Though our state legislators may be intent on turning the clock back a century or four, time insists on moving forward, and it's reasonable to assume that a few decades from now (hopefully sooner), the gay rights and marriage equality movement will have taken its place next to the civil rights movement as a fight for human dignity that ultimately prevailed. States can pass all the anti-same-sex marriage amendments they want, but most studies suggest that younger generations have a much more tolerant and compassionate outlook, so it's only a matter of time before the pendulum swings — it's just up to our leaders to decide which side of history they will join.
And with Nashville Pride Fest this weekend, what better time to explore the current state of LGBT life in Music City? Thus, the Scene's Nashville Pride issue. Inside, Jonathan Meador tells the story of how Tribe, celebrating its 10th anniversary, helped shape the Church Street gay district. Vanderbilt University Divinity School's C. Melissa Snarr examines the intersection of religion and sexual orientation. Joey Leslie provides an indispensable guide to Nashville's LGBT hot spots. And Steven Hale looks at our state legislature's blatant hostility toward the LGBT community.
But first, a chat with Chely Wright, who in May 2010 became the first major country music star to come out publicly as gay. Earlier this month, Wish Me Away, a documentary chronicling Wright's experience coming out, received a nationwide theatrical release, and is now available on demand, and at iTunes and Amazon. Wright, who lived in Nashville for 20 years before moving to New York in 2008, made headlines again recently when she appeared on CBS This Morning, in a segment the network posted online under the headline "Chely Wright: Nashville's quietly rejected me." But as Wright tells the Scene in an email interview, sound bites can be misleading, and there's much more to the story:
What reaction to coming out were you expecting, and how has it been different from what you expected?
The reaction has been largely what I expected. Some people are supportive, and some aren't.
Music Row has a number of gay people in significant positions of authority, some of whom haven’t come out. Did you get encouragement from any of those people off the record or behind the scenes?
I’m not sure how to address this question. By simply answering it, I kind of sign off on the content of the question, which I’m unable to do. I don’t know how one would be able to say that there are “a number of people in positions of authority who haven’t come out.” How would one know that? I would agree that there are several “out” people in the industry, and that is a great thing. I’ve received support from scores of LGBT people within our industry — and remember that our industry is far-reaching. There are songwriters, publishers, producers, radio folks from coast to coast and others who reached out to me, privately to share varying messages of support. Many of them have said plainly that they’re cheering me on — from within the confines of their own closet because they don’t feel safe and able to come out. And I understand that. No one has been more supportive than [Music Row executive] Fletcher Foster. In fact, he is a producer of Wish Me Away, the documentary film about my coming out. Fletcher was in the know about my plans to stand up, and he fully encouraged me.
Has your openness inspired anyone else to follow suit?
I've received long, heartfelt emails from people in the industry who have confided in me that my coming out inspired them to come out, on one level or another. Some came out to just one person, and others came out to their families or their co-workers.
Have you heard about any new artists coming up who have seen you as a trailblazer, and have felt emboldened to come out themselves?
I have. I've gotten quite a few notes from young artists who aspire to make it in country music who've said that they're just glad that someone came out and they feel more hopeful that there will be a place for them in the industry someday.
Do you feel the way you've been treated by the Nashville music industry has been a deterrent to others who might want to come out?
The tone of the question implies that I am wholly dissatisfied with the Nashville music industry. I'll say it again, people have reached out to me privately, and it means so much. Despite what you may have heard or read about my feelings on the issue, I don't wallow around in any lack of public support by my industry. The headlines that get picked up and the sound bites suggest that I'm devastated, but I'm not really that hurt by it. When I'm asked very direct questions, I give very direct answers. And my answer has been that I'd love to see some real public support for the LGBT community from my industry. I am frustrated that no one wants to talk about LGBT equality, but it doesn't pull me off track. In fact, it is particularly what fuels me.
Do you think it's emboldened you as an artist?
I guess the most intriguing answer would be "yes," but my answer is — I don't think so. I have always felt very powerful and free, artistically speaking. I will say that retiring from my full-time job of hiding (and believe me, it was labor-intensive) has freed up a lot of my headspace and a lot of my time, which is always conducive to being creative.
What inspired you to document your coming-out process on film?
I made my decision to come out in the summer of 2007. On the very day that I made that decision, I began writing my memoir. I was also wrapping up production of an album with Rodney Crowell at the helm that summer, and the songs we were recording had been born in the two years that led up to that moment. So, I knew what a breakdown sounded like to music, I was seeing what my breakdown looked like on paper, and I guess there was a part of me that wanted to document another dimension of the experience. So I began making video diaries. I had no idea at the time that anyone would ever see those video diaries.
The next year, I was in NYC meeting with a marketing guy named Craig Karpel, in whom I'd confided. He had a movie poster on his wall for a film called Be Real. I told Craig that I'd seen that film, a documentary about everyday people who came out of the closet, and that it had really affected me. Craig said, "I should introduce you to the filmmakers. They're great."
Then he asked me if I had been filming or if I planned to film my coming-out process. I told him that I didn't plan on filming it, but that I had been doing video diaries for nearly a year. So the filmmakers and I got together one night, with no real agenda to speak of, and the next day they called me and said that they wanted to make a feature film about my journey. It felt right. My thinking was that not everyone would take the time to read my book, and I wanted to be sure to fully communicate the very nuanced experience that a person like me endures. Films have proven to be an effective way to chronicle the human condition. One thing I find interesting is that I didn't turn over my video diaries to the filmmakers until about nine months or so after they began shooting. They had no idea what was on the tapes, and frankly, I didn't either. I'd never gone back and watched any of them.
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