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'I didn't come out to shut up': Lesbian country music star Chely Wright to receive Miami gay film festival award

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Country star-lesbian activist Chely Wright says that two years after publicly coming out of the closet, she sometimes gets “beat up” by her straight fans:

“That’s all we hear, gay, gay, gay,” they tell her. “Why don’t you sing anymore?”

Her response: “I am singing. You just don’t hear anything except gay.”

Wright, 41, is in South Florida this weekend to accept a Lavender Heart Award Friday night from the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which on Saturday will screen her autobiographical documentary, Wish Me Away.

“My goal all along was that someone who didn’t think they needed to see this movie would see this movie,” says Wright, who will attend the screening at Regal South Beach and answer questions. The film festival will give away half the available tickets to LGBT youths.

“They need to understand they’re not alone and that they, too, can walk this delicate path, this nuanced path, and show it to their parents,” says Wright, whose own mom doesn’t speak to her.

“With my dad, it’s great,” Wright says of their relationship. “Not with my mother. She’s not supportive. She thinks I’m going to hell.”

The Single White Female singer says she “knew at 4 that I wanted to be a country star. I was 9 when I realized that I was a little gay girl.”

Fifteen years after being named Top New Female Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music, Wright came out big-time in 2010.

“I know what kind of courage it took for me to muster the strength to come out.,” she says. “I could have just tweeted, ‘Hey there, I’m gay.’ I chose to be methodical and calculated, as some have accused me of being.” She immediately published her memoir and began working on the documentary.

She didn’t worry about ruining her career. “At some point you look in the mirror and say how much money do you need? I have a beautiful house. I don’t worry about the light bill.”

Wright says she has reclaimed her Christian faith. It wasn’t easy.

“It’s a gift from God, I guess. I was in my late teens, and I knew that God let me know, ‘You’re cool.’ But you do have to keep it a secret. Society told me that,” says Wright, who comes from Kansas City, Mo. “My church condemned the sick homosexuals. They likened us to murderers. Everybody told gay jokes. There wasn’t an out gay person in my town. Some of my teachers told gay jokes and used the word faggot.”

Last year, Wright married Lauren Blitzer-Wright “on the first day it was legal in New York.” A month ago, they opened the Like Me Lighthouse, an LGBT community center in Kansas City.

Wright, a spokeswoman and national board member of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, says she’ll step up her activism after a bullied gay 14-year-old, Kenneth Weishuhn Jr., killed himself April 15 in Sioux City, Iowa.

“There’s so much work to do,” Wright says. “If 80 percent of what I talk about is gay issues — I didn’t come out to shut up. I came out to talk.”

The Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival runs Friday through May 6. Visit www.mglff.com for details and schedule.

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