When country singer Chely Wright came out as a lesbian a couple of years (already???) ago, many people I know scoffed. "Who?" was one response, as was, "Who cares?" It was just another example of the tunnelvision through which we see popular culture. If you're young, old people are off your radar, if you're a white suburbanite hip-hop culture might seem foreign (or, conversely, you might be obsessed with it) and if you're not into or surrounded by country music, it barely exists.
But Chely Wright was a major country star for a decade when she decided to come out, which she did with a big media splash courtesy of Howard Bragman—she was on magazine covers, on the radio, on morning shows and she was selling a memoir. Some gay people find this kind of...out-resourcing, let's call it...repulsive, taking offense that an artist's sexuality is being used to make money.
I disagree, and I think watching the new documentary Chely Wright: Wish Me Away—opening from First Run Features in NYC and Los Angeles June 1—a great argument is made for my way, and Chely's way, of thinking. It's not only about maximizing your buck because you might be out of work for a while, it's about using your public capital to draw attention to an important cause rather than squandering it in a completely self-centered, easy-way-out way.
I hired my sweet pal Brad as my videographer and met him at the Westin Bonaventure just in time to check in and take our places. I kind of hate how the carpet was set up—the guests were allowed to congregate behind us to stargaze, which was distracting. But it was nothing compared to the women two spots down from me whose entire goal was to flash a huge "FREE GAY HUGS!" sign and video themselves receiving said hugs from roughly two-thirds of the celebrities who walked. (And I thought I was lame with my aggressive pic-with requests!) They were so damn loud! Luckily, they didn't ruin any of my interviews, but only by sheer luck.
Brad's mic needed batteries (he's blond; sorry, Brad) so I wound up videoing my own first chat, with Jennifer Tyrrell. She's the lesbian mom recently booted as a den mother by the virulently homophobic Boy Scouts of America. Smart woman and immediately likable. Unreal that they're getting away with that crap. I was a cub scout (I bailed on Webelos mainly because...what the fuck is a Webelo???) and fondly remember my Pinewood Derby racing days as well as the hillbilly band we assembled for a talent night. Not to mention the father/son cook-off, in which my father and I had a well-appreciated coconut cream pie. But still, fuck the Scouts.
My first stars were Angela Featherstone (STUH-nning, but my campadre confessed she had been an ice queen on a recent shoot) and Michelle Paradise of Exes & Ohs. No Megan Cavanagh, but they were delightful.
Next, I snagged Grant Gustin of Glee. I don't really follow the show, but no one that cute is getting past me without a third degree. He's adorable and quite articulate, even if he refers to gay people as "homosexuals," which totally didn't offend me because he was totally doing it to sound smart, not homophobic. I had a homosexual crush on various parts of him.
Max Adler from the same show was equally adorable and charming. He's passionate about his role, even though it came as a total shocker that his bullying character would be written as a late-blooming man-lover.
Chely Wright—who came out in 2010, the first country star to do so—is the subject of Chely Wright: Wish Me Away, a new documentary chronicling her struggle with the decision. It releases in the U.S. on June 1.
Meanwhile, her bid to open a nonprofit LGBT community service center was recently dealt when a local contractor (Kansas City, MO) walked off the job after finding out what exactly he was helping to build.
Guess he'd be more comfortable spending his time building a bridge to nowhere?
With the news that out singer Chely Wright has married her longtime love Lauren Blitzer comes this nice portrait from People (September 5, 2011). At the wedding, the women invited friends in same-sex relationships to be a part of their first dance. Wright says:
"There were 20 couples. It was profound. So many of our straight guests approached us afterwards, saying how much that meant to them."
Just pointing out that this week's People (May 17, 2010) is the issue that was alleged to have a major gay celebrity coming out on its cover. The rumor that the star had secure the cover was part of why nobody guessed Chely Wright until the last moment. Whether POed that people guessed or embarrassed by the bored pre-actions to Wright's announcement, the magazine not only didn't put her on the cover—her story isn't even teased. Even Billy Joel's daughter's depression is more interesting.
Queerty has a provocative article (aren't they all?) about how Howard Bragman, the publicist behind country singer Chely Wright's coming out, may have led to undue pressure on closeted stars forced to deal with a temporarily extra-inquisitive media and may have jeopardized any of them actually coming out on their own.
I commented over there, but why give my candy away to other kids, right? In a nutshell, I think what Bragman wound up doing, purposefully or not, was showing all those closet cases that their big secret isn't. He also made everyone yawn when the star turned out not to be a superstar...but that yawn is also quite helpful in that all the closet cases in Hollywood will see that the world didn't end and that a significant chunk of their own market probably doesn't care. (Yes, it's different in that she doesn't have the endorsement deals and massive movie roles Queen Latifah might have, but it's still more positive than negative that she is going to benefit from coming out.)
I think overall he did a great service to the gay community...and Ms. Wright had nothing to lose either so she should be able to withstand a few, "Who the fuck are you, anyway?" comments. Mission accomplished.