Brennan Johnson, the lead singer of Denver-based alt-rock band AMZY, has pulled his fair share of nerve-wracking stunts on stage. But climbing up to second-story balconies and stage-diving on inflatable rafts pale in comparison to Johnson's latest mid-performance feat. On June 29, during an AMZY show at the Marquis Theater, Johnson surprised his longtime partner, Trevor McIntosh, with an on-stage proposal, in front of friends, family and a roaring crowd.
The evening was momentous, not only because of the proposal, but also because it marked Johnson's first time publicly coming out as gay.
McIntosh and Johnson met more than eight years ago, when McIntosh put on an event at a venue where Johnson worked at the time. Johnson was smitten the moment he saw McIntosh.
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"There was some point in the night where we locked eyes and had a moment, and all the clichés came true," the singer says. "Time slowed down, I'm pretty sure I heard angels — all of that. And that was just for a few seconds, in reality, and I didn't think I would see him again." But as luck would have it, McIntosh and a few of his friends happened to be at the bar Johnson went to after he finished his shift. Encouraged by his friends, McIntosh approached Johnson, and the rest is history.
While their relationship was never a secret, Johnson had always kept his sexuality separate from his public persona as the lead singer of AMZY. He came out as gay to his friends and family when he was around eighteen years old, and the majority of the people close to him have known he is gay for years. He also previously worked for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an LGBTQ outreach group and other nonprofits benefiting queer causes.
"It felt comfortable, but there was this other step, because in the time since I had come out, I had been the lead singer of a band, and we had gotten a little bit of presence, and people started to recognize me and know me," Johnson explains. "So I realized, 'Oh, there is another step here that I need to take.' At the same time, I can show my partner, the man I love, that I'm not afraid of anything, and I want to spend my life with him and stand proud in the light with him."
Although he had never publicly discussed his relationship with McIntosh, Johnson says it has always been present throughout AMZY's music.
"When it came to the music and the stage side, music has been a way that I can get through a lot of my struggles, so it's always in there," he says. "But it's tough, like after a show when you meet fans or when you're talking on stage, to be talking about all this music, and then I guess I never found a moment to segue into, 'Also, I'm gay.'"
Especially during AMZY's earlier days, Johnson was hesitant to come out in a public manner. But over time, keeping his sexuality private became more and more of a burden, and Johnson began to feel that he wasn't being his authentic self, either as a musician or as a person.
"I felt like, 'You shouldn't be hiding anything like this,'" he says. "This is the world as it is, and it's getting brighter even though there are a lot of issues that we still need to overcome, but it's a matter of, if your music is helping people and they can connect to it, then it's a natural step that I need to take. Maybe there's somebody out in the crowd that now will feel like they don't need to have this ingrained fear of being out publicly."
Johnson hopes that by coming out to his audience with such a public and loving gesture, he can show fans that the mantra "It gets better" is in fact true. It certainly was true for him.
Not long after Johnson started seeing McIntosh, he wrote a song called "Time to Change" that chronicled his struggles with depression and his fear of being discriminated against for his sexuality. McIntosh's mother had just passed away unexpectedly, and the couple was going through a dark time. But they made it through together, and now Johnson fondly looks at the song as a symbol of his and McIntosh's journey together.
"It serves as a great reminder to me whenever I sing it that I've gone through so much, and I've gotten through some of the darkest points of my life with him, and that it's always going to get better from here," he says.
When it came to planning a proposal, Johnson knew he wanted to come full circle and propose during an acoustic performance of "Time to Change," the very song he wrote for his partner many years ago.
Luckily, AMZY's other members, Sean Grant, Wes Barton and Nick Billings were more than happy to help out with the surprise. Throughout their entire relationship, McIntosh has been one of AMZY's biggest supporters. He helped them settle on a musical style and set up their website, acted as the band's photographer and attended almost every show they've played over the years. So it was only natural for the couple to begin the next step in their relationship during an AMZY show.
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Supportive friends and family were on hand to make sure the moment was captured on camera and to offer Johnson knowing grins of encouragement throughout AMZY's set. When Johnson popped the question and McIntosh said yes, the whole venue started cheering.
"It just warms my heart so much that everybody could not only be there, but that they were so supportive. It's just everything I could've asked for, and I really appreciate them," Johnson says.
While AMZY works on new singles and records an upcoming EP, Johnson and McIntosh are already planning their wedding. Just like the proposal, the wedding will include the whole band, but Johnson says he won't be singing on his big day. They hope to get married this year, perhaps even in the next month.
After more than eight years, says Johnson, "We've waited long enough."