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Purchase Alum Kat Cunning on Celebrating Queer Artists

Updated: May 6, 2021

by Marcia Hunt

Purchase alum Kat Cunning gave an exclusive press conference discussing their new single “Could be Good.”

The dance conservatory graduate is making strides in the music and film industries. Notably, they starred in HBO’s “The Deuce” with James Franco and the Emmy-award winning Netflix series “Trinkets.”

Cunning believes these feats, along with their large queer and queer-allied following, was caused in no small part by their time at Purchase.

“I’m gay,” Cunning said, reflecting on their time as a student. “I learned that [at Purchase]. Purchase will let you know if you have a small percentage of gayness in you! I was in the intense dance conservatory where, on a good day, you spend eight hours in the studio. But falling in love with a girl for the first time helped pull me out of that. I learned there was more to life.”

Cunning says that while at Purchase, they were constantly exposed to people from different programs, such as the poetry and acting conservatories, which inspired them as they pursued their own creative work.

“The thing I think of fondly is that when I first visited the campus, it was all brick and I was like ‘I like this; this is weird and intense and I’m gonna work so hard here,’” they said. “Then in my time, [at Purchase] I learned with no frills in the architecture, everyone there is the color.”

As a non-binary and gay musician in a male-dominated industry, Cunning has also taken on a role as color by curating a platform devoted to advocating for queer rights and acceptance.

They have recently partnered with The Ally Coalition to make a voicemail bank, Give a Yes (G.A.Y) for Pride. The project lets people leave messages of affirmation and love for queer people who are living in unsupportive environments.

Cunning believes that to make the music industry more inclusive, artists should start with who they work with.

“As often as you can, hire and engage with people who are not cis white men,” they said.

“The more a team can represent the world, the more your artists can represent the world.

Especially though, make sure that [the people you work with] see you, are willing to champion your message and take the backseat when you have something important to say for your community.”

Inspired by artists like Lil Nas X, who are taking risks to champion inclusivity in mainstream music, Cunning is finding a balance between talking exclusively about their queerness and channeling universal experiences.

“Being willing to niche yourself out for who you are and hoping that core community will grow with you [is important],” they said. “I wish we didn’t get turned into gay artists when we are gay. My songs are just about me telling stories of my life.”

Navigating the music industry while being so open about their identity has not come without challenges. Cunning says that a lot of their self-described work is something they’ve had to be confident of. Cunning says they've had to put trust in their own process and product

“It is not always easy to be out as a non-binary person in a cis world,” they said. “Day to day I still feel like getting people behind the niche things that are me is something I just have to be persistent about. I feel like I’m constantly reassuring the world that I’m gonna be me and it’s gonna work and to have faith in that.”

But despite the challenges they have faced, Cunning is optimistic about what the future holds.

“I came into this industry really unassumingly,” they said. “Like, I never thought I could be a singer and then I got an endorsement from the New York Times while I was performing. I’m just rolling with the successes and continuing to do my thing.”



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