Chely Wright Raising Funds, Awareness for LGBT Center: ‘I Like to Dream Big’
Five years after her coming out, Chely Wright is moving forward both in her music and in her work with LGBT advocacy.
Wright is one of the founders of a center called LikeMe Lighthouse in her hometown of Kansas, City, Mo. The center is one of Wright's proudest achievements.
"Shortly after I came out, I was trying to be thoughtful about ways I could help and use my voice, use my being out publicly to affect some positive change," she tells Taste of Country. "I'm a Kansas City girl; I was born in Kansas City, and there wasn't an LGBT center there. I like to dream big, so my dream was to open an organization there, and we've done that."
Just having the doors open, just having that spot where there's a place to go find community is really important.
The center is planning a big fundraiser for 2016, and those in attendance will not only get a night of entertainment, they will also be supporting a center that makes a real difference for the LGBT community not only in the area, but regionally.
"The most important support that their dollars will go to is keeping the doors open of a real brick-and-mortar LGBT center that really, truly — just having the doors open to a place is incredibly powerful," Wright points out. "I've had so many people tell me what the Lighthouse means to them ... for instance, there was a woman who I did a Skype with. I think they live four hours away from Kansas City, and she said, 'When my daughter came out to me, we got right on the internet and looked up LGBT centers, and we found one in Kansas City, and we drove here the next day.' They now make the drive every couple of months, and do things and volunteer. Just having the doors open, just having that spot where there's a place to go find community is really important."
The LikeMe Lighthouse also has a physical library, and provides assistance with mental health outreach, insurance, AIDS testing, education, housing, tax issues, and even an internet lab for those seeking a job who don't have access at home.
Wright faced an avalanche of criticism when she came out in 2010. She's since gotten married and given birth to twins, and she says she's encouraged and even surprised by the national progress that's been made on LGBT issues.
"When I came out in 2010, I believe six states provided for marriage equality, and now you can get married in the deep South," she muses. "Mississippi, Alabama."
She's especially encouraged by the changes in attitude within the Christian community. "The faith community is really changing a lot. I think that's at the heart of a lot of the change, is faith leaders coming forward and saying, 'Look, we don't just want to tolerate our gay brothers and sisters, they have a place in our houses of worship,'" Wright states. "So I think that some of the faith leaders who are not just accepting, but affirming about people like me is really important."
Wright is proud that her own coming out has had a positive impact. "It's easy to hate or have a disdain for someone that you don't know. It's easy to have a disdain for others, for 'they' and 'them,'" she observes. "But when it's your favorite, or maybe not-so-favorite country singer that you've seen a few times in concert saying, 'Oh, by the way, I'm this' .... well, I liked her! She was really nice to me the 17 times I met her!" she adds with a laugh. "It changes it. I've had a lot of fans who've said, 'You're a head-scratcher. I didn't think I knew or loved a gay person, and I read your book, and maybe I'm not fully on board with it, but I'm certainly scratching my head about it.'"
While she accepts that there are people whose opinion will never change, Wright feels that she can have an impact on what she calls "the moveable middle."
I have a wife. That's not intimate personal details, that's who I am. That's my life. The same as my contemporaries.
"Those are the people that I most wanted to talk to — people that would take a moment to read my book, or take a moment to watch my film, or just take a moment to say, 'Wow, she still sings the same. I liked her at Fan Fair all those years. Let me think about this,'" she states. "And then sure as the world, you see some movement there, and maybe it gets brought up at the Thanksgiving table. And maybe their reaction is a little less caustic or hostile than it would have been before, and then maybe next year their niece or nephew at the same Thanksgiving table finally has the nerve to say, 'Well, Uncle Bob, I'm like Chely.' And maybe just that one discussion the year before moved the needle a little bit."
That kind of movement is why Wright hasn't been cowed by some naysayers who believe she should keep her private life private. "First of all, I've never, ever disclosed what goes on in my bedroom," she says firmly. "That is private. But as far as, who do I love, who do I want to make a family with, who do I want to play Scrabble with ... it's my life. I have a wife. That's not intimate personal details, that's who I am. That's my life. The same as my contemporaries. Luke Bryan is the biggest star in country music right now, and he's never disclosed what goes on in his bedroom, which is appropriate. But I know he has a wife, and I know he has children. Knowing that he has a wife and children, that's not beyond the purview of what a fan wants to know."
The singer says that while country music's more conservative fan base might not be evolving as rapidly on LGBT issues as the mainstream, she's still heartened by the changes she's seen over the last five years.
"We'll never go back to never having a country music artist out," she points out. "There are several now. We'll never go back to gay issues never being discussed on country radio. Sometimes they are now. We'll never be where we were five years ago. We'll never be where we were last year. The needle is moving. I suspect we're at a tipping point in country music."
The needle is moving. I suspect we're at a tipping point in country music.
Wright is also putting the finishing touches on a new album, her first in five years, She financed the recording process through a wildly successful Kickstarter project, and worked with producer Joe Henry, whose credits include Bonnie Raitt, Rodney Crowell and Susan Tedeschi, among many others.
"He's a genius, and it was terrifying to record with him," she says, laughing. "He records in a much different way than I had ever recorded. You have to get your vocals on tracking day with Joe. That's part of how he captures what he calls the musicality, the urgency. That's the way he likes to get the music on tape, and to great success. So I really wanted to take that leap and trust in the process, and trust in the songs, and do something different. I don't want to be 20 years into it and trying to go back and cut 'Single White Female,' or "Shut Up and Drive.' I want to do something different, and grow. My ultimate goal is to be 65 years old and still writing songs and making records, and saying something."
Country Artists Who've Come Out