Coming out of the closet in the Christian music world is no easy task. Being gay is considered a sin to many religious people, so the backlash could be harsh whether coming out to family or the entire Christian music world.
That’s what “Everyday Sunday” singer Trey Pearson faced this month after he wrote his coming out letter. And that’s what closeted Christian music artists long before him had to face after deciding to be open with their sexuality.
But despite the fear they may face, some of these artists had the courage to speak up in support of the LGBT community, whether by coming out or becoming an open advocate. Here are the top five religious singers and musicians that took the rainbow plunge.
Singer and songwriter Knapp revealed her sexuality in an interview with Christianity Today back in April 2010. She has since spoke out openly about her experiences coming out in the Christian music world.
“It never occurred to me that I was in something that should be labeled as a ‘struggle,’” Knapp said during the Christianity Today interview. “The struggle I’ve had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I've been called to, in whatever ramshackled, broken, frustrated way that I've always approached my faith.”
Knapp started her career in 1994, selling over a million records between 1998 and 2002. But when she came out eight years later, many fans shunned her. Christian music stations stopped playing her music and bookstores took her albums off the shelves, according to Forbes.
These days Knapp is no longer in the Christian music scene.
The lead singer of 90’s Christian band Jars of Clay caused a small uproar on Twitter in 2014 for writing a series of tweets in support of gay marriage.
“Not meaning to stir things up BUT... Is there a non-speculative or non ‘slippery slope’ reason why gays shouldn't marry? I don't hear one,” Dan Haseltine wrote in one of his tweets.
In the following few days, Haseltine continued to tweet and reply to his fans from all ends of the spectrum.
“You're refuting yourself. You are headed nowhere fast friend. Consider and repent,” one twitter user told the singer.
Fortunately for Haseltine, not all fans spoke out against his opinion – in fact, he received a lot of support.
“I have received so many great messages from gay Christians,” he wrote. “You have encouraged me.”
In 2014, Christian rock star Vicky Beeching disclosed her sexuality in an interview with The Independent.
Beeching realized she was attracted to the same sex at a young age. When she was 16, she went to a Christian youth camp that attempted to exorcize her homosexuality.
“I remember lots of people placing their hands on my shoulders and back and front, praying in tongues really loudly and then shouting things: 'We command Satan to let you go! Cast these devils out of you! We speak to you demon of homosexuality: let her go!,' she told The Independent.
The stress of hiding her sexuality affected her body. She was diagnosed with linear scleroderma morphea, an auto-immune disease that turns soft tissue into scarring and can cause epilepsy, blackouts or death. It was triggered by the deep trauma of trying to bury her attraction to the same sex, she said in the interview.
During 18 months of chemotherapy, Beeching promised herself that she would come out by age 35.
"What Jesus taught was a radical message of welcome and inclusion and love. I feel certain God loves me just the way I am, and I have a huge sense of calling to communicate that to young people.”
Way back in the 80’s, before recent LGBT social movements came into play, Marsha Stevens came out of the closet. She faced similar issues as Knapp – Christian label Maranatha Music dropped her following her announcement, according to Forbes.
“I was completely taken aback by the reaction,” Stevens said. “I spent about five years saying ‘I don’t need Jesus,’ but I absolutely do. I couldn’t make myself not be a Christian.”
Publishers dropped many of her concert bookings and her albums were removed from retail outlets.
A few years following her coming out, she joined the LGBT-friendly Metropolitan Community Church as an active member. Since then, she has written songs for their general conferences for the past two decades.
Fort Lauderdale’s own Ray Boltz came out to his family in 2004.
“Their reaction was incredible. They affirmed me and told me they loved me,” Boltz told SFGN in a 2010 interview. ““It was not easy coming out, but it was good. I had grown up in the Bible Belt, and when I was 19, I went to a Christian music concert that changed my life, and yes, I had some gay sexual experience as a teenager and I thought it was sinful but…for the next 30 years I had this great family and career and after 30 years I said to myself ‘This just isn’t working.’ I had been in counseling and on anti-depressants and then I finally came out to them.”
Two years later, the artist, who sold 4.5 million records, made his sexuality public.
“I was very well known in the Christian music world when I came out. I had some people tell me to buy a gun and shoot myself. Other people demanded that I return the music awards I had received. Some people mailed my CDs back to me. They never bothered to understand that I wasn’t going out and picking up hustlers during all those years. Some people hunted me down here and knocked on the door to give me a piece of their mind.”
In 2015, SFGN followed up with Boltz for an update of his life. At the time of publication, the Christian music artist lived with his partner of eight years, Franco Sperduti.
“I often get messages from people who thank me for coming out and say it gave them the courage to face the same reality,” he said. “Often they ask me for advice about how to handle the process of coming out to a spouse and children in the context of religion and faith. I never give advice about that. Everyone has to work that out for themselves. I only know that what I chose to do has brought me much happiness. I never would have imagined having eight grandchildren who love me and Franco!”