When Avalon singer and founding member Michael Passons parted ways with contemporary Christian music group Avalon in 2003, the official story was that he was pursuing a solo career. But in a candid podcast interview that posted Thursday (Sept. 10), Passons shares what he says is the real reason behind his departure from Avalon – and it’s not quite as amicable as the 17-year-old story would have it.
In an interview with Josh Skinner on his Jonah and the Whale podcast, Passons says his same sex attraction ultimately lead to his being ousted from the group. “Avalon showed up at my house and told me I was no longer in the group,” he says of June 30, 2003. “And it was all because of who I am.”
“I am out now,” Passons shares, noting that he only officially came out to his own family this year, though he was fully aware of his sexuality even back in his Avalon days. “I’m a gay man and I’m glad to be. At the time I was conflicted because I was involved in a culture where that was not accepted. I knew if I were honest, I would lose my career, I would lose many things — and I did end up losing all those things I feared I would.”
Pointing out that “this is the first time I’ve talked about this, at least in a public forum,” Passons says his departure from the group was preceded by several conversion therapy sessions.
“We had had some conversations… I was required to attend some reparative therapy sessions to save my job. That did not go well,” he recalls. “I was required to drive a couple hours every week to see this person in Chattanooga. It was basically someone sitting there listening to me speak and looking like they felt really sorry for me. [I was thinking] ‘Is this all there is? Do you have an answer? Do you have a cure? Let’s speed this up.’ I knew, of course, they didn’t [have a cure] but I was trying to play along. After a month I said, ‘I’m not going back to that guy, let the chips fall where they fall. I’m not going back.’ It wasn’t long after that.”
It was only this year that the Supreme Court ruled it was illegal to fire someone for LGBTQ, and in 2003, there wasn’t much recourse for Passons despite spending eight years with the band and singing on a number of Christian music hits. “There was no way to fight for it. Back then, gay people could be discriminated against in the workplace. There were no laws against it in the secular workplace,” he says. “Because this was a faith-based organization, they had every right to set the parameters. So it was like, ‘here’s a check, sign this.’ … I was scared. How frightened I was led me to take it and run.”
After departing the band, Passons says he “internalized it as my fault,” but is more than at peace with the situation and himself now. “I have made a journey I would not have made had I stayed in that place. I’m stronger for it,” he says. He’s also quick to note that former Avalon member Melissa Greene, who is now a pastor, is one of his closest friends. “She’s affirming, she’s helped me through this season in my life,” he says.
As for why a gay man moved to Nashville to make it in Christian music in the first place, Passons admits he knew it was “a bit of a minefield” but as it was his “passion” at the time, he “wasn’t going to let that deter” him from his dreams. And despite feeling “numb” after the departure, he’s now in a solid place now with his life and spirituality. “Seventeen years later, I’m glad things worked out the way they did.”
Billboard reached out to Avalon for comment and had not heard back at press time. You can listen to the full interview here.