Openly gay country star speaks at Riverpoint

By Shannon Bedell, Eagle Life Writer

Chely Wright talks about her experience coming out in the public eye. Photo credit Sam Sargeant
Chely Wright talks about her experience coming out in the public eye. Photo credit Sam Sargeant


It is not every day that Eastern gets the chance to host a performance by an Academy of Country Music and Vanguard winner, but that was exactly what students experienced on Oct. 11 at the Riverpoint Campus.

Singer and gay rights activist Chely Wright screened her award-winning documentary “Wish Me Away” in the Phase I auditorium at Riverpoint campus. Wright is known for being the first country music artist to openly speak about her sexuality.

Some of the notable songs Wright has recorded are “Single White Female” and “Shut Up and Drive.” She has also successfully written music for many country artists including Brad Paisley and Richard Marx.

Wright’s appearance was part of a National Coming Out Day celebration and lecture sponsored by EWU Pride Center; Eagle Entertainment; EWU Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership; WSU Spokane; WSU Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center; and the Students United for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Asexual. Wright discussed her experience coming out in the spotlight of the country music industry.

“Country and western has had an image of being predominantly conservative and Christian. Everyone knows there are gay and lesbian artists in the industry, but no one is out. It took a tremendous amount of courage for an artist, at the top of her game in the industry, to decide to come out,” said Pride Center coordinator Sandra Williams.

The Pride Center sponsored a group session with Wright prior to the celebration event in which students were able to ask questions about Wright’s experiences with coming out and being an advocate.

“I think it is really important to empower and inform the younger generation, but on the other hand, I ask them questions too. I think it is important that they empower and inform people like me that have a bit more access to some of the policy and programmatic work. It’s important to stay in touch with what the mission is,” said Wright.

Attendees of the National Coming Out celebration viewed Wright’s award-winning documentary in which her life and journey to coming out was told.

“I thought it was important to tell the story in any way I could and tell a story that transcended me. You can’t tell a story of triumph and hope in too many? It’s been cool to have a lot of folks email me and say, ‘I watched it with my mom and told her my story after I watched the film,’” said Wright.

“Wish Me Away” was produced and written by Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf. The film was recently nominated for an Emmy award.

Wright talks to the audience about her documentary. Photo credit Sam Sargeant
Wright talks to the audience about her documentary. Photo credit Sam Sargeant

“Her documentary is very powerful because she is documenting her journey to come out nationally on TV. Because this isn’t New York or Los Angeles or even Seattle, I think EWU students have less opportunity to encounter people of that caliber and be up close in person. You don’t necessarily, in Cheney, get experiences like this. They need to hear that people have similar experiences and have come out the other end successful,” said Williams.

The documentary shows Wright’s struggles with her public image and the effect that her coming out had on her family and Christian beliefs.

“She was in such a big place in the public eye and it is really good to show on a college campus that others can be comfortable with themselves,” said EWU Student and Pride Center worker Allie Groves.

The Pride Center offers a safe place on campus for students as well as promotes inclusion and acceptance in the community. Through sponsored events, such as the National Coming Out day celebration, students get the opportunity to hear stories of others.

“I can’t remember who said it but at our first meeting someone said, ‘We are a little blue dot in a sea of red.’ Having the Pride Center get the word out and let people know it’s OK to be gay, is helped by having events and speakers like Wright come. [Wright] grew up in a rural community and made it work,” said Groves.