When I was growing up, homosexuality was a horrible monster that no one wanted to deal with. “Abomination” was a word that I heard on a regular basis in my Baptist church. I grew up in the 80’s when AIDS, or as it was called then, the “Gay Disease” was on the rise. I even remember hearing people say around me when I was a kid that “finally those faggots are getting what they deserve” and that “God was punishing them for their disgusting lifestyle.”
When you’re a kid growing up in the church, angels, demons, the devil, and Jesus are just as real as the President of the United States, or Big Bird. You accept that they exist though you’ve never seen them in real life. God is to be feared, as is the devil, and if you do something wrong they’re both going to come after you. The devil will burn you in hell and God will smite you with AIDS.
All I knew was, I didn’t know what gay was, but I definitely didn’t want to be it.
For much of my teen years I was afraid of homosexuality because I didn’t understand it. All I had ever heard from the pulpit of my church or people I knew was hate, so I followed their lead because I looked up to them. I didn’t know any gay people, so why should I care about them? They were, in my eyes, sinners that needed to be saved and fixed. In my sheltered, brainwashed, teenage imagination, “they” were out on the streets being lowlifes somewhere.
That is until my best friend came out to me our first year of college.
I think we both went through a phase of trying to “fix” him. I encouraged him to date girls when he liked one—though that was extremely rare. Deep down I always feared for the girls he would date. I feared that they would love him and the reality of his sexual preference would ultimately hurt them. Slowly he began to admit the experiences he was having with men, seemingly testing the waters with me, to make sure I still accepted and loved him each step of the way. And like any good best friend, of course, I did.
Right around this same time, I began working at Walt Disney World—a corporation known for their blind acceptance and equality practices. I mean, they offered health insurance benefits to people’s domestic partners WAY before anyone else. Back then, that was extremely progressive. Naturally, massive populations of their employees were and continue to be LGBTQ.
So there I was, fresh out of high school and my Baptist church youth group, thrown into a pit of singing and dancing heathens. It was awesome!
I’ve always been the type of person that had to touch the stove to make sure it was hot—even if 1,000 people before me said it was. I can’t accept others opinions as my own, and wouldn’t have it any other way. I think one of the greatest gifts we’ve all been given is the depth of thought we are all capable of. It’s what separates us from the animals and makes us the “greater” species.
Though sadly, many people out there are comfortable accepting hand-me-down opinions, even if they are hateful and wrong. So with this new revelation of my best friend being gay and this new crop of “out and proud” gay people to talk to at Disney World, my research began. I asked so many questions—and though I’m sure behind my back everyone was thinking, “who is this annoying Pollyanna?!”—kindly, they answered. I went to the Parliament House, a famous gay bar in Orlando, and met drag queens, competed in their karaoke competitions, and immersed myself in the culture.
Slowly, layers of fear and disgust built up over the years began to fade away.
I began to understand my new FRIENDS journeys, and their struggles. I found that their dreams and their desires were much like mine: acceptance, love, and happiness. My faith began to morph as well. I began to see that the God I believed in, that I grew up believing in, the God of LOVE, couldn’t possibly hate these beautiful people that I had grown to love so much. They were His children, after all.
My next stop was New York City: where the LGBTQ and the sexually free thrive. Though it has its share of hate crimes, New York is one of the most accepting places for people to live freely and openly. New York also just so happened to be where my shiny Broadway dreams could come true. I spent the first couple years pounding the pavement as they say: working in restaurants, singing in a wedding band, auditioning almost every day—but I was getting nowhere.
I was a classic “big fish in a small pond” in Florida, and when I got to NYC, I was a fish out of water.
That is, until I met my other best friend, Marty Thomas. He was judging a singing competition that I was competing in at Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in the West Village (I find it even more fitting for this article that we met on the same block that launched the gay rights movement in 1969). I was NOT taking it seriously, singing with my beer in my hand, dressed terribly, and didn’t know the words.
Marty pulled me aside and said, “Look, you have real talent, but if you wanna make it in this town, you have to get it together.” He basically took me under his wing after that night, showed me the ropes, and taught me everything he knew. I sang in every gay bar in the city that year. Two years later, I was starring on Broadway as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family. The next year I originated the role of “The Mistress” in the Tony Nominated Broadway revival of Evita.
