But she was unprepared for what actually happened.
“There were a lot of negative reactions,” she says. “But what I didn’t know was that I was going to get positive reactions as well — that there would be people who would say to me, ‘Go ahead and tell your story and we’ll be right here with you.’”
“I never imagined coming out could be a positive experience,” she adds. “Honestly, that was the most unexpected part of the whole process for me. Having to figure out how to make a place for that acceptance when I’d already prepared myself to be defensive.”
Now the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who shocked her fan base when she returned to music as an out lesbian rock artist after a seven-year hiatus is opening up about the details of her personal evolution from a closeted Christian musician to an outspoken advocate for LGBT concerns within faith communities in her new memoir, Facing the Music.
“There are moments where I think I must be nuts for doing this, because I know putting my story out there will invite more backlash from the most conservative members of the Christian community,” she says. “But when we stand up and tell our stories we encourage others to do the same, and that’s what’s needed to move the conversation between the church and the LGBT community forward. More of us need to tell our stories, because at the end of the day it’s our basic human experience that connects all of us.”
At a time when religion is still being used as fuel in the fight against LGBT civil rights and stories of teens being beaten by their Christian parents after coming out continue to make headlines, Knapp knows it isn’t always that simple. In fact, she empathizes with those who have distanced themselves from religion after being mistreated. “There’s often this idea that people who have been hurt by the church need to reconcile so they’ll go back to the church,” she says. “But the reality is that some people have been hurt so badly that they have to move on from there, and I believe that has to be respected.”
She insists that people do not have to trade their faith for their sexuality. “Ultimately, I feel that a religious experience is a private one at its core, and it’s unfortunate there’s this belief that religion is obligated to be institutional. That’s not what having a relationship with God is all about,” she says. “It’s a shame that the conversation we most often see happening between the LGBT community and the church is one where we’re asking the institution to be understanding.”
Knapp also asserts that those who use the Bible to justify mistreating LGBT people are tarnishing Christianity. “That behavior is not only damaging to the people it’s used against, it’s also damaging to the source,” she says. “It damages the reputation of religion when people believe Christianity at its core is antigay.”
It’s a message she hopes to combat not only by telling her story, but also through the work of her newly launched organization Inside Out Faith. The initiative seeks to tackle the issues of LGBT inclusion and affirmations in religious environments by engaging and educating communities of faith.
“Back in my Christian-music writing days I always felt the need to push a song in a certain direction, but I feel so much freer now as an artist,” she says. “Coming out has certainly given me more confidence as a songwriter because now I feel like I can really pull on the thread of an idea and I don’t have to worry about what anyone thinks of where that song lands.”
She describes the record as a collection of songs that center around intimate conversations between two people that are either a “pivotal point of declaration” or highlight “the need for understanding from one person to the other.”
The theme is one that parallels Knapp’s feelings surrounding the current relationship between the LGBT and Christian communities, and shines through on songs like “Mercy’s Tree.”
Knapp croons on the track, “White as a sheet you can bleed ‘til you’re dry. / Should we take and never ask why? / Huddled in masses / we sit on our asses / and hold to what we should let fly. / What good is the giving of a life for a lie?”
Though she says she initially felt overwhelmed by the pressures of being a Christian LGBT advocate, Knapp says she’s grown far more comfortable with the label since she came out four years ago and is proudly marching forward on her mission to help others reconcile their faith and their sexuality.
“I still doubt myself every single day, [but I remember] ... looking to others when I came out and I know what a need there is for others who are struggling to see LGBT people who are standing up and saying, ‘I’m here,’” she says. “I don’t have any particular wisdom other than the experience that I’ve got … but telling our stories is one of the most important and powerful things we can do.”
Watch the video for Jennifer Knapp’s “Remedy” below: