Richell Rene "Chely" Wright made headlines this year as the first country music artist to come out of the closet as a lesbian. She is the grand marshal for our 41st Annual Pride Parade and spoke to Windy City Times about her first year of being out and proud.
Windy City Times: Hi, Chely. You are calling from my parent's area code. Do you live in Tennessee?
Chely Wright: I live in Nashville and New York. I still have my cell phone from Nashville.
WCT: My family still lives there and I wanted to say thank you for bringing all the awareness to the Tennessee flood. You just did a benefit for Nashville schools that lost their musical instruments.
CW: Oh gosh, there wasn't enough discussion about it. I can't believe it.
WCT: Lifted Off the Ground is your seventh album.
CW: Can you believe it? I am an old lady.
WCT: Was this a more open record for you to write since you came out of the closet?
CW: Nope, it actually wasn't. I wrote the songs for this record way before I decided to come out. We were halfway in the middle of making this album and had tracked six songs before I decided to come out. My producer didn't even know I was gay until that time.
WCT: Your book, Like Me, describes how the process was for you in coming out.
CW: Yes. Halfway into making the record I came out to my producer Rodney Crowell. I said, "I can't do it anymore. I can't hide. I can't live like this." I could see myself easily in a very dark spot, trying to hide. How coy can you be about a heartbreak record? How could I go out and promote my music? I couldn't make up a fake boyfriend from Argentina about whom I had written all these songs!
WCT: Oh, no.
CW: You know? I just decided to come out and come out correctly. I wanted to use my public capitol and use my voice in a way that will benefit and promote discussion. I didn't want to just whisper coming out to my friends and family. I wanted to make sure that every country fan that had ever heard my name make no mistake that I am a gay woman.
WCT: What do you say to critics that say it is a publicity stunt?
CW: I think that must be some kind of weird projection. It is so asinine. I can't even comprehend it. That coming out in country music has been so lucrative? "A publicity stunt?" I can tell you what the publicity stunt is. It was me trying to pretend that I was straight throughout my entire career.
WCT: That's a good answer. Have you had support from other country artists?
CW: I have had an incredible amount of support from the artists that I needed to hear from. I am talking about the radio community, the Music Row community at large. I bet that I have had 40 people come out to me. They might be an on-air jock that has to keep it between us. They are not out to the public or their program director. This can compromise their position at work. There were some artists that I hoped I would hear from that say they love their gay fans, but I didn't hear from any of them.
CW: You can look that up and see which artists say how much they love their gay fans but I can tell you that I didn't hear from them.
WCT: Well, now you have all kinds of new LGBT fans that didn't listen to your music before.
CW: I do!
WCT: You are going to love our Pride parade because it is huge!
CW: I can't wait. I have heard it is one of the best in the nation.
WCT: What are your plans when you are in town?
CW: I will be doing the in-store at Borders. I will also be doing something with LGBT youth. I will be in town for a couple of days to make good use of the time that I am there. I am on the GLSEN [ Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network ] board now. They are a great organization that works with gay and straight youth that promotes safe learning environments in public schools. I am doing some outreach with GLSEN when I am there. I am going to hit your town and hit it hard. I can't wait!
WCT: Are you single?
CW: I am single, yes. I didn't want to date when I was in the closet because I didn't want to ask someone ever again to keep a secret. So I remained single throughout my coming out process. It is too much to ask anyone to lie for me. That is hard. So I am single and may start dating at some point. I am so busy right now with all of this that I don't even know how to date. I have never dated women. I think that would be fun.
WCT: It is like you said on The Oprah Winfrey Show: It is so new to you.
CW: It is. You know when you are 15 and you date for the first time and how excited you are? That's how I feel now. I get to be free and open. I can spend time with whomever I want to spend time with openly. What a freedom that I finally have that many people take for granted. I can't wait to go out to dinner with somebody and have fun.
WCT: I am so happy for you that I am grinning from ear to ear right now.
WCT: My uncle came out after 30 years of marriage and is one of the happiest people that I know.
CW: That is so cool! Good for him.
WCT: I know what you are going through I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt.
CW: Well you know, Jerry, being a Nashville boy, you understand that Nashville is privy to a rumor mill, especially about us country artists. There has been some criticism about me in the Nashville community. Some of it you may have heard. I haven't paid much attention to it but there have been some nasty people saying, "What's the big deal? We all knew anyway." Well, quite frankly as Flo would say on the old TV show Alice, "They can kiss my grits." Because I didn't come out for those people in Nashville who thought they knew. I came out for the young 14-year old boy in Albuquerque, N.M., sitting in his bedroom who never ever would have known. I came out for other reasons that had nothing to do with country music. It has something to do with social responsibility. It was becoming criminal for me to allow people to assume that I was straight. It was really wrong of me. I am really proud and really happy and I cannot wait to come hang out with you guys at Gay Pride there!
Now it's your turn to come out and see Chely at Borders, 2817 N. Clark, signing copies of Like Me June 26 at 4 p.m. or riding in a car in our Pride parade June 27 at 12 p.m. For more information visit www.borders.com and www.chely.com .