Trey Pearson made international news this year for being one of the most high-profile Christian music artists to announce he is gay. The lead singer of the successful band Everyday Sunday, Pearson has since become a part of a new generation of artists and individuals who are speaking out for a more inclusive faith.
“People need to feel fully loved,” he explains. “It’s been interesting to observe and take in, while unpacking and processing my whole life up to this point.”
His love of music originated at his parent’s record player in the basement of their house. Listening to Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Queen and Phil Collins, he fell in love with listening to music long before he fell in love with singing it. Even his introduction to performing came not through music but through an opportunity to act in plays at a professional theatre in downtown Columbus, the same theatre whose alums include Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother and Tony nominee Steven Boyer.
“I found it fun being so involved with the plays,” he explained. “At first, I didn’t really think of myself as a singer, but I was a part of the musicals in order to act. I really thought I was going to go into acting after school.”
However, once he was in high school, he was invited to a youth group by some guys and after about a year, he says he had “sorta taught himself how to play chords on the piano” and thought it would be interesting to write songs with a band.
“Christian music was a big thing in my life at that time. We kept writing and within a year, that band became Everyday Sunday. I very quickly realized it was something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.”
Everyday Sunday went on to release four albums on two different labels, spawning number one singles on the Christian Rock charts and tours across the country. Originally impacted by Christian bands like DcTalk and Newsboys, as well as groups like Jimmy Eat World and Third Eye Blind, his first two albums sounded like the rock music of the moment. But as an artist, he wanted to stretch himself.
“I remembered those influences of 80’s pop from the records I grew up with and I wanted to re-find some of that in my own music. The first two albums were really about growing up in front of a lot of people while figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be. After those, I felt it was the opportunity to test my limits and see what I could do writing-wise. The third and fourth albums were about nailing what I wanted to nail as an artist.”
Outside of making music, Pearson was approaching his breaking point in terms of his personal life. As his own faith progressed – as he continued to grow with God and with the people around him – he had become affirming of other gay people of faith. However, he couldn’t bring himself to that same acceptance.
“I was married, I had kids, and as much as I could come to a place to affirm others, I wasn’t able to do that for myself. I wanted to be the best husband I could be and it was upsetting that I could never be the husband my wife needed me to be.”
He says the breaking point was a culmination of many things, but part of the reason he’s using his platform to speak about it is because he’s seen his story play out among people in the church time and time again.
“I’d been convinced growing up that I could choose to be straight, that God made me straight and that God found homosexuality to be an abomination. I never wanted that. I didn’t want God or my family to hate me and I didn’t want to be gay. In my mind, it was never an option. I felt about that like I feel about everything in my life: I was determined to beat it. I wanted to fall in love and have a family and I was determined to do that.”
The problem was that just trying to be straight and entering a marriage believing that would make things work out didn’t turn out to be true.
“Those things weren’t changing,” he said. “I came to a place where things in my life were so broken, I had to deal with it. I had to make a choice whether I was going to keep pushing it down or be honest with myself and get help. So that’s what I decided to do.”
After coming out to himself through a letter he wrote with the help of his therapist, he began coming out to the people in his life including his wife, his family and friends. He describes the next several months as “emotionally exhausting” as he tried to explain everything he’d gone through to so many people. He then publicly opened up about his sexuality in an interview with (614) Columbus.
“It felt good to have it out there, on my own terms, and hopefully I’ll be able to help people who are going through the same thing now and prevent others from doing the same in the future,” he said. “I knew there would be those who would be angry and condemning; I just hoped that when I did come out publicly that I could do it in a positive way and that there’d be love out there to drown out some of the hate.”
What he didn’t expect was that it would be as talked about as it was. The day after the story hit the web, it was the number one trending topic in the world on Facebook. He was invited to speak on talk shows and comment on his story to publications nationwide.
“I had so much love poured out on me that I feel like it drowned out the hate. I’m thankful for that.”
But it’s the internet in 2016, so how did he grapple with the inevitable conservative backlash over his being gay and talking openly about it?
“What I’ve found is that the only way people can be unkind and ungracious to you is to leave comments on your social media pages. Somehow, they think that by posting something really mean in a comment thread on a Facebook post, they’re going to bring you to their idea of repentance and you’ll then believe in their limited way of thinking. Mostly, I don’t have a need to respond to hateful people. These public ways of being mean and unkind…it’s easier to just block them out. There are way more people who are finding solidarity and encouragement in hearing my story. It’s challenging them. That’s far more important and interesting to me than the negative stuff.”
That solidarity and encouragement was on full display at this year’s Columbus Pride Festival, Trey’s first to attend, where more than half a million people lined the streets for the parade.
“I wasn’t prepared for how emotionally overwhelming it would be, but seeing so many people stand proudly in the acceptance of who they are just knocked me over. I thought to myself, this is what church is supposed to feel like. You should feel unconditionally loved and accepted and know that God finds you beautiful just the way you are. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”
Now writing new music, he says his new openness and freedom has unlocked a valve of creativity that’s been repressed his entire life. It’s also opened him up to becoming an advocate for other LGBT people.
“I want to make an impact with my art. Through all of this, a whole bunch of people have felt they could have their faith and be themselves too. It’s been amazing to see how many people have responded that way. My story has given them hope and restored their faith in Jesus.”
So, where does he go from here?
“It’s a fresh start in so many ways,” he says. “I’m releasing a new single next month and I’m continuing to do what I can to be an advocate for LGBT rights and speaking in whatever spaces that allow me to tell my story.”
Interview by Ryan Brinson
For more on Trey, head over to Facebook.
Cover photo by Studio 5 Columbus