The Brothers Osborne vowed to deliver a message of inclusivity when they performed at the 2021 CMA Awards on Wednesday ― but it was an offstage moment that may end up having the biggest impact.
The country band ― composed of guitarist John and and lead singer T.J., who are real-life brothers ― took home the prize for vocal duo of the year.
Though it was the Brothers Osborne’s fourth time winning this award, Wednesday’s triumph felt a little extra special both for the band and its legions of fans. Earlier this year, T.J. came out publicly as gay, becoming the first male artist signed to a major country label to do so.
As the Brothers Osborne got up from their seats to approach the stage, T.J. paused to share a celebratory kiss with his boyfriend, Abi Ventura.
Catch video of the moment below.
“It’s been a crazy roller coaster of a year for us in so many ways, especially for me emotionally,” T.J. said as he accepted the award. “To have you all support me, it really does feel like love wins tonight.”
Moments later, John urged the crowd to “give this boy a round of applause.”
Given that country music is still widely viewed as a conservative genre, the moment drew instant praise from fans.
Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, T.J. admitted he’d hoped not to “make anyone uncomfortable” by inviting Ventura as his date, but stressed, “I love this person, and I want to be open in every way.”
“Hopefully [it can] show people that they also don’t need to hide or alter themselves in any way,” he added.
A Maryland native, T.J. first addressed his sexuality in an interview with Time magazine published in February. Though he’d been out to friends and family for years, he said that he felt he owed it to his fans to live openly as his authentic self.
“I’m very comfortable being gay,” he said at the time. “I want to get to the height of my career being completely who I am. I mean, I am who I am, but I’ve kept a part of me muted, and it’s been stifling.”
The news doesn’t appear to have had any major impact on T.J.’s career, as evidenced by his duo’s CMA Awards win. In June, he and John joined Miley Cyrus onstage for a performance of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” at a special LGBTQ Pride Month concert in Nashville.
Still, there have been public challenges. In May, Tennessee Rep. Jeremy Faison blocked a state measure to honor T.J., arguing that the resolution needed to be heard in committee first.
Faison, a Republican who has opposed LGBTQ legislation in the past, did not cite T.J.’s sexuality in his decision to reject the largely symbolic measure. But, as local media outlets pointed out, similar honors had been bestowed on right-wing personalities Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens without incident.