Chely Wright Takes Country Music on the Road to The Dinah: Interview
Can you talk a little bit about the Chely Wright Scholarship Project and the Light House Project?
When I first started doing the book tour and the record tour, I noticed that people were showing up at shows and in-stores with plain white t-shirts that they had decorated and written “Like Me” on them. Some said “Thank you for being Like Me,” you know, it’s the name of my book. I was speaking to some of them and said, “Why did you write that?” And a gay guy would say “I know I’m a gay guy, and you’re a gay girl, but you’re like me in this regard.”
One guy said “Well, I’m straight, but I read your book and I feel you’re like me in these ways: We both are from small towns, and I always felt a little different, and couldn’t wait to get out of my town.” He said “I just felt like you in that way, I just felt like we were similar.”
I started to see a theme that if we could all look for ways that we are similar, and seek out ways that we connect in our society, rather than ways that we are different, gosh – wouldn’t that be a better world. So my team and I, my best friends, we like to start charities... We started one 10 years ago called Reading, Writing and Rhythm – a nationwide charity in which we put musical instruments in public schools.
So, we started brainstorming about an online forum where, if there were a straight kid who had a gay brother he could go to our online forum and go to the part that had another straight kid with a gay sibling, and maybe they could talk about what that’s like. So that developed into making it bigger.
And ultimately we wanted to build the Gay and Lesbian Center in Kansas City, which is my hometown. And don’t you know that there is not a Gay and Lesbian Center in Kansas City. There are virtual community centers where you can go online and see where the gay clubs are. But there’s not a brick and mortar community education center where people feel safe to go get counseling, or take their parents, or where parents can go and say, “hey, I think my kid is gay, I want to help them find a community.” That’s our ultimate goal, and its called The Lighthouse.
Can you tell me a bit about the scholarship?
We are giving our scolarship every year to gay and lesbian kids, and/or advocates -- a kid who has shown a display of advocacy and showing that they care about equality for all kids. So we have given our first scholarship away already to a young man by the name of Shawn Walsh. His brother, Seth Walsh, unfortunately hung himself in 2010.
I remember when that happened. I’d like to talk a bit about the lead-up to your public coming out. You had timed it with the release of your book, which chronicles the struggles you faced. You must have been mindfully planning your coming out for some time…
As I detail in my book, in the early part of 2006, I had what I call my break down – I now call it my breakthrough. I found myself with a loaded gun in my mouth, ready to end it all, and through that next year I was writing songs and trying just to exist every day through my incredible pain. I guess it would be called depression.
I decided the next summer to come out, because I was in the middle of recording this album with Rodney Crowell with the songs I had written during my break down. They were all heartbreak love songs, and I realized “Holy crap, how am I going to go out and talk to journalists about this record?” They are all about love, and everyone is going to say, “Who are these songs about?” I’m not going to make up a fake boyfriend in Buenos Aires… I saw my reality, again, staring me in the face. I knew that I was painted in a corner and I could see myself easily ending up back in a very dark spot.
Thank God, I had prayed to God for peace and what God was telling me was “You need to stand up. You need to live your life, and tell the truth and as a gay Christian and do this.” So, I sat on my porch with Rodney one day and said “Rodney, I’m gay.” He said “Ok.” And I told him “I’m going to come out.” This was in June of 2007. He said, “How are you going to do that?” And I said, “I don’t know, but I am going to do it well.” He left on that day, and I went downstairs and opened my laptop computer and wrote a title page to my book Like Me, and I started my book on that day.
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