The LGBT equality movement is all about visibility—the logic is that when people know someone gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, they have a personal connection to the movement, so it’s hard to be a hater.
“I’m From Driftwood” is based on that logic. The website, now a year-and-a-half-old, collects user-submitted stories written by LGBT people from all over the world in an effort to make a simple point: sexual minorities are in every country, in every city, and in every community.
Three months ago, Nathan Manske, the site’s gay founder, took it a step further. He and his team—videographer Marquise Lee and Manske’s straight brother, Nick—began a cross-country storytelling trek. They plan to hit all 50 states, producing video and audio from activists and advocates along the way.
When I spoke with Manske last week, he was in a valley in Vermont, the 33rd state on the 50-State Story Tour. The project’s even breaking down some of his stereotypes, Manske said:
It’s teaching me not to judge people based on where they live—whether it’s a red state or a blue state. In the deep red states, we found a lot of people who were there, fighting for our rights, and getting the word out there about the LGBT community. Some of the most inspiring stories have come from traditionally conservative areas, where people don’t leave their community because they’re gay; they stay there because that’s what’s making a difference.
He met with a guy from North Dakota who pretty much sacrificed his job by writing an editorial in the local paper about the failure of an LGBT-inclusive workplace nondiscrimination bill. But he’s also heard from people who came out in traditionally unsympathetic communities and are widely embraced, like a Pennsylvania football player who was fiercely supported by his teammates.
Manske’s also spoken with people from “Meccas of liberalism” who faced opposition. A gay youth group in Los Angeles quickly dispelled the notion that being gay in a big city is instantly easier than being gay in Podunk, USA.
The purpose of the site is to help queer youth realize that no matter who they are, or where they are, or what they’re going through, they’re not alone. I feel that by sharing all of our stories, it could convey that message of hope and [that] you’re not alone.
The story tour is like a more involved, more effective “It Gets Better” project. Instead of just sympathizing and acknowledging that it’s hard out there for a non-hetero, “I’m From Driftwood” shows that there’s a positive future—and it’s possible for everyone.