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Storytelling with StoryCorps

January 31, 2013

By Julie Childs, Assistant to Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey

Julie Childs and Amy Ray Photo Credit: StoryCorps

Julie Childs and Amy Ray. Photo Credit: StoryCorps

I just came back from an amazing Creating Change conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Among the many experiences I had at the conference this year, I was introduced to StoryCorps.

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives. Each session is archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and millions listen to weekly broadcasts on NPR’s “Morning Edition” or on the StoryCorps website.

Admittedly, I didn’t really have knowledge of the project and partnership that would be occurring during Creating Change over a two-day period to capture conversations to preserve and document LGBT history. I helped coordinate the project on site, setting up a mini-recording studio in a far corner of the Hilton Atlanta. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is celebrating its 40th anniversary and the conference just celebrated its 25th, so it was wonderful to capture over 20 stories on site from a variety of people in our queer movement.

My StoryCorps session was with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. Amy took the role of the interviewer while I was the storyteller. When I entered the room, I was intimidated by all the high-tech recording equipment, but almost instantly relaxed as we began the interview.

Within a few minutes of conversation, I felt like I was transported to a cozy corner of a coffee shop having an amazing conversation with a person I wanted to get to know better. Amy and I have worked on activist projects in the queer movement for nearly 16 years, but I feel like the storytelling session enriched and deepened our connection both professionally and personally.

Amy asked challenging and deep questions about my work, the queer movement and the global progressive community that we are both a part of. We shared our experiences within broader progressive circles and collaborated on the vision of future intersectional work that the LGBT community needs to embody to keep moving forward.

In between conversing about politics and strategizing about the future of progressive issues, several stories of my childhood, my life and my activism were revealed. I found myself telling Amy things that I have never said before. I didn’t realize until I was asked a very specific question that there was a moment in my past when an activist was born.

I told a story of a 6th-grade history project where I interpreted the United States Constitution as not congruent with full equality and was subsequently punished for my views. It was my first encounter that I could label as censorship, and thus an activist was born. When I got home from Atlanta, I ripped apart my house trying to find the drawing that sparked that fire so long ago. The StoryCorps session uncovered many thoughts and feelings that were buried deep inside and stirred up a lot of emotions that made take pause and take a harder look at myself, my politics and my values.

At this juncture in time, when so many things are abbreviated and we would rather text each other than talk to one another, I feel lucky to have shared my story with both Amy and StoryCorps and know that it will become a small part of our oral history that will be archived for those that come after me. After 16 years of actively working in the queer movement, I feel like I had become somewhat complacent, but spending an hour with StoryCorps and Amy has stoked my inner flame and this fire is not about to go out anytime soon.

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