Award-winning country singer and gay activist Chely Wright visited her hometown of Kansas City the weekend of March 9-11 to support LikeMe Lighthouse’s grand opening, an LGBT resource center located at 3909 Main St. The weekend’s events, open to the public, promoted the new facility.
“Wish Me Away,” a documentary about Wright’s life, was shown on Friday, March 9 to a sold-out audience at Screenlands Crossroads. The film followed the chronology of Wright’s life leading up to May 2010 when she admitted to being a lesbian on live television. The documentary focused on her struggle about coming to terms with her sexuality while upholding her Christian beliefs. She remembers praying to her god every day, “Please don’t let me be gay.”
The documentary included how Wright nearly committed suicide prior to coming out. She believed she “wasn’t saying the prayer right.” She went as far as placing a loaded gun in her mouth, but felt a surreal overcoming and changed her mind. Using this newfound enlightenment, she created an album with the song “Like Me,” the inspiration for the resource center’s name and her first published book.
Her spiritual advisor, who was present the day she confessed her sexuality to millions of viewers, reassured her before she walked on stage, saying “After this, you’ll never have to say that prayer again.” Documentary viewers could see Wright’s anxiety through private video diary excerpts.
Wright received both acceptance and tension about her sexuality from her friends and family members. Her sister, father Stan, Aunt Char, and wife Lauren Blitzer-Wright were among the many who attended the weekend’s events.
However, one family member who appeared unsupportive of Wright was her mother. She was neither physically present nor interested in making a statement in the film.
Following the screening, Wright and her family offered a Q&A session, inviting everyone to Hamburger Mary’s after.
Saturday’s LikeMe Lighthouse grand opening was launched by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 12 p.m. Inside were several meet-and-greet opportunities with famous icons, including Tracy and Stamie from “The Real L Word,” Thomas Roberts from “MSNBC’s Live,” Lauren Blitzer-Wright, Stan Wright and founders of the NOH8 Campaign Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley.
Guests could view LikeMe Lighthouse’s resources, including an LGBT book collection of 200+ publications, accessible computers and secluded rooms for meeting spaces. LikeMe Lighthouse also has direct connections to The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention crisis line.
A silent auction took place in the largest communal room, displaying artwork for guests to place bids. Brightly framed pictures of celebrities who took NOH8 Campaign photos lined the hallway. There were volunteer applications at the front desk for those interested in dedicating time to the facility.
To celebrate, Wright organized a benefit concert for Saturday night in the Student Union theatre. The sold-out show drew in a diverse crowd of students and fans. The unexpected guests of the Westboro Baptist Church stationed themselves at the corner of Rockhill Road and Cherry Street with hateful signs against the LGBT community.
The group was met with a counter-protest of students and other LGBT advocating organizations.
This didn’t discourage performers.
Thomas Roberts, Tracy Ryerson and Stamie Karakasidis hosted the event, and performers delivered a night full of comedy, music and success stories. Aside from Chely Wright’s musical performance, the audience enjoyed the comedic styling of Hal Sparks from “Queer as Folk” and parody songs from Alan Cumming.
Local country singer Kristie Stremel opened the show and Jennifer Knapp sang several of her own pieces. The most impacting segment came from a discharged military participant. She was discharged despite her high honors because she was threatened with being outed as a lesbian.
Sunday, March 11, concluded the weekend with a NOH8 Campaign photo shoot with nearly 400 attendees. The campaign’s photos are notorious for white t-shirts, symbolic duct tape and temporary NOH8 tattoos, which participants received.
LikeMe Lighthouse isn’t exclusive to the LGBT community. Wright expressed she wanted everyone to feel welcome regardless of sexual orientation. Wright feels she received optimism from the LGBT community and straight allies. Her goal was to create an easily visible space offering the same opportunity to others dealing with struggles similar to hers.
According to Wright’s best friend Chuck, “She wanted it on a main street, not hidden. This isn’t a dirty secret.”