I have recently read a pair of wonderfully touching, inspirational and heart-wrenching books with similar subject matter; so I have elected to review them both in this one review. Although both are deserving of much more than my meager efforts at review, I offer you my thoughts.
Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio (Edited by Ed Madden and Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge) was given to me by my dear friend, Rev. David Gillespie, who is one of the contributors to this collection of essays contributed to Rainbow Radio. Rainbow Radio hit the airwaves of Air America in August of 2005, in Columbia, South Carolina. “For far too long,’ the announcer began “talk radio airwaves have been dominated by people who talk about us. Starting this fall, we speak for ourselves!” With that bold proclamation. South Carolina’s first ever gay and lesbian radio show hit the airwaves.
Since that time, Rainbow Radio has grown into a real grassroots movement with broad community involvement, even as it continues to offer diverse, accurate and true-life tales of life as LGBT persons in South Carolina.
As I suggested, I was eager to read this collection, both because of my friendships with Reverends Gillespie and Chellew-Hodge. Not only that, but I as a straight man, cannot begin to truly comprehend what it must be like to face the prejudices that one who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered must face; particularly living in the south.
In retrospect, I sort of expected this collection to be filled with horror tales of prejudice and bullying. To be sure, there are elements of that; In fact, I was often reduced to tears by the injustices that have been heaped upon the writers who shared their stories. My surprise, however was the overall triumphant tone; as the writers related their own experiences of reconciling themselves to themselves, and often to God as well.
Shortly after reading Out Loud, I also acquired a copy of Like Me, by country music star Chely Wright. As a fan of many types of music, I owned a couple of Chely Wright CDs, and was very proud of her courage at her coming out in 2010; particularly as I suspected the sort of backlash that she might be subjected to as a result.
It was later, when I learned of her advocacy work with groups such as Like Me, GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, and Faith in America; that my appreciation truly grew, and I decided that I must read her autobiography.
While there are indeed some bits of juicy celebrity insights for those who are concerned with such details; this is no shallow celebrity tome, to be sure. Like Me is a well-written and compelling story of Chely’s life before and during her years of celebrity status. While there are, to be sure; many details of her hard work and rise to the top of the country music charts; most compelling was Chely herself as she sought both to reconcile herself to her sexuality and keep that part of herself away from not only the public but even those closest to her; for fear that coming out would be the end of her long dreamed-of career in country music.
The most compelling bits for me were the prayers: Chely as a child praying; (and believing that spoken prayer is more effective) going so far as to dive underwater in a swimming pool for privacy so that she could speak, even scream her constant prayer “God, please don’t let me be gay!” and then finally, after reaching a point where she was a slight squeeze away from taking her own life “God, please give me a moment’s peace.”
At that latter moment, having finally begun to reconcile herself to herself, Chely began the journey to become more, so much more than a star, but a hero.
While my heart goes out to these writers, they are also my heroes. For they have often been told by society, family, friends and the church that they cannot be who they are, or cannot be as they are and still loved by God. yet they have had the courage to claim the love that is rightfully theirs and seek to share their experience strength and hope with others. I would highly recommend these works to anyone who is out, coming out; bullied or triumphant. Furthermore, I believe these works should be required reading for any straight person who seeks to better understand and love their neighbor, regardless of their affectional orientation, and thus better fulfill Jesus’ commandment to love one another, as ourselves.