The Power of Being Heard
By Jerry Portwood
Richard and Dave Isay
What story would you tell if you had to distill your life into 40 minutes? The act of telling your story and being listened to can have a profound effect, on yourself and on the world. That’s the philosophy that’s guided Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, over the past 10 years. In a decade’s time, the organization has collected and archived an astounding 50,000 interviews — and Isay predicts it will have over 100,000 participants by year’s end.
But so far there’s been no comprehensive effort to document and preserve queer stories. To mark the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the nonprofit is launching OutLoud, a national initiative to record and document the untold stories of the LGBT experience in America, on June 28.
OutLoud also commemorates Isay’s father, Dr. Richard Isay, a psychiatrist-turned-activist who in the 1980s began working with gay patients, counseling self-acceptance (and campaigning for his peers to do the same) long before it was popular to do so. When Isay was 22, his father, then 40, came out to him. “He started becoming an activist, and it hadn’t occurred to me that he was gay. I saw him giving speeches, he was fighting for people, and I thought it was just part of his motto — ‘Every Life Matters’ — not that he was, in fact, gay as well. It wasn’t easy; it shook my reality to some extent.”
To cope with the knowledge, Isay, who had just started working in radio, began interviewing Stonewall-era survivors. “I started using the microphone to talk to people and learn things that you don’t normally get to,” he explains. “I didn’t have friends who I knew were gay and I felt completely outside of this world, but I got completely into it and met some of the most courageous, interesting people of my life.” The result of that experience became one of his first radio documentaries, Remembering Stonewall, which he dedicated to his dad. “It was our way of coming back together,” he says. “After that, it was very different between the two of us.”
Isay wanted to launch OutLoud years ago — “It was something my dad really wanted during his lifetime” — but it was only after his father’s death, coincidentally on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 2012, that he was able to raise money for the three-year initiative. The nonprofit still needs to raise approximately $1.5 million to complete the job of telling these stories.