Country music singer/songwriter and out-lesbian Chely Wright chatted exclusively with The Seattle Lesbian‘s Sarah Toce to discuss the timely topics of bullying, suicide, Congress, God, and the ever-interesting Gay Pride celebration. Their interview will make you laugh and, at times, possibly cry. Wright holds nothing back in this interview and TSL loves her for it. We know you will, too.
How is everything going for you, Ms. Chely?
I’m busy as, you know, I tend to be! I’ve been doing book tours, a couple of shows, public speaking, writing songs, and staying busy.
I am sure you’ve heard about all of the recent teen gay suicides. What are your thoughts on all of it?
Well, gosh…I mean, obviously those of us in the LGBT community know that this is not a new issue. The recent tragedies are highlighting something that’s been going on in our community for so long. If I were to say that there was an upside to what’s happening – which is really a stretch to glean an upside to all of this – it would be that we now have the national media’s attention and, with that, we are able to speak to America. I don’t think there is a person irrespective of a religious viewpoint or a cultural viewpoint who could look at what is going on and make the determination that any young person should be hanging themselves or jumping off of a bridge for any reason whatsoever and that is what is moving the chain forward in the discussion. Now, it’s awful. I mean, it’s just absolutely awful that young people are still feeling marginalized, but this doesn’t shock me.
In your book, Like Me, you eerily predicted all of this happening. Or, rather, you had the feeling that this was going on all along and had the courage to talk about it.
I recently did an in-store in San Diego and before I got there, I made a decision to read a chapter that I had never read aloud. I had written it two-and-a-half years ago as I was writing my book and I just thought – ‘if I feel it, I’m going to read the chapter during the in-store’ and I about fell apart as I was reading it because I should’ve read it prior to the in-store because I should’ve prepared myself. I got very emotional as I was reading it. It’s a chapter I fought for because I had someone at Random House tell me as I was writing it two years ago, ‘don’t you think that chapter is too dramatic? Don’t you think that’s a bit of a stretch?’ They thought that I was connecting dots that shouldn’t have been connected.
Like Me excerpt:
Chapter Title: Hate Crimes Are Down?
When you grow up gay, you fear that others will strike out at you simply because of who you are. The intent behind bullying and more horrifying acts of violence against gays is the same: to make sure the victims know that they need to lay low, keep silent, and above all realize that they’ll never be accepted because they are defective and have no place in society. For many young people, that rejection is too much to bear and they turn to suicide. Even if the hater isn’t the one to swing the bat or pull the trigger, it’s still a hate crime. Even if the hater gets the victim to do his dirty work by committing suicide, it’s murder just the same.
I remember reading that in the book and wondering if they had asked you to take that part out.
I fought for that chapter and it’s heartbreaking and devastating that it has now come to pass and is being discussed every night on cable news networks. It doesn’t seem so shocking now.
No, it doesn’t. We all know that this has been going on. People who are not in the community are possibly looking at these hate crimes as though they are a new occurrence, but at least they are starting to take note about the detriment of it. Even jokes about gay people that some might find funny may be hurtful to gay youth and make them feel alienated and alone.
Well, they do and Sarah – one of my biggest fears – I was having this discussion with Elyza Byard [Executive Director of GLSEN] with whom I do a lot of work and is also a very good friend of mine, and I was saying, ‘with all of this ramped up discussion with the young people doing the It Gets Better videos and all of the support talking about The Trevor Project and all the people coming out of the woodwork, as much as there are these people being vocal and supportive of gay youth, those who do not like the gay community are just as loud.’ Something that scared me is that in these small towns the gay jokes are gonna be louder and priests will be just as vocal. This is exactly what we are seeing. It’s happening every day. Even to the point of where the gay organizations are trying to not report the suicides as much because they don’t want these young people to feel so defeated. Believe me, the bullies are getting the message. The gay youth are getting the message. They are seeing a portrait of what their life is going to be like. They are getting the messages loud and clear in the headlines from Congress and from church leaders saying, ‘you’re less than, you’re less than, you’re less than.’ In all of these discussions, the rhetoric is ramped up as well and it worries me. Every single day is another suicide. We’re not reporting on it a lot and we’re not seeing it in the media every single day, but if you dig around and click around enough, you can see it. We all know it’s not a new thing, yet mom and pop in Kansas think that it is.
Maybe people need to be scared so that they wake up and notice what is happening.
I think that you’re right. Responsible, accurate reporting is important. I don’t think anyone with a heart, even if they are a hardcore Focus on the Family member, could say, ‘well, good, that kid should’ve jumped.’ Or, ‘oh, good, that boy should’ve hung himself.’ I mean, when it comes down to it, really, is this really a better option? Should our young people be killing themselves? Quite frankly, at some point we are going to have to acknowledge that our young bullies emulate behaviors and thoughts from adults and we’re going to have to get down the brass tacks, determine and call it out and ask ‘where are they hearing this?’ We know where it’s coming from – it’s faith-based fear and old ideology. We can tell our kids all day not to pick on others and we give them the message that everyone has equal rights – except for gays. The bullies are emboldened by the continual denial of the gay community in every aspect and they are propped up and empowered. I did a panel with Kathy Griffin the other night and she said it best when she said that it is trickle-down homophobia. Every time that we get denied, their chests puff out and they are proud. We can’t tell young bullies at school not to pick on the gays when Congress is picking on us.
Did you happen to see The Mormon Proposition?
Yes, of course I did – it was scary. It scared me! Can you believe what they were able to do in such a clandestine manner tax-free?
I know! They did it underneath everyone’s eyes. No one knew what was going on. When we spoke out in the gay community, we were seen as crazy and the attack was on us.
I have had so many churches have a problem with me because I was on Larry King Live last week and I say it flat-out that I am gay and I am a Christian and boy does that light them up! They do not like that. I say it proudly. They do not own God. Those are hard words to say together for whatever reason in the LGBT community. It’s like when you’re a kid on the playground and you want to play kickball and are repeatedly told that you will never get picked to be on the team. After awhile you just say, ‘well, I don’t want to play kickball.’ When you want to be a part of a spiritual fellowship and you’re told that you’ll never fit in, it’s no wonder to me that so many LGBT people walk away from a faithful practice. The conservative right just wants to accuse us all for being Godless in our lives. Well, we’re not! We would like to be included in the fellowship.
We just want to be included in everyday life! Just to be able to walk outside hand-in-hand with our partners and not worry about being bashed. You know, a lot of people think that we have ‘a lot’ of rights, but ‘a lot’ does not make us equal and the same.
Isn’t that awesome? They say, ‘well, you have Gay Pride!’ What more do you want?
Well, let’s count how many parades they have!
You know, [Gay Pride] gives those who want to exploit us the chance to do just that. The mainstream media who would like to come and get us in ass-less chaps with headdresses on and run that on the evening news get to do just that. They paint a portrait of us that is inaccurate.
I wish that they could come to a country music concert and come film the end of that because they’d get that there, too! Ass-less chaps and Godless drunks come to those shows, too, but they don’t catch that!