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The Independent Critic

 The Chely Wright Interview Continues... 
The Independent Critic

How has the film experience been for you? Wish Me Away has been on the film festival circuit for about a year before getting picked up by First Run Features for its theatrical run that starts this weekend in New York and Berkeley. How has that experience been for you? As I recall, you came out in May of 2010. So, you're really still pretty new with learning how to use your voice as an activist. You've really jumped into activism with tremendous energy and enthusiasm.

Chely Wright

I dove in. It was all that work of coming to New York early and going to what I call "gay school." I was getting up to speed on the real equality movement and the real logistics and laws on the state level and the federal level and the local levels. I was lucky in that I had a lot of people sharing information with me and encouraging me to use my voice. The minute I came out I hit the ground running. I was doing every advocacy event that I could. About a year of that went by and then I had the film. I toured with the film and did Q&A's. I continued to tour with my record and my book and book readings. It's really never let up. It's been wonderful. Everyone in their lifetime should have a dose of what it feels like. You know, because people who always have their freedom never really understand what it's like to be free. Right? Until I, as an American, traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan and walked the streets of Kabul and saw kids playing soccer around a corpse in the middle of the street I never really understood the beauty of being an American. I'm lucky. It's just dumb luck. I'm lucky to be born an American. One never really understands their freedom until they see the other side of it. That's one of the reasons I feel happy about not just LGBT people seeing this film, but people who think they don't know a gay person or people who think "Well, that's their movement." It's everyone's movement. They need to understand that "Hey, I'm just so lucky that I get to go get married." They need to understand that there's a portion of Americans and people in the world for whom the answer is "No!" I have high hopes for lots of different groups of people seeing this film.

The Independent Critic

I hope so. You've even tapped into the faith-based community.

Chely Wright

I decided that if I'm going to come out that I'm going to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I'm a gay Christian and I sing country music and I wear make-up and hair and high heels. I'm out there crashing stereotypes!

The Independent Critic

<Laughing> Yes you are!

Chely Wright

But, I'm not alone. That's the thing. I was lucky that I could hide. There have been so many people along my journey in the past couple years. It's so weird to go to an awards ceremony and have people present me with an award and the audience is made up of people who've never been able to hide in their life. And they're applauding me? That's backward.

The Independent Critic

In your coming out journey, I mean obviously you're glad you did it. You've been very open about being happy with your decision. It's gone well. You're now married, as I've read.

Chely Wright

It's true. It's awesome. It's wonderful.

The Independent Critic

Has their been any aspect of your coming out process that you've regretted or you wished you'd done differently? I'm thinking of the folks who might read this and who are contemplating coming out. Is there anything you've learned from the process that you wished you'd done differently? Surely it wasn't all smooth sailing? Well, obviously beyond the fact that you did get the death threats and the hate mail!

Chely Wright

It wasn't all smooth sailing, but I can tell you that I can't think of a thing that I would change. One of the things that has surprised me, however, is people within my own community. There was a country fan of mine. He's also gay. He's a kid, you know, who struggles with his weight and he always loved coming to see my shows and he said I was nice to him. He connected with my music. I really thought that was cool. In my mind, I've thought of him so many times when I was preparing to come out. I thought how good this would be for this young man. Then, there was a country artist who made some homophobic remarks. This young fan of mine defended this country artist and said "He knows I'm gay and he's never said anything mean to me." I thought, "Wait a minute. The remarks the artist made were homophobic and all he had to do was turn around and fix it and say "I want to retract what I said" and he never did." This gay country music fan who tries so hard and wants to be loved by so many somehow found it in his head that just because this artist knew he was gay and had never said anything mean to him that somehow it was okay. He'd gotten it in his head that because this artist likes him "even though" he's gay that somehow that's okay. That's just so sad. It just broke my heart. I wanted to shake him and say "Don't you understand they shouldn't like you "even though" you are gay?" This is not a negative to be tolerated and it surprises me how people in our own community have conditioned themselves so that they best they hope for is that someone doesn't hate them even though they're gay.

That surprised me, and I've seen it repeatedly. I think it's kind of an institutionalized self-loathing that society levels upon people like us.

The Independent Critic

I know I need to be respectful of your time here and you need to go. Can you give a quick plug for Like Me?

Chely Wright

I can. I'm so proud of the Like Me Lighthouse. I founded a non-profit organization shortly after I came out. I thought "What would I do if I could gain funds and exposure for Like Me?" My lightbulb moment happened and I thought "I will open an LGBT Center in my home town of Kansas City. We did that. We opened the Like Me Lighthouse in Kansas City on March 9th of this year. It's a great journey to be able to be there and to be a hub with other existing advocacy groups that are in the area and to kind of give them a home base. It's a place where a kid or a mom or a dad can walk in and say "Hey, do you have any books on what it's like to be a gay parent?" It's a great place. I'm proud of it.

The Independent Critic

Thank you so much for spending some time with me. I truly wish you the best with your continuing journey and with the film. Again, I congratulate you on your fine work.

Chely Wright

Thank you.


"Chely Wright: Wish Me Away" opens on June 1st at New York's Quad Cinema and Berkeley's Rialtos Cinema Elmwood before beginning its already impressive arthouse run nationwide. For more information and to check for dates in your area, visit the First Run Features website for the film.

For more information on Wright's Like Me organization, visit the Like Me website. For specific information on Kansas City's Like Me Lighthouse, visit the Like Me Lighthouse website. Wright also serves as a board member for Faith in America.


© 2012 Interview by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic 
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