Country’s Chely Wright Comes Out: ‘Sinful Lifestyle’ or an Opportunity for Understanding

Posted: May 11, 2010 in Gay Rights
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Country music's Chely Wright - Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Country music's Chely Wright - Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Going where no country music star has gone before, Chely Wright admitted to being a lesbian in this week’s People Magazine. With her self-outing, the 39-year-old country singer has ventured into uncharted territory with her more socially conservative fans.

It would be easy to underplay Wright’s announcement as just another celebrity getting too close and personal. Doing so, however, would not only minimize the courage it took for Wright to come clean, but would also overlook the special nature of the star/fan relationship in country music.

A large contingent of country aficionados feel an affinity for their favorite stars that falls somewhere between close friend and family member. This personal investment is played out every year at the Country Music Association’s Music Festival and Fan Fair, where tens of thousands of fans stand in designated lines for photo ops and autographs from their favorite stars. Every day, stars are accustomed to receiving birth announcements, requests for advice and long, soul-revealing letters from loyal fans.

However, as the Dixie Chicks discovered in ‘03, an adoring throng can quickly turn into an angry mob if the fans feel they’ve been betrayed.

Wright’s revelation could lead to the same kind of reaction, only worse. Hers was not just a political statement that could later be taken back or apologized for; she let her fans in on a secret that is central to who she is—no room for compromise.

Wright knew she was putting her career on the line, but felt she owed it to herself, her fans and the LGBT community to end the charade.

As Wright told Karen Ocamb in a Huffington Post interview, “Our secrets shouldn’t take us down. There’s so much in the world that’s so painful – this shouldn’t be one of them. This shouldn’t be a reason a kid goes into his basement and puts a gun in his mouth. This shouldn’t be a reason a 45-year old man takes a bottle of pills but he does.”


“It makes me sad to see so many people congratulating you,” wrote a disappointed fan from Wright’s hometown. “Here in Wellsville, you are our ‘claim to fame’ so to speak and it really makes me sad to see that you have chosen a sinful lifestyle.”

Though the supportive comments far outweigh the negative on Wright’s Facebook page, you can be sure there are a number of folks in Chely’s fan club who will look sideways at this lesbian thing. But, here is where there is some reason for hope.

Gay and lesbian rights groups are full of heterosexuals who had been intolerant of homosexuals until they were forced to come to terms with a friend or family member coming out.

Given the personal nature of country music fandom, it’s possible that some of Wright’s fans will undergo a similar awakening. Maybe the woman who chastised Wright for her lifestyle choice will ask herself why a woman who makes her living as a country singer would jeopardize her hard-earned career by “choosing” homosexuality. Then, she might go on to wonder why Wright, whom she had always considered her town’s “claim to fame,” would suddenly resign from the “decent American” club, and leap headlong into wickedness and sin.

When anti-gay dogma and rhetoric fail to give sensible answers to these questions, and the fan discovers that Wright’s sexual orientation was God’s choice—not Chely’s—the fan might start looking to common sense, compassion and understanding for more answers.

When the fan realizes that her darlin’ Chely continues to be the same sweet, talented, troop-supporting gal she’s always been, the fan might start to believe that bigotry against Chely and other homosexuals is the real sin.

When that fan realizes that her former attitude toward gays drove Chely Wright and countless other members of the LGBT community to live a lie that was almost fatal, she might start telling her friends about the cruelty and injustice of homophobia.

In time, the entire Wellsville chapter of the Chely Wright Fan Club might even start believing that Chely should have the right to marry the person she loves.

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  1. Angie says:

    I am so proud of Chely for being herself finally. My son came out almost 2 years ago now….and I couldn’t be more proud.He is finally able to be his authentic self. Just so everyone knows…PFLAG is a wonderful website to go to if you have any questions…or need to understand some things.I know that it helped me. He’s 21 now…I’m so glad he didn’t wait as long as Chely did…otherwise he may have been the one with a gun in his mouth too. That would be a great loss. Congrats Chely! Be who you are and be proud!!!!


    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Angie –
      Messages like yours — intelligent, caring and candid — are my real reward for writing this column. Thank you for your comment, and may you and your liberated son live happily ever after.