I truly owe my career to my LGBTQ friends. They are the ones who believed in me first.
They are the ones who stayed out till 4am with me singing show tunes and encouraging me to keep going when times were tough. They are the ones who were brutally honest with me so that I could grow. They are the ones who sat behind the casting desk and gave me my first jobs. They are the ones who agreed to be my agents when no one else would. They are the ones who taught me to act with passion, to dance with abandon, and to sing like a diva. So I sure as hell am not going to forsake them now.
I moved to Nashville in 2013 to follow a different dream. I have always wanted to be a country singer for as long as I can remember, and I didn’t want to have any regrets about not trying. So I went for it. I found myself in a very familiar “fish out of water” situation. I’ll never forget what one man said to me when I first arrived, “Honey, you may have made it in New York, but contrary to what Frank Sinatra says, that does NOT mean you can make it anywhere.” So, there I was—a Broadway star bartending again on a very different “Broadway.”
With nothing to lose, and no prospects in sight, I decided to audition for The X Factor.
After waiting in line all day, waiting for me at the end of the line was the producer I had to audition for—who just so happened to be an adorable, musical theater loving, gay man. JACKPOT! I got right through, but not before he made me sing “Defying Gravity.” I placed in the top 12 finalists that season.
Right around this time I had a songwriting session with two friends Patryk Larney and Anna Krantz. Kacey Musgraves had just put out “Follow Your Arrow” and I felt very inspired to speak freely in my songwriting for the first time. I told them I wanted to write about my experience growing up in church, being out-casted for having premarital sex and my journey with my faith—but not just mine. I wanted to write about my best friend, and the most taboo thing in country music: Homosexuality. The words poured out of us faster than any other song we’d written together, and “Jesus and Jezebel” was born.
Everyone that I played “Jesus and Jezebel” for in Nashville said it was career suicide.
“Don’t do it,” they would say, “You’ll be blacklisted and labeled as that girl who sang the gay song.” But of course, I didn’t listen. What’s the point of art if you can’t say how you feel? They were there for me, so I am going to be there for them in one of the most pivotal times in our Nation’s history. Minds are changing. Rights are expanding. We’re on the right track. If my little song can help that in any way, or make someone out there whose hurting feel loved—well then so be it.
I believe that Jesus does love this Jezebel. I believe he loves all kinds of Jezebels. Whether you are L, G, B, T, Q, or just a simple heterosexual like me—I believe that Jesus’ love can handle it. The Bible says this and this is key—that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and WHOSOEVER believes in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”
It doesn’t say, “just the straight people” will have everlasting life.
It says WHOSOEVER believes in Him. The Old Testament says a lot of things about homosexuality. It also says a lot of things about women on their periods, and not eating pork. But after Jesus came into the picture, everything changed.
I challenge you to find one verse where Jesus mentions homosexuality. Spoiler alert: you won’t! Jesus doesn’t ask us to be perfect. That’s why he died on the cross—for us ALL. We are all now worthy of entering the kingdom of heaven because of His sacrifice, IF we believe in Him. No one is left out of that equation. NO ONE!
The church likes to give an “us” and “them” vibe—”them” being the LGBTQ community.
It’s high time we stop hating what we fear, and fearing what we don’t understand. It’s time we stop allowing our fear to dictate how we treat other humans. Ignorance is not an excuse. It’s time we start walking a mile in our neighbor’s shoes. It’s time for compassion, Christians.
Imagine how you would feel if you woke up tomorrow in a body that felt like the wrong gender. Or if you were attracted to the same sex since you were a child, but were always told you were disgusting for it. The struggles that the LGBTQ community face daily are heartbreaking, and if some people out there that hate “them” out of fear would just take the time to understand and get to know them, the fear would fade.
If we truly want to emulate Christ, Christians, do what He would do—he would love. Period.
Being LGBTQ doesn’t make you any less of a person. The Supreme Court ruling to lift the ban on Gay Marriage has set a law in motion that many people don’t agree with. We will see more hate. We will see more fear. We will see more discrimination. We have to meet it with love, and encourage understanding, compassion and a TRUE Christ-like attitude. Because if Christ were here, I think he would have just one thing to say to the LGBTQ community: “I LOVE YOU.”
Here’s to a time of change: may equality find us all soon, and more importantly, LOVE. God bless each and every one of you. Have PRIDE!
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