03.23.14 Planting the Seed: How QOHP Got Started
It was a cool and sunny day in Utah’s late spring, sitting at our usual teatime spot on my friend Jeremy’s porch, when The Queer Oral History Project was conceived. Jeremy Yamashiro, my best friend (now of nine years!) had just graduated with two bachelors degrees – one in Psychology and the other in Anthropology. I was on a fast track to graduate nearly a semester early with a BA in Film Studies. At the time, Jeremy was working at the Utah Pride Center’s youth program, T.I.N.T. (Tolerant Intelligent Network of Teens) and I was freelancing as a videographer, raising awareness of a range of issues in the Salt Lake Valley, mostly concerning LGBTIQ identities and social justice.
Our conversation had been deep, as usual, ruminating on the challenges queer people face in such a conservative state as Utah. We had refilled our teapot a few times over when our conversation took a humorous turn: a colleague of ours, who had preceded Jeremy as TINT’s youth coordinator was stunned when Gandhi came up in a discussion and one of the youth queried who Gandhi was. We shared a giggle that such a notable figure would be so quickly shelved into the dusty recesses of generational memory. But our laughter faded into a realization that our community’s youth was clearly at risk of losing out on the invaluable wisdom typically passed down from our elders.
Neither of us could tolerate a future where the coming generations would grow in ignorance of the tremendous sacrifices made by our predecessors. Of course, it is inevitable that many heroes’ stories would be forgotten – if they weren’t made into local legends ¬– especially if those stories were of lesser-known people, the unsung heroes whose service in yesteryears helped create the visibility and respectability we’ve garnered in our queer struggle for equality today.
If our community’s youth were to enjoy the privileges of global interconnectivity through the Internet, there was no reason why they couldn’t access the voices of those who had paved the way for them – to revel in their victories, bear witness to their losses and know of the hope that kept so many of our elders alive during some of the most challenging decades our people have collectively faced.
We set to work immediately. Within a month our plan was solid and we were already asking for donations and setting interview appointments. The Utah Humanities Council together with the Utah Pride Center, pledged $4,000 which we applied to this vital project. Over the following months, we gathered 17 stories. It was such a small sample of our community around the world – merely a drop in an ocean of history – but precious and irreplaceable all the same.
We were (are!) proud of our collection and were saddened that larger, personal goals pulled us in different directions for a period. Jeremy has for the last few years been working his way to a PhD at the New School for Social Research in New York City, and I had moved to the Bay Area in 2010 to pursue documentary projects on the BDSM and Radical Faerie communities. But I kept hearing the call: “record your community before their stories are lost forever.”
It was last year, in another sunny, springtime conversation on his back porch – this time in San Francisco – that Jed Barnum volunteered to help me revitalize The Queer Oral History Project, this time with a much larger vision and a better understanding of what is possible in our youth’s tech-savvy culture.
The community’s response to this project has been inspiring. People have so much to share and are hungry for more. Help us expand our collection of personal histories by volunteering, making a donation or submitting a story. We can’t do this alone. None of us ever could. If it weren’t for the work of many hands, our community’s living history might never have flourished as it has.
Now, where shall we start?