Dave Isay, founder and president of the non-profit oral history project StoryCorps, long envisioned an initiative focused on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, a group often excluded from the historical record. “What we’re doing is overdue,” he told The Huffington Post. “We’ve done so well by accident in the last 10 years with these stories, so, by design, I can’t imagine what we’ll find.”
Beginning June 28, StoryCorps OutLoud sets out across the country to record and preserve the stories of LGBT individuals, along with their families and friends. OutLoud is a project undertaken in the memory of Isay’s father, psychiatrist Dr. Richard Isay. Professionally credited for helping to persuade the mental health community that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, Dr. Isay was himself a closeted gay man for many years. He came out to his son at the age of 52 and, in 2011, he married his partner of 31 years, Gordon Harrell, before passing away suddenly from cancer on June 28, 2012.
“I knew then we just had to find the money for this project, no matter what,” said Isay.
It’s fitting that OutLoud launches on the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Fifteen years before Isay founded StoryCorps, he produced the first-ever documentary about the riots, “Remembering Stonewall,” which broadcast in 1989.
“When I did the Stonewall documentary, I pitched it to the New York Post, and do you know what they said? They said, ‘We don’t believe in gay people.’ They wouldn’t run anything,” said Isay.
“We’ve come far, but StoryCorps recognizes that we need to take a step back and listen,” said Andrew Wallace, manager of StoryCorps OutLoud. “It is a needed project at this moment.” Wallace, who had previously founded a grassroots oral history project as a student in Colorado, came to StoryCorps with a firm belief in its mission. “To be here, on this national platform, with the resources and the talent StoryCorps has to offer — to be able to direct that toward this project — it feels surreal,” he said.
At an event in New York City on Tuesday, special guest David Hyde Pierce hit on poignant truths with a witty observation: “When I was a little boy, there were no gay people,” he said. “There were no lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people. And so nobody had an questions.”
In 2014, StoryCorps is looking for answers. “I think, if you’re living in certain communities in the South, for instance, I don’t think you’ve really had the chance to tell your story, maybe ever,” Isay said. “There’s something intimate and safe about our format, and we hope that gives those people a chance to speak.”
He continued: “We did one day of recording with an LGBT group in Kentucky and the head of that group said it was the most important thing that had ever happened to the gay community there.”
Since its founding in 2003, StoryCorps, based in Brooklyn, New York, has recorded more than 50,000 interviews with 100,000 participants. Housed at the Library of Congress, the archive comprises the largest single collection of human voices in existence. StoryCorps brings their stories to the masses in weekly broadcasts on NPR, short animated films on PBS and the pages of bestselling books. “Hundreds of years from now, future generations will get to know their ancestors and hear them tell their own stories,” said Isay. Previous targeted initiatives include StoryCorps Legacy and the Military Voices Initiative, among others. StoryCorps has secured about a quarter of the $2 million needed for OutLoud to achieve its goals.
“What we’ll find will be painful at times,” said Isay. “But it’s so important that we get this history down.”
Check out the latest for StoryCorps by Rauch Bros. Animation:
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