Over the past several years, the state of gay visibility in mainstream entertainment has made marked improvements. In 2008 gay celebrities, gay characters, and gay personalities are more common than ever on television, in movies, and in the tabloids. But outside the mainstream, particularly in Christian entertainment, gay visibility is decades behind the curve.
But as of last week, that is changing. On April 16, 21-year-old Azariah Southworth, the host of a Christian music television show called The Remix, came out publicly as a gay man to the Nashville-based gay publication Out & About. Since his brave decision, Southworth has seen a groundswell of support from the gay press and gay fans, and silence from the networks carrying his show, Christian media, and his show’s fanbase.
We had the opportunity to speak with Southworth on Thursday and ask him how he came to the decision to put his career in Christian television in harm’s way, what the response has been to his decision, and why we need more gay role models in faith communities like his own.
AfterElton.com: I can’t imagine what your past 24 hours has been like, but if you could sum it up in one word, what would it be?
Azariah Southworth: Encouraging.
AE: Encouraging? In terms of the response you’ve been getting?
AS: Yeah. I’ve received literally hundreds of emails from everyone around the world and they’re all encouraging. I can count on one hand how many were negative. The amazing amount of support and encouragement has astounded me. I’ve never received so much encouragement like this, not from the church. It’s so overwhelming, I mean, I’ve been encouraged by them [the church], but never like this.
AE: So it’s folks in the church, people who know you through your television show and the church who are coming out in support of you?
AS: No, I haven’t heard from anyone that has said they had watched the show and are supportive.
AE: So these are new friends.
AS: Yes. My friends have been very supportive, but in my professional life I have not heard from anyone.
AE: Was there a straw that broke the camel’s back? What made you decide to actually go forward and come out publicly?
AS: Well, it’s been a long time coming, as I said. I went through some things this past year and did a lot of research about what the Bible really says about homosexuality and did a lot of prayer, and I finally came to the conclusion that, you know what? This is okay. For me, this is okay. And I became confident in that and confident in who I am.
I knew the risk I was taking, but I found that it was going to be better to live my life authentically and honestly rather to continue to do what I was doing, building a career and suppressing feelings and being in denial. Because careers will always end, but who I am as a person goes further beyond that and the legacy that I want to leave is not one of denial and suppressing anything. I want to be honest and authentic with people.
AE: Do you feel like people misunderstand what the Bible says about homosexuality?
AS: Personally, yes I do. I believe that people misunderstand it, for many reasons and it takes a lot of explanations for me to explain it, so I would just suggest to go watch the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, which would explain everything that I would want to say.
AE: Yeah, that’s a great film. I interviewed the director of that as well when it came out and that was quite a powerful piece.
AS: It changed my life and it’s a big reason why I am where I am today.
AE: Because of that film specifically? That’s great. It’s interesting because I just saw a movie the other night called A Jihad for Love about gay Muslims. And there was also one called Trembling Before G-d about gay devout Orthodox Jews and with The Bible Tells Me So as well it seems like gays and religion are on the table more than it ever has been as a point of discussion. You mentioned that The Bible Tells Me So was instrumental in your deciding to come out. Have you seen other discussions, or do you think that this topic is treated fairly?
AS: In the documentary?
AE: Or in other things, like for example CNN reports and covers of Time magazine about gay Christians or gay faithful. I’m just curious if you think the topic gets a fair discussion.
AS: I haven’t really read any news interviews or reports about Christianity and homosexuality. I’ve just really studied what the Bible says about it. Just from personal experience and small things I have heard over the years, I think the secular media does for the most part – they’re not biased. They do a good job presenting both sides. I can’t say that’s true in all cases, but . . .
AE: I’m curious as to who else or what else has inspired you in terms of coming out. Are there gay Christian role models out there?
AS: Well, I mean a huge inspiration was Ellen DeGeneres. When I was feeling down and just feeling really discouraged, I would go on YouTube and watch her interview on 20/20 of when she was coming out and just her story was so encouraging to me and it was a huge inspiration and there was a latter part to that question. What was it?
AE: I just haven’t heard of myself of any openly gay Christian role models.
AS: I do not know of any as of right now and a lot of emails I’ve been getting are from people who have been going through the same thing and saying that to me, saying there are no role models who are gay and Christian and they really look up to me and that they’re glad that I can be that role model now. So I do not know of a role model, but I hope I can be that to people.