A year ago today — amidst a whole lot of speculative Cinco de Gaymo hullabaloo — country music artist Chely Wright came out as a lesbian. As a born-and-bred Georgia girl, I’ve been a fan of Chely’s for years, but many of my gay and lesbian friends met the news with an impassive “Who?” Their apathy didn’t last long, though. Chely’s warmth and candor and LGBT activism have made her a household name in the worldwide queer community.
To celebrate her Coming Out-iversary, let’s take a look back at the year in Chely.
May 2010 — At 39, Chely comes out in People, telling the magazine: “I don’t have a memory in my life that doesn’t include the dream of making music, [but] … there had never, ever been a country music artist who had acknowledged his or her homosexuality … I hid everything for my music.”
May 2010 — Chely releases her memoir, Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer, in which she describes her attempts to come to terms with her sexual orientation from childhood all the way through the moment when she nearly took her own life. This is one of my favorite passages from her (or any!) book:
I suppose our waitress informed our family about the dinner specials that night, but I can’t be sure. After being fixated on those breasts for a good two minutes — a long time for a 12-year-old girl in Wellsville, Kansas to be staring at a seventeen-year-old girl’s boobs — I got a sign. I finally actually noticed the words ironed onto her T-shirt. Written in red capital letters was the message GOD DON’T MAKE MISTAKES.
I felt, on that night, that I was okay. I had hope and some comfort, for a while at least, that I was just as I was supposed to be.
The beautiful young waitress turned to me and asked me for my order, and I shouted, a little too enthusiastically, “Salisbury Steak Dinner, please!”
She smiled. “Okay, sweetie,” replied God’s buxom, cheerful messenger. Then she tapped me on the head with her pencil and bounced off toward the kitchen.
May 2010 — Chely releases her seventh album, Lifted Off the Ground. One of the reasons Chely came out is because she wanted to make sure everyone knew the deeply personal songs of love and heartache were written about another woman.
May 2010 — Chely appears on Oprah where she tells the audience: “I knew I was different early on. When I was in third grade I knew that I was a lesbian. And by the time I had the gun in my mouth, it was just the layering of shame and self-loathing and fear, and just — how do I get these pieces of my life together? I’m a successful country music singer and I am a lesbian.” Chely’s exhange with her father during the show was one of the most tender, touching moments I’ve ever seen on TV.
May 2010 — Chely opens up to AfterEllen.com about coming out, telling us: “I didn’t realize how many people would identify with my story. So many people have handed me letters or stood on line and told me that they have read their story within my story … I don’t guess that anyone gay has an easy time with it. We’re all so the same. But when you’re in hiding, what you long for is to identify with somebody. I’ve had so many people, young and old, say to me, ‘I would have given anything to have been able to go to a library and check this book out. It would have been so comforting to know that there is another human being who had a story like mine.’”
June 2010 — Chely performs “Heavenly Days” at the GLAAD Media Awards with with longtime country music superstar Rodney Crowell.
June 2010 — Chely attends a LGBT reception at The White House in honor of Pride Month. She received a personal tour, a compliment about her shoes from First Lady Michelle Obama, and President Obama even singled her out in his speech, commending her courage for coming out.