March 25, 1998 12:00 AM

R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, 41, who’s hedged on his sexuality for years, has told Time magazine in its current issue that he’s gay. Calling himself a “queer artist,” Stipe says that he has been “in a relationship with an amazing man” for the past three years. He declined to identify his lover, other than to say that his partner is not a celebrity. Stipe told Time (which, like PEOPLE, is part of AOL Time Warner) that he felt it was time to go on the record about his sexuality because he feels comfortable with it. “I was being made to be a coward about it, rather than someone who felt like it was really a very private thing,” he said. In the early ’90s, the musician had to contend with false rumors that he had contracted AIDS. At the time, he denied the malicious stories and reluctantly revealed that he did not think of himself as straight, gay or bisexual. Meanwhile, R.E.M.’s latest album, “Reveal,” is receiving rave reviews for its eclectic mix of high-tech production and lush melodies.

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