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Last Friday, I left New York City for a few hours to attend the Rascal Flatts concert in Jones Beach, Long Island. Since I’m usually in a little gay-friendly, progressive bubble, I’m oftentimes taken aback when homophobia rears its evil head during a night on the town, or if I hear ignorant comments in passing. 

Sadly, that’s life, but it’s harder to ignore when the ignorance and homophobia evolves into violence and murder.

Being that it was a country concert on the outskirts of New York, I wasn’t really anxious, but I was curious to gauge the situation and take in the environment. I’m not really a country fan, but received the ticket as a birthday present; nonetheless, I was excited to go, and I had a great time. We had a few drinks, made a few friends, and when homosexuality randomly came up in the conversation, the handful of people we were with didn’t seem to care that I was gay. Conversation as usual.

While it may be a big step for country stars to embrace their gay fans, or at least, embrace the notion that there’s an LGBT rights movement in the United States, it’s a different thing entirely to say “I’m gay” in the country music world.

When country star Chely Wright came out publicly as a lesbian in 2010, it was a shock to many, especially to her conservative fans. She was the first LGBT country singer to do so, and it didn’t come without negative consequences.

“I had steeled myself as best I could for negative fallout. I had a feeling that some tour dates would be cancelled and records would not be sold. From the day that I officially came out, on May 4, 2010, many people that had been fans aren’t anymore. My mother did not take it well at all and we don’t speak, and that was a cost,” she wrote.

Like any major hurdle, it gets, I assume, easier after the first person comes out. The military, the sports world, and so on, until all the closet walls slowly fall down, and the more conservative areas of the country are influenced positively by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

Is there more than one gay country star? Yes. Are they going to come out in the next few months, or years? Yeah, maybe. Probably. The thing is, however, why do we youth need a major role model to look up to? Yes, it’s an amazing thing to have a LGBT role model, but we should look around us.

Look at the past decade or so … I would say that the role models are us. They role model is the 10-year-old who comes out to her family. The role model is the boy in junior high who comes out to his entire school in front of his entire school. The role model is the lesbian who comes out to her strict, religious family in the South; the same girl who listens to country music.

Again, I’ve never had to balance fame and fortune with the aspect of coming out — particularly if my fan base was “middle America” — but I have had to navigate coming out to family, friends and classmates in a world that is still intolerant. If there is a country star out there that is gay, I hope you have the courage to come out; you’ll ultimately be helping a lot of people, particularly, yourself.

You can read more from Jeffrey on his blog.