Growing up in rural Kansas would seem a simple life on the surface. But, for Chely Wright, born into a conservative Christian family, it was far from easy, due to a bewildering secret she held locked away inside.
In May 2010, however, Wright finally freed herself from the pain of hiding that secret – her homosexuality – and became the first major country music performer to publicly come out as a lesbian.
On Saturday, Aug. 18, she’ll visit the Derby City to share stories of both struggle and triumph as a nationally-recognized, openly gay singer, at the Louisville LGBT Film Festival, held inside the University of Louisville’s Floyd Theater Aug. 16-19.
The festival will present 48 feature-length motion pictures and shorts relating to the LGBT community, including Wright’s documentary, “Wish Me Away.” The film, by Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf, is an intimate look at Wright’s life and decision to come out, sparked by a breakdown she endured in early 2006.
“I was unfulfilled, unhappy and alone, without companionship, and put a 9-millimeter gun in my mouth and nearly pulled the trigger,” Wright explained of the turning point in both her life and career.
Bent at the knees in profound, emotion-filled prayer following the near-suicidal episode, Wright realized she must face her greatest fear of admitting to her sexual orientation and accept herself for who she was. She also began to see the importance of using her voice to help young people dealing with the same issues she faced, to provide comfort for those bullied and alone.
While she’s been widely praised for her courageous revelation to the public and involvement in gay rights activism, she’s experienced her fair share of criticism, as well.
“As you can imagine, being the first of anything, it’s so controversial, there’s a downside and I signed up for it and I anticipated it,” Wright said. “It took a second to metabolize anything that’s negative.”
Yet, any negativity she might encounter is quickly countered by the joy she feels in knowing she helped someone learn to accept his or her sexuality and love him or herself in spite of it. To this day, since her announcement in 2010, she receives praise and support, through such media as Twitter, from those impacted by her decision:
“@chelywright Thank you for being an open, proud gay woman & for unashamedly standing up for equality. Means a lot to young lesbians like me,” another loyal fan obliged.
It’s messages like these that assure Wright she made the right decision in coming out. “Mostly what I want to do is be open, and I love it when others share their stories with me,” Wright said. “Its so gratifying to connect with other people and hear their struggles.”
On Aug. 18, Wright hopes to connect with her audience at the LGBT Film Festival, as well, and learn more about the LGBT community in a city she praised as “one of my favorite places.”
Wright will host a VIP meet and greet at UofL at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 18, as well as a book signing of “Like Me,” a touching memoir about her life, career and awareness that she was different from a very early age. Her book will be available for purchase at the festival for $18.99 in cash.
VIP festival passes for the LGBT Film Festival are $50 and include all festival events, Wright’s meet and greet, the screening of “Wish Me Away” and the Q&A with Wright at 2 p.m., Aug. 19. Standard festival passes are $30; student passes are $15.
The Louisville LGBT Film Festival Kick Off Party will be held Thursday, Aug. 16, from 7 to 11 p.m. at UofL’s Red Barn. Billy Goat Strut Review will perform and the event will include a “Roaring ‘20s” theme.
For more information on the LGBT Film Festival and a full schedule of showtimes, visit louisvillelgbtfilmfest.com. For more information on Wright and her career, visit chely.com.
Contact writer Ashley Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org, 502.498.2051.