|Country music star Chely Wright|
As recently as two years ago, there were zero openly gay or lesbian stars in country music. Chely Wright (“Shut Up and Drive,” “Single White Female”) was the very first, and she documented her journey with the help of filmmakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf. Chely finally came out of the closet with a book titled Like Me and an album called Lifted Off the Ground, and went on The Today Show and Oprah to talk about them.
Thanks to Chely’s video journal, we get an intimate look into her thought processes, her second-guessing, her anguish, her spiritual and religious tumult, and her determination to follow through on being true to herself. Chely Wright grew up in a tiny little town in Kansas, certain from early childhood that she wanted to be a country star in the world of Nashville and the Grand Old Opry. Her family was fundamentalist Christian, and Nashville — while it has some openly gay and lesbian people working behind the scenes — hews to a public image of an everyman and a flag, not a lesbian and a fag. Chely Wright is deeply patriotic and a committed Christian, but she no longer wraps those qualities in quite the package that Nashville is selling. Given the fan reaction to the Dixie Chicks’ comments about George W. Bush, Chely had a well-founded fear that coming out could be the end of her career.
I can’t resist giving you a few pull quotes from the film:
There’s nobody quite as mean as people being mean for Jesus. — Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, Chely Wright’s spiritual advisor
“Put on a skirt and some makeup!” I wanted them [non-feminine women] to blend in, ’cause they were blowin’ my cover. — Chely Wright
The most simplest thing I can tell anyone is, Do not close the door, but open your heart. — Chely’s father on The Oprah Winfrey ShowI strongly recommend this film for all audiences, but it is especially a Must See for country music fans, people struggling to reconcile faith and sexuality, and anyone who grew up lesbian or gay in a small town.
You can order an autographed copy of Chely Wright’s autobiography Like Me from her website.
The album Lifted Off the Ground, including the single “Like Me,” is available on Amazon. [MP3] [CD]
Chely has also started a charity, The LIKE ME® Organization, “to provide support, resources, and education to LGBT individuals, and their families and friends.”