StoryCorps launches initiative to collect LGBT oral history

By Sean Meehan

StoryCorps OutLoud initiative documents LGBT oral history by collecting stories from around the country.

LGBT individuals are sharing their stories with StoryCorps as part of its new OutLoud initiative. (Photo: Eric Schwortz Photography)

The oral-history project StoryCorps is expanding its vast archive of Americanspersonal stories with OutLoud, a special initiative focusing on the LGBTQ community.

In particular, OutLoud is seeking stories of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people who were born before the Stonewall riots, the watershed moment that sparked the modern gay-rights movement. OutLoud launched June 28, the 45th anniversary of the riots in which the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, one of New Yorks most popular gay clubs at the time, retaliated against the police department vice squads that frequently raided gay bars.

StoryCorps is collecting OutLoud stories at its venues in Atlanta, San Francisco and Chicago, and elsewhere with its mobile recording booth. It is also partnering with public radio stations and local LGBT organizations.

The initiative is particularly important because it documents the stories of people who have been historically marginalized, said Dave Isay, the founder and president of StoryCorps.

StoryCorps is at its strongest when its giving people who might feel most silenced the chance to tell their story,he said. A lot of LGBT people, especially in the era before June 28, 1969, were among the most-silenced people in the country.

The initiative focuses particularly on those born before Stonewall because their ranks are shrinking. Its critical that we capture the stories and memories of folks while theres still time,Isay said. Stonewall was one of the great civil-rights struggles of our lifetime, and it hasnt been adequately documented.

OutLoud will document the Stonewall riots, but it also aims to document life for LGBT individuals before the concept of gay pride arose. Like all StoryCorps projects, OutLoud will strive to reach demographic goals to ensure that it captures a wide range of LGBT experiences.

The project has special meaning for Isay, whose first documentary for public radio, Remembering Stonewall, also addressed the historic event. Isay made the documentary shortly after his father, a renowned psychiatrist, revealed his homosexuality. Richard Isay worked mainly with gay patients at a time when other psychiatrists considered homosexuality a mental illness.

Richard Isay, who passed away in 2012, had long been an advocate for OutLoud. Dave Isay has been trying to find funding for the project for six or seven years, he said, and his fathers death motivated him to work harder to launch the project.

He very much wanted to see this happen and wanted to see it happen in his lifetime,Isay said of his father. Its going to stand in part as a memorial to his spirit, as does much of the work we do here at StoryCorps.

While aiming to document history, the project can also help those whose stories it collects, Isay said.

In many ways, what happens in StoryCorps is that the act of being listened to reminds people that their stories matter,he said. For those that feel least heard, the act of being listened to can be particularly meaningful and sometimes transformative in their lives.

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