One group is using the power of storytelling in the battle for LGBT equality.
For just over two years, the Personal Stories Project has been a place for LGBT people to share their stories, good and bad, to show that LGBT people are just that -- people.
“I’m a strong believer in the power of the personal story,” said Charles Chan Massey, co-founder and executive director. “Stories can change hearts and minds. Stories can start wars. Or stop them. Stories can change lives. I know this to be true because they’ve changed mine.”
On the group’s site, people can read the first-person accounts of coming out, the ups and downs of teenage years, finding love, and LGBT allies showing support for loved ones.
The beginnings of the Personal Stories Project can be traced to two moments. One, when Chan Massey watched a video telling the story of a man’s death and how his partner had no rights, since they were not recognized as a couple in the eyes of the law -- he realized how “sick and tired” he was of being treated like a “second-class citizen,” and he also questioned what could happen to him and his own partner should either of them pass.
The second incident was when a friend’s daughter messaged him on Facebook, telling him how good it made her feel when she came out to her mother, who told her about Chan Massey.
“It still took [my mom] a while to become okay with me being gay but I feel like if she hadn’t known you, she would still be holding back to this day,” her message read.
These two experiences moved him and showed him how powerful LGBT people telling their stories could impact somebody. In December 2013, Chan Massey founded the Personal Stories Project with friend, Sara Stevenson Christie.
The group reached out to friends to share their stories of coming out, what LGBT groups they were involved in, how their family reacted, and and call to action of how others could help. Allies and parents of LGBT children also shared their own stories of loving an LGBT person. An 18-year-old high school student, Morgan, shared how she was shunned by her community when she decorated her locker in support of gay marriage.
Chan Massey has shared his own story as well, growing up as a gay man in the South without any LGBT role models and only hearing negative things about people who were out. In fact, he remembers watching television with his grandmother at age 12 when a gay character came on the screen.
“My grandmother got up, walked over to the TV -- we didn’t have remote controls in those days -- and changed the channel,” he remembered. “I can’t be sure, but I’d say that experience pushed me further into the closet for a while. Even if I didn’t exactly know what it meant to be gay at the time, I knew there was something different about me and that reaction to a television character made me feel that whatever it was I was bad.”
After two years of sharing stories, the Personal Stories Project officially received its nonprofit status.
“It’s a documented fact that personal stories helped Justice Kennedy make his decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality case,” Chan Massey said. “In his opinion, he said that we deserved equal dignity in the eyes of the law and that the constitution grants us that right. It was because of personal stories that he was able to form that opinion.”
Want to share your story? Visit PersonalStoriesProject.org.