When country musician Chely Wright was growing up in Kansas, she had no place she felt she could go for support as she struggled with her sexuality.
Now Wright is opening such a place in Kansas City. The 41-year-old whose hits include "Single White Female" and "Shut Up and Drive" will be there this weekend for the opening of a community center where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families and friends can meet up. The location was chosen, in part, because Wright grew up 40 miles away, in Wellsville, Kan.
"This just gives so much hope to these outlying areas, that your major metropolitan area has a gay and lesbian center," said Wright, who married LGBT activist Lauren Blitzer last summer. "That would have meant everything to me had I been a kid growing up in Wellsville, knowing that there is a beautiful facility in our major city, that that was OK.
The new center, which will be called the LIKEME Lighthouse, is the most ambitious project undertaken by Wright's LIKEME Organization, whose name is a play on the title of her memoir, "Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer." That book and her seventh album, "Lifted Off the Ground," were released when she came out in May 2010.
"The essence was I looked and looked for people like me," Wright said. "When I moved to Nashville, I scoured my industry for people like me. If there were people were like me, they were certainly hiding it."
Wright said some haven't accepted her sexuality but that coming out was worth it, noting she met her spouse soon afterward.
"If you try to find your life's mate in a dark, small closet, you tend to find a lot of unhealthy people," Wright said. "And that was the experience I was having in the closet. It wasn't until I came out that I was able to find a healthy, happy relationship."
A series of events are planned around the center's grand opening, including a benefit screening Friday of a documentary called "Wish Me Away" about Wright's coming out experience and an open house and benefit concert Saturday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Others slated to perform or attend the concert are lesbian Christian musician Jennifer Knapp, gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, and Tracy Ryerson and Stamie Karakasidis, a couple who appeared on the first season of Showtime's lesbian-focused reality show "The Real L Word."
The new facility they are raising money for will provide Kansas City with the sort of physical presence it has lacked in recent years. In 2009, the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Kansas City gave up its space because it needed repairs.
The group shifted its services online and had planned to start a capital campaign and open a new facility, said Mitch Levine, the organization's community ambassador. But when Wright's group announced plans for a Kansas City facility, his group decided to wait to see how things went before making a decision.
"We really do wish them luck," he said. "We are very supportive of a physical location coming to our city."
Work on the new facility has gone smoothly for the most part, with the exception of a subcontractor walking off the job upon learning what the center was all about.
Wright's aunt, Charlene Daniels, the director of the LIKEME Lighthouse, said the facility will feature a library and a small room where visitors can call a hotline tied to the Trevor Project, the leading organization for suicide prevention efforts among LGBT youths. The facility plans to offer exercise and craft classes and events such as health fairs.
"We would like to be there as a beacon," Daniels said. "There are too many kids who say, `Nobody knows what I am going through.'"
If all goes well, Wright would like to create similar facilities in other Midwestern communities.
"It's a pie-in-the-sky dream to think that we could have a prototype and be able to model other LIKEME Lighthouses," she said. "But, yeah, that would be a dream. The good thing about dreams is sometimes they come true."