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Country music's (not so secret) gay history
Chely Wright may be the first major openly gay country music star, but she's hardly the first one to the party
 
Country singer Chely Wright
Country singer Chely Wright
Getty

Country music star Chely Wright has come out as a lesbian on the cover of People magazine, part of a high-stakes media campaign that some feel may affect her marketability. Wright, best known for her 1999 hit "Single White Female," told People: "There had never, ever been a country music artist who had acknowledged his or her homosexuality. I wasn't going to be the first." (Watch an E! NEws report about Chely Wright's decision.) She needn't have feared. Here's a brief look at key gay milestones in country music:

1939
Though it's unclear why, "Lavender Cowboy," a recording by Texas-born country singer Vernon Dalhart, is banned from the radio. Dalhart leaves the industry to become a security guard; is inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

1973
Lavender Country, fronted by openly gay Seattle-based Patrick Haggerty, releases America's first overtly gay-themed country album. The band pressed only 1,000 copies. Songs include "Back in the Closet Again" and "Come Out Singing." "For many," the album cover notes, "Lavender Country is a land of fear, confusion, and loneliness."  

1991
Some consider Pirates of the Mississippi's video "Feed Jake" the "first country music video with a gay theme." The clip tells the story of two men, one of whom dies, leaving the other to take care of his dog. Though the song features the lyric: "If you get an ear pierced, some will call you gay," the band's manager denies intentional gay undertones.

1992
Canadian star k.d. lang—whose country recording career began in 1983—comes out in The Advocate, after she'd effectively switched her focus to pop music

1993
Garth Brooks wins a GLAAD Media Award for his 1992 song "We Shall Be Free," widely interpreted to have a gay-friendly theme, especially the line: "'Cause we shall be free / When we're free to love anyone we choose."

1998
Musician Doug Stevens, of Doug Stevens & the Outband, forms the the Lesbian and Gay Country Music Association (LGCMA) to support gay country artists and promote country music in the gay community

2000
Lavender Country is officially archived in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville

September 2005
Country star Kenny Chesney and actress Renee Zellweger end their brief marriage, and Zellweger's citing "fraud" as the reason sparks rumors that Chesney might be gay. Chesney dismisses the gossip, telling Playboy, "I'm pretty confident in the fact that I love girls."

2006
Country icons Willy Nelson and Dolly Parton write and record songs for major gay-themed movies—Nelson for Brokeback Mountain and Parton for Transameria. On Valentine's Day, Nelson also releases the love song "Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other)".

May 4, 2010
Chely Wright officially declares that she's a lesbian, in a multimedia outing campaign orchestrated by publicist Howard Bragman. She's widely heralded as "the first major country music artist to come out."

Sources: NBC Today, Queer Music Heritage, Wikipedia (2), gltbq.com, Spokane Spokesman Review, CMT (2), The Advocate, Fox News, Stonewall Society, The Boot, Change.org, Salon

 

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