Tyler Childers’ New "In Your Love" Video Marries the Joy of Queer Love With the Horrors of Black Lung

Childers’ new music video for “In Your Love” is a striking portrait of queer resilience—and coal baron greed.

Kim Kelly

Tyler Childers at Willie Nelson's 4th of July Picnic concert in Austin, Texas on July 4, 2023. Photo by Gary Miller/WireImage for Shock Ink

Like any country music singer worth his salt, Tyler Childers knows a little something about heartbreak. Unlike most of the current crop of shiny Nashville honky-tonk pretenders, though, he also knows a whole lot about growing up in coal country. 

Childers was born and raised in Lawrence County, Kentucky, a stone’s throw away from the storied home places of country legends Loretta Lynn and Chris Stapleton (with whom he performed a stirring duet at the Kentucky Rising festival last year). His father was a coal miner; his grandpa, a tenant farmer, scraped a living out of the clay-rich soil. His music — a blend of country, folk and bluegrass (though don’t call it Americana), is steeped in that rural Appalachian upbringing and the lessons he learned at home in the hollows. Childers has come by his fan base honest, and has used his rising fame for good by speaking out about issues like racial injustice and religious intolerance. 

In July, Childers released the video for his new single, In Your Love,” a touching ballad about the hard work of true love. The video itself focuses on a tender love story between two gay coal miners in 1950s Appalachia. The two men, who are played by openly gay Hollywood actors Colton Haynes and James Scully, first meet in the mines, stealing glances at one another through the clouds of coal dust. After enduring harassment and violence from some homophobic coworkers, the pair move out to the country to start a farm and build a new life together. It seems like a fairytale ending.

But then Scully (who plays a young miner named Matthew) starts coughing soon after they leave the mines. It gets worse and worse, until he’s left hacking up black mucus and gasping for oxygen. Scenes of his wiry frame doubled over in pain and his partner’s worried eyes during a doctor’s visit follow, until he finally collapses in the field they’ve so lovingly tended together. They’re both in their early 30s, and Matthew has black lung. The dreaded disease is the reason he ends up dying in his sweetheart’s arms as the video comes to a close. His partner, Jasper, is left alone with his mule and his memories.

Tyler Childers - In Your Love (Official Video)

It’s a beautiful piece of short cinema that will shatter your heart into pieces, with a storyline written by Kentucky poet laureate and author Silas House, a close friend of Childers’ and one of the nation’s best-known queer Appalachian literary voices. As a gay teenager who loved country music, I could have never imagined seeing myself in a video,” House told People in a statement. That visibility matters. There have always been LGBTQ people in rural places and finally we’re seeing that portrayed in a country music video.”

Country music has a long history of rebellion against oppressive social and political viewpoints, and many of its best and brightest, from Charley Pride and Johnny Cash to Kris Kristofferson and Tanya Tucker, have spoken up for the poor, the downtrodden, the common man, the hard-working working woman, and everyone in between. Right now, the LGBTQIA community is under attack from all corners of the government, the legislature, and the media, and it’s heartening to see a country music star use his platform to show his clear and unequivocal support.

“As a gay teenager who loved country music, I could have never imagined seeing myself in a video,” said House. “That visibility matters. There have always been LGBTQ people in rural places and finally we’re seeing that portrayed in a country music video.”

Childers’ own inspiration for the video was personal. It came from thinking about a close family member — his first cousin, who is gay and whom Childers describes as a brother — who left home for Chicago as soon as he graduated college, and never came back. Just thinking about him not having a music video on CMT that spoke to him,” Childers explained to NPR, and led to him wanting to even the score for the other queer folks like his cousin back home in Appalachia. Together, Childers, House, Haynes, Scully and their collaborators worked together to create a perfect queer country love story — complete with the devastating ending. 

"Just thinking about him not having a music video on CMT that spoke to him.”

Childers’ own grandfather suffered from black lung, so its inclusion here was clearly just as intentional as his decision to work with a celebrated gay author to present a queer love story to his broad audience. The video has garnered a flood of much-deserved attention for its celebration of queer, rural Appalachian love, but it’s worth noting that the sad ending of this old-time love story might be playing out right now among today’s miners, for whom the threat of black lung is still a very real and very present danger.

Tyler Childers performs at the three-day Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio onApril 30, 2023. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

As our ongoing reporting in In These Times has shown, black lung — just like the intolerance and homophobia also shown in the video, and the resilience of the queer community — is far from a thing of the past. During the 1950s, when the video is set, there were few protections for coal miners who spent their days breathing in coal dust underground. It was well before the passage of the Federal Coal Mine Safety Act of 1969. After that landmark law passed (and was followed by the creation of OSHA in 1971 and the Mine Safety and Health Administration in 1977), black lung cases decreased by about 90% between 1969 and 1995, and its most severe form, progressive massive fibrosis, became rare. It was too late for Childers’ fictional miners and the generations who came before, but good news for late-20th-century miners. The window of reprieve was all too short, though. By 2012, cases began climbing once again, and the past decade has seen a horrifyingly large increase in the number of coal miners in their 30s and 40s who have been diagnosed with the disease. Now, in Central Appalachia, 1 in 5 tenured miners has black lung disease and 1 in 20 has the most severe and totally disabling form of black lung. If the strapping young miners in In Your Love” had been born 60 years later, they might be facing the very same fate.

Sign up for our weekend newsletter
A weekly digest of our best coverage

In Your Love” is an important work for the possibilities it shows and the portrait of queer Appalachian love it paints, but it also serves as a warning to those who think that black lung is gone, or is solely an old man’s disease.” For all the progress that has been made thanks to the hard work of countless organizers, visionaries and rebels, some things have not changed all that much since 1955. Coal bosses are still skirting safety regulations and putting miners at risk just to make a buck (and draining away every last bit of Appalachia’s natural resources while they’re at it). Queer and trans folks are still at risk of violence, oppression and discrimination. If 7.2% of Americans identify somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, chances are that at least a few of them are working in coal mines — and maybe this video and its timely reminder of the deadly danger lurking in the dust will save their lives in more ways than one.

Please consider supporting our work.

I hope you found this article important. Before you leave, I want to ask you to consider supporting our work with a donation. In These Times needs readers like you to help sustain our mission. We don’t depend on—or want—corporate advertising or deep-pocketed billionaires to fund our journalism. We’re supported by you, the reader, so we can focus on covering the issues that matter most to the progressive movement without fear or compromise.

Our work isn’t hidden behind a paywall because of people like you who support our journalism. We want to keep it that way. If you value the work we do and the movements we cover, please consider donating to In These Times.

Kim Kelly is an independent labor journlist and author of Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor. Asbestos killed her grandfather, a former steelworker, and she hopes to help prevent others from losing their own loved ones to occupational disease.

Illustrated cover of Gaza issue. Illustration shows an illustrated representation of Gaza, sohwing crowded buildings surrounded by a wall on three sides. Above the buildings is the sun, with light shining down. Above the sun is a white bird. Text below the city says: All Eyes on Gaza
Get 10 issues for $19.95

Subscribe to the print magazine.