Chely Wright has come a long way from the moment when she put a gun into her mouth and pondered pulling the trigger. Detailed in her book, Like Me, Wright’s sense of community activism is rooted in her own journey to reconcile her country music career with her sexual orientation. Now free to fully be herself, Wright is the national spokesperson for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The country music star spoke with me from her home in New York City about dispelling LGBT stereotypes, her Austin bona fides, and how she’s empowered others to live their truth.
During an appearance on the Today show, you talked about being at a very low point and pondering suicide. What allowed you to pull yourself out of that?
My rock bottom didn’t last long. That was a late night where I had a gun out and I actually had it in my mouth ready to pull the trigger. I woke up the next morning and got on my knees and prayed. I attribute it to my faith and the mercy and grace of God, and knowing that I needed to stand up for young people and tell my story. I wasn’t contemplating suicide for being gay. I was contemplating suicide because I’d painted myself into a corner–no one in country music had ever acknowledged being gay.
Tell me about your work with Atticus Circle and why it’s important for you.
I know of the organization’s good work, that it mobilizes and empowers the LGBT community and really highlights families and the ways that people can come together. It’s a grassroots effort at Atticus and I’m a fan of that. One of the reasons I wanted to come out and step forward as a lesbian is that for some reason, there’s a large part of the population that doesn’t believe that the gay community has family values. Well, we do. You can be a Christian and be gay.
What’s surprised you the most about reactions to your coming out?
I can’t help but–in this political climate where we’re discussing young people and bullying in schools–I can’t help but hear this negative rhetoric about people like me, that we’re godless. That others own God. That just blows my mind. As a culture and society, we need to reexamine unconditional love. I’ve been engaged in a lot of conversations in the media and in private. the ways that people just abandon reason on behalf of scripture or what they think it says.
The last time you were in Austin was for the Livestrong Challenge. Tell me about your experience.
Let me go ahead and say it on record, Austin is the best city in Texas! For a musician, it doesn’t get any better. Ray Charles said something about Nashville years ago, that when the wheels touch down in Nashville, you feel connected and you feel a soul. You know you’ve landed near the Grand Ole Opry. I feel that about Austin–when the wheels touch down, you know you’re about to get some really good food and have a musical inspiration. The most profound thing is that you know you’re about to make new friends.
Have you heard from any young people who have been moved by your coming out?
I’ve received thousands of letters. It’s been amazing and humbling for me. There was this one guy, just incredible, I think he was about 50, a real straight-shooter-looking guy, he came to me after an event. He said, ‘I married my high school sweetheart and we have two kids.’ and he said he’d been talking to his therapist since he read my book and that he felt like he’d read the female version of his life. He said, ‘I haven’t touched my wife in years and I don’t tell her I love her. I’ve been carrying on different relationships behind her back. I’m gay, and she doesn’t know it. The fact that she feels so unloved by me has caused her to medicate her pain with food. Now my wife, my beautiful wife, is now 300 pounds.’ He said, ‘I’m coming out to my wife. Your book has inspired me–I know all hell’s gonna break loose, but I’ve gotta do it. I know we’re gonna get kicked out of the church. I’ve gotta free my wife of the prison that I put her in.’ I think that’s so brave and loving and courageous. But truth wins, truth always wins.