In the late 90s, country star Chely Wright was one of the hottest musicians. She was earning nominations for several different awards and her music was topping charts.
And she risked it all by announcing publicly that she was gay.
Ten years prior to that, however, in the early 2000s, she started a relationship with Brad Paisley, and everybody knew about it.
But then, in an interview with People Magazine, she finally decided to come out, the first country artist to do so publicly.
“There had never, ever been a country music artist who had acknowledged his or her homosexuality,” she told PEOPLE. “I wasn’t going to be the first.” But she said that “nothing in my life has been more magical than the moment I decided to come out.”
She felt as if she would literally be jeopardizing her career for this.
“I don’t have a memory in my life that doesn’t include the dream of making music,” but “I hid everything for my music,” she said.
In 2010, the year she came out, she published a memoir “Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer,” which explained in detail her struggle between her sexuality and the music industry. In that book, she admits to feeling regret about her and Paisley — she said she had “no business” being romantically involved with him.
Since 2010, we’ve seen that she was a trailblazer for the LGBT community within country music. It started the discussion within this genre that is typically associated with conservatism.
Since her announcement, country artists began coming out as well.
In 2014, Ty Herndon told People that he is “out,” “proud,” and “happy.”
“During an Anthony Robbins seminar, I realized I had an incredible story that could possibly help someone’s son or daughter or grandchild’s life not be as difficult as mine has been,” he told PEOPLE. “Maybe they wouldn’t have to go through as much pain and suffering. It’s time to tell my truth.”
Five hours later, Billy Gilman came out publicly via a YouTube video, saying it took him weeks to figure out how to tell everyone.
Shane McAnally, for the record, has been openly gay for a long time, but he didn’t have anywhere near the public reach that Wright had. But he definitely contributed to the movement of country artists coming out. His most recent musical accomplishment was producing and co-arranging the song “Forever Country.”
Additionally, Brandy Clark has been openly gay for some time, and she’s also helped encourage the discussion.
“I don’t write songs for straight people or gay people or black people or white people,” she told Washington Post. “I write songs for people. I’d want them to put themselves in these songs. I would feel that way if I was straight.”
How do you think openly gay country artists has changed the country music world?