      Russ Buchanan


  2. Carolyn says:

    I think it takes great courage to be yourself regardless of what your orientation is. I know from my own experience of coming out, that it is so difficult to trust anyone. Chely has taken on the whole world….WOW. I have always loved her voice, now I can love her for being an honest, open person in this world.

    Thank you for your article


    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Carolyn –

      Thank you for your comment and insight on Chely Wright’s and your liberation.

      I too was knocked out by Ms. Wright’s decision to announce her lesbianism to the world. The other day I read a funny and very telling remark by Wright. In response to letters she had received from colleagues pledging their support during “this difficult time,” she said, ”This is not the difficult time. Chaotic and busy, yes. But the difficult time was the past 16 years of my career in hiding. The getting here was hard, the being here is really quite magical.”

      As a straight guy, I live in a state of perpetual embarrassment caused by fellow heteros who seem bound and determined to marginalize people who share your orientation. It is nonsensical, cruel and supremely un-American.

      Watching yesterday’s successes of the Tea Party left me feeling a weird mixture of glee (even the week-kneed Democrats should have no problem defeating that bunch), and terror (to think there are that many Americans who could actually cast a ballot for a group that is defined by its phobias–especially homophobia).

      The recent court rulings against Prop 8 and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are heartening, but there is still a long, long way to go.

      Again, thank you,



  3. Rosemary says:

    Well, it looks like a good news day. Although it may not be the end, it is nearing the end of DADT. The pentagon told recruiters:

    “The Pentagon is instructing military recruiters to accept the applications of gay men and lesbians who wish to join the armed forces, but must inform potential recruits that a moratorium on “don’t ask, don’t tell” could be lifted at any moment.

    The guidance issued this week to recruits is consistent with the Defense Department’s plan to abide by a federal judge’s injunction on the 17-year ban on gays serving openly in the military. The Pentagon has advised senior military leaders not to ask service members or applicants about their sexual orientation, to treat the rank and file with dignity and respect, and to maintain good order and discipline. ”

    I think the Pentagon would be cutting its own throat to end the moratorium and fight the judge’s orders. They need recruits. The Secretary of DEfense wants DODT to end, among others. Again… it is the old fogey, cold war bigoted, homophobic, generation who is dissing our troops by declaring it the military cannot follow commands, cannot show respect for fellow soldiers and veterans and cannot get over their own biases, for the greater good. The military does what it is told, or they retire or leave. I am sure that those older bigots who were present when the military was ordered integrated, protested the same way, and they left or were retired. It became a better military. Nuf said? They fought the integration of women, and said they couldn’t compete or handle combat… they were WRONG WRONG WRONG AGAIN!

    JUST go away bigots, sexists and homophobes! Stop dissing our troops- gay, female or straight! Go find a good shuffleboard game somewhere and shut the hell up.


  4. Adamnyc says:

    the dishonesty of homosexual hatemongers is amazing… stop shoving propaganda in peoples faces

    “Going where no country music star has gone before”? please, from Vernon Dalhart to k.d. lang to Rascal Flatts..its nothing new

    but what it really is just as what the article stated… but not for understanding , but an opportunity for propaganda.


    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hi Adamnyc –

      Thank you for your spirited comment.

      Let’s examine it, shall we? “The dishonesty of homosexual hatemongers [sic] is amazing…” Actually, what I find amazing is your capacity for error. Neither I, the great homosexual hate monger, the late Vernon Dalhart nor any of the guys in Rascal Flatts are gay. Yes, lang came out long before Chely Wright, but lang was and is a crossover act — hardly a mainstream country star.

      Now, let’s take a look at your characterization of my article as hate mongering propaganda. If you see hate in my hope that Wright’s coming out might lead to understanding, and see propaganda in a straight guy’s belief that bigotry against gay folk is stupid, narrow and wrong, then your enormous capacity for making mistakes isn’t that amazing after all.

      Thanks again for your comment,



  5. Robert says:

    Homosexual is a sin and that is the lifestyle she chose. You can redo the bible.


    • Russ Buchanan says:

      Hey Robert –

      Thanks for writing.

      As a student of the bible you are probably aware that the Bible suggests stoning to death one’s son for being a drunkard. It also condones slavery in a few passages. Wonderful book, though not always a reliable guide.



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