Decade later, Tegan and Sara see work ahead on LGBTQ acceptance

Tegan and Sara are set to release a collection of covers from their fifth album, "The Con," to mark its 10th anniversary

Coping with grief and relationship turmoil, sisters Tegan and Sara entered a studio a decade ago and recorded the album that would become a stealthy landmark in LGBTQ culture.

"The Con," the Calgary-born identical twins' fifth album, wasn't their first to achieve some measure of success -- and they later found a mainstream audience, including during a tour with Katy Perry.

But with its emotional directness and a style that weaved together folk rock and synthpop, "The Con" struck a chord, especially among young queer women who enthusiastically packed Tegan and Sara's concerts.

To mark the 10th anniversary of it release, Tegan and Sara will on October 20 put out a collection of covers from "The Con," from both artists influenced by the band and established stars including Cyndi Lauper.

Proceeds will support the new Tegan and Sara Foundation, set up by the duo to champion LGBTQ rights -- but geared toward women and girls.

"So many people in our audiences identify somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum and, in some ways, it can feel like preaching to the converted," acknowledged Sara Quin.

"But I think what maybe is lost sometimes is how much power we do have as a group, and financially how little of the fundraising money that comes in for queer people is actually going for women and girls," she told AFP.

The foundation will focus on areas where the sisters feel queer women have specific needs -- healthcare, education and political advocacy.

- Easier for gay men? -

Amid strides in LGBTQ rights in the Western world over the past decade, Sara said there remains a gender double-standard.

A growing number of young stars have built successful careers while being out -- she mentioned English balladeer Sam Smith, experimental R&B singer Frank Ocean and YouTube sensation Troye Sivan -- but they have overwhelmingly been men.

"I think men are obviously sometimes more physically at risk and more targeted than women. But in mainstream movies and television and art and music, I think queer men are more embraced and have had more success," she said.

"Maybe it's not even about sexuality but about gender roles and what is accepted and what is celebrated, socially and culturally. But I think for queer women, it is still very challenging -- and for trans people it's even more challenging."

When they recorded "The Con" in Portland, Oregon, with Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, the sisters were mourning the death of their grandmother as well as a close mentor.

The sisters, then 26, were also facing relationship troubles and for the first time dealing with fruits of fame, such as handling staff.

"There was that naivete -- that life is really hard but things will go back to normal. But we all know that that doesn't happen," Sara said.

"Once you're an adult, you just have to cope and learn how to deal with the fact that people get sick, people die and jobs are stressful."

- Still feeling marginalized -

The sisters selected the artists who recorded songs for the collection, called "The Con X: Covers," but gave them no guidance.

"Back in Your Head," a tale of longing that is perhaps the album's most recognizable tune, is covered twice -- by rocker Ryan Adams, who builds on the charging nature of the original, and Lauper who reinterprets it as wistful pop.

Sara, without volunteering examples, said she believed that some covers were better than the originals.

Tegan and Sara recently played The Meadows festival in New York and will tour North America to support "The Con X: Covers," with Sara saying the duo heard from younger fans who wished they had been around the first time.

Sara added the duo still did not feel welcomed by the indie rock or other scenes -- but that the isolation had benefits.

"I don't know if it's because we're gay, or because we're women, or because we're not, like, 'hot babes' -- we have lopsided haircuts and we're wearing hoodies and sweatshirts -- but it felt like we were marginalized for some reason," she said.

"I think in a weird way that allowed us to have something very unique. Our career has been very different than a lot of other people's, even though it's been very challenging."