistry. 'Juice' is literally a testament to being highly motivated and unapologetic about it! A role model for the ages."
Rupaul, “Peanut Butter” featuring Big Freedia
“Rupaul is the queen of everything. It's absolutely unbelievable the door that have been open by this queen. I remember being in school and listening to my classmates and their disbelief that he was in fact a female impersonator. From that moment in queer history I understood, there were no limitations that I couldn’t surpass with hard work and the confidence I saw in RuPaul as a successful gay black entertainer. 'Peanut Butter' is one of my new jams and a representation of the ever evolving Rupaul and never ending legacy he passed down. Rupaul gave me hope that I could be an entertainer one day.”
Jackie Shane, “Any Other Way”
“I was actually introduced to Jackie by my community. I was excited to hear about rumors of her returning to the stage after fading into the background, one of the only Trans pioneers I know of dominating the homophobic and transphobic music industry in the sixties. She turned down gigs cause they wanted her to present as male. She was a bigger star than her time could handle. It was my hope to sing on the stage with her one day. She died in her sleep February 21, 2019. I remember crying over this person I had never met in my bathroom on the toilet. This was a reminder to me that this life we live isn’t easy and we don’t have long down here and the sacrifices artist like her made are hardly recognized or honored while they lived and it’s up to the new generation to honor her legacy and continue to uplift her work.”
Kim Petras, “Close Your Eyes”
“Kim Petras literally needs no introduction. This young pop star took over the scene like a brilliant white light with cheerful upbeat songs and amazing stage presence. It’s actually rare for a trans artist to get such a show of support but Kim actually backs it up with an unbelievable talent. I heard of this artist through Billboard, she is always topping the charts. Spreading her trans brilliance all over the world to sold out crowds.”
Imagine Dragons, “Believer”
“I met Imagine Dragons and the incredible talents of Dan Reynolds through Justin [Tranter]. Both are prominent activists, allies and accomplices. It’s truly inspiring when cis people use their privileges to amplify the voices of the marginalized communities. Getting to make great music with these talented people is a complete dream. Watching me rock out to 'Believer' is something you could only see in my household. Their sound is incredible and powerful.”
Register for Billboard's Pride Summit now, and head here for more information on Shea Diamond.