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Chely Wright Struggling With Lack of Country Music Support

It’s been two years since Chely Wright came out as a lesbian, and she admits she’s still struggling to be accepted — especially in country music. The singer-songwriter acknowledges she feels a disappointing rejection from an industry that once welcomed her with open arms, and wishes more of her fellow artists would stand in her corner.

“It’s not my belief that I should be performing on every awards show,” she tells “CBS This Morning.” “Now it’s the new Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood and Lady Antebellum. That’s a natural part of entertainment. But there’s an institutionalized friendship within country music — once you’re one of us, you’re always invited to certain things, to present or be a part of it or chair a committee for the Country Music Hall of Fame. I used to do things like that. It’s a rejection mostly, because I would like to hear a country music artist, the big ones, not just say, ‘Well, I like Chely. I like her even though she’s gay.’ I need a country artist who is a big deal, like Jay-Z in his community — he came forward and said, ‘I believe in equality for all.’ I’m struggling because I have not heard that from the big stars in country music.”

The songstress, who counts Mary Chapin Carpenter, LeAnn Rimes and SHeDAISY among her few supporters, adds that it’s not only peers that have given her the cold shoulder, but many of her fans as well. “Some of the fears that I had that did come to pass were just an across-the-board rejection by a certain number of my fans,” she explains. “In the equality movement, we talk about the ‘movable middle.’ That’s who I wanted to speak to in country music — the fans who needed to hear a story like mine, who needed to know that for years they had loved a gay person and just didn’t know it, and that’s the power of telling our stories. But there are people on the far right, it doesn’t matter what you say to them, they are not going to be OK with my being gay. Then there are people on the far left that, when they found out, they’re like, ‘I don’t care. Who cares?’ But it’s that movable middle that have to think about it now. They did love, and stand in my autograph line and come see my shows for years, they did love a gay woman and they had to then make the assessment that, OK, nothing’s changed. I still like her.”

The Kansas native spent most of her life bracing herself for the struggle she is currently facing. “When I was in kindergarten, I felt different and somewhat not like the other kids, but I didn’t understand until I was about nine years old that I was a little gay girl in Kansas on a farm,” Chely recalls. “I was raised in a home, in a town that said [homosexuality is the devil], in a church. Quite frankly, that was 1979 that I realized I was a little gay girl with aspirations of being on the Grand Ole Opry, and those things didn’t fit together. We still struggle to make those things fit together, but they fit for me now.”

Chely, who wed GLBT activist Lauren Blitzer last year in Connecticut, regrets the years she dated men, including Brad Paisley, while trying to cover up her sexuality.

“I had several relationships with several wonderful men,” she recalls. “I do regret those men that I dated that I could never reciprocate the love and affection that they had for me. I knew it the entire time that I couldn’t, and there’s a particular cruelty to that. I haven’t spoken to Brad, but a couple of our mutual friends have spoken to one another. I heard recently that he sent me a smile and a hug. Brad’s a good guy, and I should have been able to pull him aside and say, ‘I can’t date you because I’m gay.’ One never really knows what someone would do with that information. He is a good person, but I was too afraid to tell him.”

The “Single White Female” singer hopes her coming out inspires others who are struggling to follow suit. “Basic statistics would tell us that there are others like me,” explains the 41-year-old. “There are a lot of people in the industry. We have radio people, programmers, producers, songwriters, artists — a lot of folks in the industry have come to me and said, ‘I just can’t do it, but good for you.’ And they wonder why they can’t, or they say ‘I’m out enough because I told my mom.’ You’re really not out unless it says it on your Wikipedia page.”

Still, the author of the memoir, “Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Singer” says she harbors no ill-will towards those who have turned their back on her. “I have my sights set on the positive things that I can do, the advocacy groups with whom I work,” she notes. “I don’t need much from Nashville. I’m fine. I’m not losing sleep over the fact that no one’s standing up and saying ‘Chely Wright has done a great thing and this is important.’ I’m trying to work on those things and to use my voice to make sure that everyone out there in America knows, you do love a gay person. It may not be me, but I promise you, you have a neighbor, you have a coworker, you have a niece, and be mindful of the negative things you say about gays and lesbians because someone is listening.”

Chely detailed her decision to come out in a documentary, “Wish Me Away,” which won the Documentary Channel Audience Award. The film will be available on several media outlets, including Comcast, DirecTV and iTunes, starting tomorrow (June 1). Details can be found here.


Watch Chely Talk About Her Fans

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