[Update: Because of the continued comments on this story, even after two years, we decided to update and republish the story in our May 23, 2012 issue.]
As I was welcomed by Christian music star Ray Boltz into the Fort Lauderdale home he shares with his partner Franco, I was delighted to see that Ray has lost the mullet he wore in the Youtube videos of his older performances. Ray’s hairstyle is the smallest of the changes he has survived. Curious about his new, ready-for-release album True, I sat down with a humble artist who has been tried by the fires of religion, music, love, family, Jesus and truth.
Having raised four children with his wife Carol, and having sold 4.5 million Christian music records, Ray Boltz came out of the closet to his family at home In Indiana on December 26, 2004 as a tsunami struck the coast of Thailand. The comparison Ray draws between those concurrent events is clear to anyone who has gone through the trauma of coming out to immediate family, but the results were opposites. That tsumani killed thousands, but Ray’s revelation?
“We were all at home for Christmas, my wife, my four grown children. My son says ‘What’s going on with you, Dad? You just don’t seem to be yourself.’ And I said ‘Well if you really want to know, I’ll tell you. You all don’t know who I really am. I’m gay.’
“Their reaction was incredible. They affirmed me and told me they loved me. I am still very close to my wife Carol even though, in the counseling we received after I came out, we decided to lead separate lives. Carol’s greatest fear was that we wouldn’t have a family any more. But our family didn’t die. We are very close. Carol is wonderful. She is now on the board of Soulforce, working to end religious oppression of LGBTQ people.
“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.
I did not come out publically at the same time. That happened later. I knew this would be a problem and I didn’t want to come out of the closet and at the same time put my wife and kids into a closet, so they knew that they could talk about it with friends and family, and many people knew I was gay and then two years ago, I made it 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.
“I moved here to become unknown but affirmed. I remember the first time I went to Bill’s Filling Station – the old one - I was amazed at the open affection of the men.”
Does Ray Boltz still believe in God?
“I don’t believe in a judgmental God, one with a flyswatter. And I can just hear the religious right scream as I say that, but I look at Jesus. He was so unconventional. He hung out with prostitutes. He didn’t seem to enjoy religious people. I believe I am accepted by a caring God who doesn’t love just my soul. He loves the whole me. Of course, I could show you twenty thousand emails I’ve received that say I am going to hell….”
Ray’s new album, True, is about to be released.
“My music is still very spiritual but not religious. My old stuff always had one foot in the church world. I’ve got a great producer, Joe Hogue, who also produced Ari Gold. I hope you will like the song Don’t Tell Me Who To Love. It’s about marriage equality. It’s being remixed as a dance track and I think it’s really cool to be branching out of ‘just religion’.
“There’s another track on the album about Wilton Manors. It’s called American Queen….and there’s another song, Who Would Jesus Love? This song came in second in a Billboard Magazine contest in the Christian Music category. That was really crazy because there are many Christian radio stations that won’t even play my stuff, so it’s weird to get an award for it. I can still be recognized but I am still being judged.
“I was unaware of the gay Christian community until I moved to Fort Lauderdale. When I perform for a gay Christian audience, I am very aware of how much these people have been hurt by religion.
“There’s a song on True called God Knows I Tried. Some religious people say to me ‘You didn’t try hard enough’ or ‘You should have let Jesus try for you’. I spent all those years with a secret in my heart, thinking that if anyone knew it they’d be disgusted. Now I know that Jesus does not hate me.”
With the true Ray Boltz, what’s not to love? And when all you Wilton Manors guys hear the song American Queen, I’ll bet you think this song is about you.
Learn more about Ray and hear his music at sonicbids.com/rayboltz
Information about Soulforce: soulforce.org