For months it was rumored that country music singer-songwriter Chely Wright would announce that she's a lesbian and appear on the cover of People magazine. And this is the week: Wright is launching her seventh album, "Lifted Off the Ground," released on Vanguard Records, and her memoir, Like Me, published by Random House.
Wright's long and arduous struggle to come out has transformed her into an activist who'll be joining the board of Faith In America, founded by furniture mogul Mitchell Gold.
"So what's all this got to do with us?," Gold wrote in an email to board members, which includes me. "On this Tuesday [May 4] she will be coming OUT....and speaking all her truths....how she was so close to suicide, how she now knows she can be gay and a Christian, how God created her and loves her the way she is.....all the things a 14 year old kid living in a home of country western fans might need to hear. All the things voting age fans need to hear."
Faith in America, a national nonprofit, is a North Carolina-based 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2005 with a mission to educate the public about the harm caused to LGBT Americans when certain church teachings are misused to justify and promote hostile attitudes and actions toward us.
Gold said Wright's life experiences drew her to the work Faith In America is doing, recognizing LGBT individuals suffer emotional, psychological, and physical harm because of a societal climate that places a religious and moral stamp of approval on prejudice and discrimination toward them.
In a letter to board members, Gold wrote us expressing his delight in having Wright come on the board:
"We discussed Chely joining our board and she wants to more than ever. In fact, in her new CD she has a wonderful insert telling people about 4 organizations she cares about. I'm very proud that 3 of them are through my introductions: Faith In America, Interfaith Alliance, and GLSEN. The other is "reading, writing and rhythm," a non-profit she started that is dedicated to improving education in public schools."
In Gold's book, Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America, it exposes the fear, isolation, depression, and even suicidal feelings young LGBT Americans face from the time they realize they are different until they have a healthy coming out.
Since a child, Wright, who scored a #1 hit with "Single White Female" in 1999, and was named Academy of Country Music new artist of the year, knew she was gay but feared coming out for decades.
Growing up in a conservative Christian and country music environment, Wright told Ms. magazine she thought prayer would fix her.
"Early in my life I went through what I think a lot of gay people go through, thinking that I could change and pray it away." Wright's simple prayer was "Dear God, please don't let me be gay."
In her memoir, Wright talks about her depression, dating men in an attempt to live a "normal life," (Wright has been romantically linked to country star Brad Paisley, along with a number of other celebrities in the past), and a suicide attempt in the wake of the break-up with a woman she describes as the "love of my life."
Wright has been on the country music scene since 1994, and professionally she worried about her career as an out lesbian, stating, "No one like me in country music has ever admitted his or her homosexuality." While it is true that k.d. lang was an out lesbian in country music, she eventually moved out of the genre into pop, leaving many to speculate she did so because of her sexual orientation.
For years, speculations abounded about Wright's sexual orientation and have always dogged her.
"You know, people talk about you ...They wonder if you're, you know, gay or something like that ... You know, that's not cool, if you've chosen to live that kind of lifestyle. Fans won't have it. This industry won't allow it. This is country music. It's about God and country and family. People don't approve of that kind of deviant behavior. It's a sin," John Rich of country duo Big & Rich stated, advising Wright not to publicly disclose her sexual orientation.
Not only did fans speculate about Wright's sexual orientation, so too did many who worked with her. In wanting to obtain a first-hand account on Wright I asked my neighbors who once worked in the industry.
"I don't know much at all about Chely Wright. However, my husband knows a bit. He worked with her at one point. He says that she was always 'open' to the people who worked with her -- or at least that they knew she was a lesbian -- and that he has known for 16 years or so. In his opinion, at that time it hurt her career because many of the people she worked with, musicians playing with her, were 'devout' Christians who didn't like her or the way she lived, and only played with her because it was a paycheck. He said she was the butt of many jokes on tour buses."
Wright told People.com, "Nothing in my life has been more magical than the moment I decided to come out," acknowledging her self-acceptance was a hard and lonesome road traveled.
Wright might lose some old friends, but she'll also make new friends, one of which is Mitchell Gold.
"Last night [May 3] we had a quiet dinner with her and her sister," Gold wrote to the board members. "She's nervous but ready. It was about the most perfect evening for her.... she left being so much at peace with herself."
I look forward to meeting her at our May 21 board meeting.
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