The Austin Chronicle

http://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/gay-place/2011-01-25/a-tickle-in-your-soul/

'A Tickle In Your Soul'

By Julie Gillis, January 25, 2011, 10:00am, The Gay Place

Atticus Circle, the Austin-based, national agency that encourages straight people to stand up for gay rights, hosts their first annual Awards Luncheon this Thursday to raise funds to fight bullying in schools. And this year, they honor out gay country singer Chely Wright among others.

Country music star, Chely Wright came out as a lesbian, in May, 2010. She's been working tirelessly to advocate for LGBT rights since busting out of her closet.

Newly outspoken activist Chely has written a memoir about her coming out experience. She hopes to establish an LGBT center, The Lighthouse Project, in her hometown, Kansas City, MO and to seize this spotlight moment to illuminate LGBT issues. Here's a bit more of what she has to say:

Austin Chronicle: Your process of coming out was long and strategic. Were the plans for a non-profit and resource center always on your mind?

Chely Wright: It was not always in my mind, though there was a pretty intricate strategy for using my coming out as an effective tool in a community where there wasn't much support. I first had the idea for Lighthouse, living in Chelsea in 2008 and thought to open the center in Nashville. The more I toured around and heard stories from people I realized that it was the Midwest, that was the heart of who I am, that my experience there was not different than many gay kids. There is a lack of understanding, of awareness in the educational systems there. I wanted to go even deeper into who I was to give back to my home… Though it may seem to people on the coasts that everything is "okay" in terms of gay rights, that's not so true in small towns. Kids' experience is relative. Their school is their world; their peers are their world. All they know is it's hard for them. We have to keep that in mind, while there has been progress made, a kid's experiences is a kid's experience.

AC: As you went through high school and experienced bullying, were there allies around you at the time? Were you able to find support?

CW: I didn't let on to anyone, there were no gays, so far as I knew. The only thing we heard about gays was negative condemnation. I thought I could just not act on it. I thought I was supposed to not be gay. Once I realized that this was how God made me, then I realized: while I was right with God, I was still in cultural and social jeopardy. I was going into a career where there had never been an openly gay artist. [Editor's note: Chely: kd lang, line 1!]

Secrets are hard. I ask my audience to not think about gay or straight, but to imagine your biggest secret, no matter what it is: If it could take you down, cost you your job, and what that means to you. It could be that you were a poor kid, someone who grew up poor, and no one in your peer group knows that now. Secrets can cause so much pain. Just thinking about that opens up the room to more discussion. It's as much about mental health as anything, to be able to be yourself.

AC: What advice would you give straight people on how to "come out" as an ally, especially those who are working with youth?

CW: Any time you have a community that empowers the people in the community – from mental health to opening lines of communication – your community will win artistically and in all ways.

I implore allies of any sort that feel compelled to act; feel a little tickle in your soul to stand up. Imagine what it feels like to be the kid never picked for the team, to be the person who never gets invited to sit at the lunch-table at work. To never be included. LGBT issues aside, this is the Golden Rule. Treat others as you'd want to be treated.

If you feel that tickle in your soul to stand up for others, pull your big girl and big boy pants up, and do it. You will not believe how it will feed your soul. You'll think you are acting for others, but wait 'til you see what it does for you, too.

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I wholeheartedly agree with Chely, that when we feel the call to stand up for each other, our souls, or inner selves (however you define it) are nourished and nurtured through the acts of connection and compassion, not by ostracism and denial. Being able to be who we are is key.

The Atticus Circle Awards Luncheon will be held January 27, 11:30 am-1:00 pm at the Renaissance Austin Hotel. The group will recognize Texas A&M GLBT students for their Day of Silence event as well as Dell, Inc. for support of the LGBT community and Atticus Circle. Atticus keeps track of this important work right here in our own back yard … work that deserves recognition.

Proceeds from the Atticus Circle Awards Luncheon will go to Atticus Circle's 2011 campaign to fight bullying on college campuses and schools across the nation.

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