Halford was a gay man in a time when homosexuality was a largely taboo subject and widely considered to be either a perversion or a mental illness. Furthermore, as a public figure in a hyper-masculine (albeit inadvertently homoerotic musical genre), Halford had to be extra discreet when it came to meeting people, for fear that he'd be recognized and outed.
"I couldn't go to a lot of clubs or bars for fear of recognition and that hitting the press and blah blah blah, just because the world was a different place then," Halford tells Q104.3 New York's Out of the Box with Jonathan Clarke.
He continued, noting that perhaps he was overly paranoid. When he finally came out publicly during an MTV interview in 1998, at age 46, Halford says the heavy metal community showed its true colors: rainbow.
"When I did come out, famously, on MTV...when I was in the 2wo band with Johnny 5, it was the most perfect example of the way the metal community is so accepting and inclusive and welcoming people from all over. There are no labels on us in the metal community. We're just all together."
Heavy metal has long provided refuge for nonconformists of all kinds, people who want to be authentically themselves, not who mainstream culture thinks they ought to be. With the exception of a handful of pop culture breakthroughs, heavy metal as a genre has been treated as an outlier since the very beginning.
"I think that's kind of attached to the fact that metal for the longest time, you know, in rock and roll, everybody was kicking metal, heavy metal music," the Metal God continued. "'Oh man, what is that stuff? It's nothing. It's got no value. It's got no worth.' But we knew as metal maniacs, this was our music. This is how we expressed ourselves. We love to listen to this music, be with each other...Most importantly, going to shows together — man, please bring back those days as quick as possible."
Watch the full conversation with Rob Halford in the player above!
Here's Judas Priest performing one of their biggest hits, "Living After Midnight" at Live Aid 1985: