Christian Music Star Comes Out, Helps Gay Youth

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Thursday October 9, 2014

With the 26th anniversary of National Coming Out Day approaching on Saturday, October 11, it's a good time to look at those adults who are helping our LGBT youth envision a healthy future. Among them is Jennifer Knapp, a former Christian music sensation who came out as lesbian, and formed Inside Out Faith, an organization that educates church leaders on LGBT inclusion and affirmation.

"I quit the industry entirely in 2002, and thought I was quitting music forever -- I didn't perform or write for seven years," admitted Knapp. "But I really missed it, and so I came back in 2010, and came out at that point. I was completely gone from the music industry, and although in coming back there was a lot of anticipation from Christian community, I realized immediately that we were going to have to renegotiate our terms."

The Christian music industry embraced her revelation that she was a lesbian in a pretty textbook way: By telling her she was going to Hell, that she couldn't be both a lesbian and a Christian. She was very nervous about setting herself up for public ridicule, but never anticipated the outpouring of positive support she would get, not just from the LGBT community, but people in general.

"You can't just write someone off because they come out," said Knapp. "In some part this started my very public debate over accepting someone and their whole story, particularly for the religious community and the legacy of those who were in the church. It didn't mean I was a fake, or wasn't serious before."

Knapp said that although Christians view religious music as made by Christians, for Christians, with the goal of making more Christians, her experience was more typical to the experiences most singer/songwriters approach life. When she came out, she wasn't ready to give up her faith, but neither did she want to be the 'Christian' musician. She had a lot more to add to the discussion.

"The value of me claiming my faith publicly is the decision I chose to make in light of the impact it has their opposition to the LGBT community," she said. "Not every Christian believes that kindness is a standard role we should take in how we treat one another."

So Knapp did what most befits a folksy lesbian singer: She joined the team at Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe Records, saying, "The legacy that Righteous Babe has with credible indie singer/songwriters in huge, and obviously the impact that Ani DiFranco has with women's issues made it really feel like a great merge."

"It's humbling, and I realize I have a lot of work ahead of me," she continued. "But I take it as an endorsement; I've earned their confidence and I have to keep pressing on."

In mid-October, Knapp will release her new album, "Set Me Free," a pop album that leans heavily on guitar. She describes it as a series of conversations between people on relationships, nostalgia over growing up in Kansa, highlighting tension or ease between two points.

"I didn't intend it to be that, but it ended up that way," said Knapp.

Inside Out Faith Educates

As part of her coming out experience, Knapp has used her celebrity to help start a dialogue around LGBTs in religion with the group Inside Out Faith. She wants to educate leaders and lay people alike on issues of LGBT inclusion and affirmation.

"I think that the starting point in religion is that it is synonomous with anti-gay rhetoric," said Knapp. "We see it in statistics like GLAAD's Missing Voices reports, where they found that three out of four anti-gay voices in the media were from religious sources. So the challenge for me was giving LGBT issues a voice."

Along with the self-discovery and self-acceptance around coming out, Knapp discovered that LGBT voices were outnumbered by the heterosexual majority, and found it hard to accept oneself in that climate.

"I hope to add to the voices inside the religious community, to expand the scope of LGBT justice," said Knapp. "In order to outnumber these anti-gay voices, you have to have religious voices that affirm. You need LGBT leaders to come out; it's incredibly important to break the myth that sexual orientation and gender identity are bad. It's actually an amazingly healthy thing to do."

Knapp said that rather than get into Biblical debates, which will never change, it's better to spread the message that people should be kind to one another. She is working to empower people within the faith community to do that --- not just gays but sitting clergy who don't necessarily believe in LGBT rights.

"If we find more authors, public figures, and recognizable religious leaders to say that, it will change the balance that all anti-gay voices are religious voices," said Knapp.

Knapp shares with LGBT youth the same advice she shares after concerts, when fans ask for that 'golden key' that makes coming out easier: Do the research. Read books, go online and find others like you who affirm your decision.

"If you're in a black hole, reach out," said Knapp. "Disarm the scary prospect so you can deal with it. Make a personal connection, someone you can call that will stand beside you. And know that you can be a starting point for everyone else in your religious community. Sometimes, making the decision to stay and engage in the conversation is as valuable a decision as walking away and wiping your hands of it. It all starts with having the affirmation of people who know you. Let them know you need their help and support."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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