Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why Chely Wright's Coming Out Matters

Many of you have probably heard the news that country music star Chely Wright has recently come out. Heather Hogan at AfterEllen.com has written a fantastic piece on why this matters. In part, she says:

"The response to Chely Wright from much of the LGBT community bemuses me because it falls somewhere between apathetic and angry. Tweets and comments all over the Gay Internet are loaded with disappointment and agitation, mostly because people wanted the Big Gay Blind Item of Cinco de Mayo to be 'someone who mattered.'

So, from my Southern heart to your empathetic ears, here are five reasons why Chely Wright's coming out matters:

1) It always matters when anyone comes out.
People who have already come out and are surrounded by supportive communities often forget the dark fog of fear and shame and confusion that lives inside the closet. Some people say that coming out is an ethical obligation, and that if all the closeted gay people in all the world climbed up on chairs and jumped off at the same time, the whole earth would be thrown off-course. Or at the very least, gay people would start to see some civil liberty equality.

And there's real truth to that, but we do a terrible disservice to our queer brothers and sisters when we forget that coming out is a personal decision that often requires monumental courage.

The exhaustive research of LGBT rights groups proves that the game-changer for straight people is knowing someone who's gay. So, no: Chely Wright isn't an A-list movie star or an American Idol winner or a CNN anchor — but she once was closeted and now she's not. And that changes things.

2) In our society, familiarity with a celebrity counts as knowing someone.

Our culture is just absolutely soaked in celebrity lust. We want to know what's happening behind-the-scenes on movies, what's going on in the studio while artists are recording albums. We want to know what celebs' kids look like, what celebs had for lunch, what kind of pajamas celebs wear on Tuesdays. And through some evolutionary fluke/hole in the legal system, all of that information is readily available to us. So we feel like we really do know them.

If knowing a person who comes out changes the way straight people think about gay people, and familiarity with a celebrity counts as knowing someone, then: congratulations, everyone who has ever sung along to Chely Wright; you now know a lesbian!

(GLAAD's research backs up this claim: Knowing a gay celeb or TV character has the same affect as knowing a gay neighbor.)

3) Red states are country music states.

I'm not saying that all Republicans are gay-bashers. In fact, I know some lovely Republicans who marched in the Equality March in D.C. last year. But it's no secret that the Republican party has climbed into bed with the evangelical Christian community, and that — both socially and monetarily — conservative Christian churches are the biggest threat to equal rights in America.

I'm also not saying that every Republican listens to country music. I'm just saying that if you look at a map, red states have the highest concentration of country music radio stations. Georgia and Michigan, for example, both have populations of about 10 million people, but Georgia has twice as many country music radio stations. And if you combined every country music station in every blue state in the northeast, you still wouldn't have as much country music as Tennessee puts out in a single work day.

Chely Wright is all up in every red state's business with her music. It's visibility where visibility matters most.

To continue reading this article, click here.

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