In June 2015, we added this question to the Q&A
“What motivated you to take part in this project?”
The responses have been enlightening when I consider why people take 30-60 minutes to share some of their most personal thoughts with the wide world. Their investment isn’t fleeting – the Q&A will live on as our archived collective experiences.
“I particularly wanted to participate because I wanted an older perspective to be included.”
This is a wonderful response. In fact, 19% of our current contributors are 50+ with the oldest being 70 (he’s 72 now and still actively reading & commenting.) We are going to team up with Persad’s SAGE program serving elders throughout Western Pennsylvania to do even more outreach and try to audio record responses from individuals who do not use computers.
I love that we have some powerful responses describing life in the 60’s and 70’s here in Pittsburgh. And I’d really love to collect even more.
“Feeling alone and wanting to create awareness and acceptance”
Isolation is a serious issue in our community, especially among those living in the rural counties with very limited resources. The power of storytelling to reduce isolation is well-established, but we often think of it in terms of the reader – here, our contributor is making the important point that sharing their story is a tool to address their own sense of aloneness. They also recognize that speaking about their loneliness (in other questions) is an important part of understanding the whole community.
“To just let some folks know who I am since I do not get out much. I was an activist staple in town for a while. Anti-Racist Action, Youth Empowerment Project, GLSEN, GSA at AIP, design work for the Thomas Merton Center, GLCC, shows at Roboto,… I just got burned out after a while… but I’m still here. I was behind the scenes a lot then. Folks may have known about me but I didn’t say much. So, just thought I’d use this opportunity to say some things and also thank those who did work before, then and continue to now.”
This response touches on another important component of the project – the personal connections with community activists. We often wonder what happened to XYZ person. And XYZ person may not know how to make that connection. It is equally important to connect the dots between what has come to pass and how we move forward. The baton isn’t so much passed as shared by multiple generations.
“I wanted my voice to be heard without interruption, or misinterpreting what I said.”
This response gets right to the heart of a critical component of this project – no filters, you might say. I don’t edit responses, period. If there are concerns about content, I engage the contributor and we discuss any necessary changes (for example, to avoid defamation.) There’s no need for me to weigh in on each and every respondent; they speak for themselves. Opportunities to get the microphone are limited. The local media tends to speak with the same 4 or 5 folks, myself included, and we don’t have any genuine regional LGBTQ media outlets at all.
“Curiosity, to see how I would answer these questions – many of which I think about a lot, but have never tried to write down coherent answers for. Also, because I believe in the power of independent voices, which this projects celebrates.”
Curiosity and boredom are occasionally cited motivations. LOL. Sometimes we fall into projects without really intending to do so. But if someone completes the whole Q&A, they clearly have something to say regardless of their motivation. One woman left the tab on her browser open for a week, another updated his responses about 12 times in ten hours.
“I struggled so much with my own coming out, that anything I can do to make life easier for anyone struggling with their own identity, I will do it.”
Many contributors have mentioned that they wishes they had something like this archive when they were coming out. It is reminiscent of the ‘Its Gets Better’ project which sent important messages about survival and overcoming from adults to young LGBTQ people.
And there’s more than the shared experiences. We ask for suggestions on resources and most of our contributors do list specific orgs that have been a help to them. That’s tangible help. People describe how they handled adversity and oppression, offering concrete suggestions and guidance for others.
Erasure and invisibility are significant concerns, especially for members of our community who are not cisgender white gay men and lesbians. Early on, the bisexual community seized on this opportunity to increase visibility by sharing their stories, particularly the erasure they experience on all fronts. At one point, bi and pan contributors accounted for nearly 25% of our responses. That is now closer to 15% so I hope we can find new ways to reach those who feel erased. Check out this post compiling the responses from bi-identified individuals to that date.
“My minister shared the link.”
“It’s nice to be invited to have a voice in something that’s important to me.”
Individual requests are one of the leading sources of referrals whether it is me or someone else like the minister in this response. I find that a lot of people need that bit of encouragement to take the leap. I love that other people take on that role of inviting people to participate. You can absolutely help by sharing our Q&A link (http://bit.ly/AmplifyLGBTQ) with anyone you think should contribute AND adding a few personal comments to encourage them to follow through. Ministers, neighbors, educators, parents, siblings can all join us in this endeavor.
Please invite others to contribute. It matters.
“I waited a long time before adding my voice. I think I wanted to contribute because I was enjoying reading everyone else’s and wanted to give something in return.”
It is true that if you appreciate the other Q&A responses, sharing your own is a tangible way to give back. From a simple mathematical perspective, the more content we have to share the more likely it is that any one post will move up the rankings in the search engine. It also means that if someone stops to read *your* post, they’ll be more likely to click-through to another post and perhaps another.
As for waiting, that’s understandable. I hear it quite often – that people want to contribute, but don’t feel ready to do so. We plan to keep going through 2018 so you have time. And we’ll be allocating the period of July – December 2017 for updates to be submitted as well. We’ll be here when you are ready. In the meantime, please continue to read.
“Sue’s persistent asking.”
I’m not going to lie – I am persistent and pushy about asking my own network to contribute their stories. In fact, it takes about 4 hours of my time to generate 1 contribution. That’s four hours devoted to sending email reminders, posting on Facebook groups & other social media sites, creating images to share on Tumblr, checking Reddit, setting up ads on Facebook, sending more email reminders, distributing flyers, updating information with our partners, responding to questions and comments THEN editing the actual post.
The actual editing is not terribly time-consuming, but the pursuit of new contributors is very much so. I’ve found that people really want a personal request and often several personal reminders. There’s no one simple way to reach people with the opportunity to contribute.
For the most part, people put up with my persistence and either respond & say nothing. It is rare that someone gets irked or lets me know they are irked.
Moving forward …
We must continue finding ways to connect with people and motivating them around the reasons listed above and beyond. One new tool in our arsenal will be audio recording sessions with community elders and others without regular access to the Internet. Note, these are NOT oral histories. They are sessions where one person reads the question and the contributor responds. Then the next question. The entire session will be transcribed – we found a lesbian owned transcription service in Johnstown to help us. We’ll create their blog post and add the entire transcript to the archives as well. And we’ll send a written copy of the transcript to the contributors for their personal use.
The transcription will cost us between $125-250 per person depending on how far we must travel, the length of the session and other associated costs. This is one reason we encourage you to use the online form if at all possible.
And it is one reason we are currently crowdfunding to set up these audio recording times around the region. Your donation right now will help us continue to work throughout the winter months to capture even more voices for this archive.