It ain't easy being gay, Christian and famous

ABC News, Australia/May 28, 2010

Australia doesn't know who Jennifer Knapp is and doubtless she prefers it that way. The reserved singer-songwriter moved to Australia from the US in 2002 amid rumours she was a closet lesbian.

Having your sexuality publicly questioned can be hurtful for anyone.

But it's particularly hurtful when you're the rising star of America's Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) industry and sold a million albums in just a few years.

It turned out the rumours were true. The Grammy-nominated artist - now an Australian citizen - has returned from her self-imposed exile and last week released a new album in the US. On the publicity trail, she revealed she has been in a relationship with a woman for the past eight years.

The US media scrutiny on Knapp's admission was immediate and intense.

She appeared on Larry King Live and was congratulated for her bravery by Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton. She ignited a frenzy of debate about homosexuality in churches and newspapers across the country.

To some she's an emancipator for religious gays. To others she's living in sin and encouraging others to do the same.

Perhaps most challenging for Knapp's conservative critics is the fact she reconciled her sexuality with her faith.

"Many practicing LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] Christians will tell you that by honestly approaching their true sexual nature their understanding of their spiritual being has only increased," she told ABC Online.

"There are Christian churches that excommunicate the openly queer, as well as those churches that fully embrace and celebrate them.

"Despite the claim that the more conservative voices may express, the moment the religious discover they are gay, he or she doesn't magically lose their faith."

Christian music isn't a nothing industry in Australia. Hillsong regularly features atop the ARIA albums charts and tens of thousands of revellers attend Easterfest - formerly known as the Australian Gospel Music Festival - each year in Toowoomba.

But that's all fiddlesticks compared to the Contemporary Christian Music industry in the US.

The Winter Jam Tour - featuring Christian bands Third Day and Newsboys - was the second highest-selling tour in the world in the first quarter 2010. More than 400,000 people attended; only AC/DC sold more tickets.

Needless to say, the industry's relationship with homosexuality is fraught, and Knapp doesn't expect to see her new album stocked at Christian bookstores anytime soon.

Nevertheless she took to the road with a veteran Christian artist for her comeback tour.

Derek Webb is one of the few songwriters in the industry to reference the taboo of homosexuality in their music.

Last year he released the song What Matters More, in which he sings:

"You say you always treat people like you like to be. I guess you love being hated for your sexuality."

Webb's Christian record label refused to let him release it with his latest album, forcing him to post it on his website instead.

According to Knapp, her shows with Webb have been an eclectic mix of people including evangelical "hand raisers" and gay couples.

Knapp says she's had support from a number of other old industry friends too, but it's been limited.

"Just by talking with me, an individual whose livelihood depends on their perceived 'holiness' can come into question," she said.

"Publicly, I'm napalm, and I'm handled with care."

Knapp says debate about homosexuality is much louder and more passionate in the US than it is in Australia, which - despite some of its laws - is far friendlier towards gays.

"With Australia's 'fair go' attitude, it's easy to say that Australia has a leg-up on how I often feel perceived as a gay citizen," she said.

"Whether I've been in the outback or in the capital cities, I've always felt equal, even if the laws don't fully include me.

"I am concerned with the attitudes of my fellow man far more than I am concerned with their current legislation."

Knapp says in the US she is asked to give explanations for her sexuality and "what I'm going to do about it".

"No doubt my public history in the church is a factor, but even with my gay friends who have no celebrity it is very much on the surface of their daily lives," she said.

"There is still a heavy expectation upon LGBT individuals to supply a scientific, political or religious defence in order to justify their sexual orientation.

"Sometimes I feel as though I am a social problem to which public debate is still determining whether my sexuality deems me worthy of respect."

Knapp says while she is enjoying getting back to making music, she daydreams of returning to Australia, which she now calls home.

"I've spent serious time in the outback, up the Cape, in the High Country, the Snowies... I've been everywhere I've had the courage to go in my four-wheel drive," she said.

"I've discovered the life-changing effect of becoming a cricket tragic as well.

"I cried like a baby when I moved back to the States. I knew I loved my island home, but I had no idea I would miss my new love this badly."

And when she does return, no doubt she will enjoy the anonymity.

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