The Stories Project Call-Out

TW: brief mentions of murder, anti-LGBT violence, suicide.

Hey everyone! We at the Stories Project are so happy and humbled to be celebrating our third anniversary. Over the past three years, we have grown from one director, no stories, and an uncertain idea of what the project was or what we wanted it to be to two directors, twenty stories, and a much more solid understanding of what impact we want to leave as we move forward, thanks to the many people who have taken part and supported us along the way.

BUT…moving forward, we need your help.

We’re at a point where we’re not exactly sure who may be interested in participating. The first year, it was fairly easy to think of some names and reach out to those people; three years later, we don’t really like to do it this way, for a number of reasons. So in order for us to keep the momentum going, we’re going to need a little help. That’s where you come in.

We’re posting this call-out in our inner spheres and are asking anyone who thinks someone in their circles may be interested to do the same. You can share this post, write up your own, or reach out to someone specific; you can share our names with them or their names with us (but make sure the latter is okay first). We are specifically interested in speaking with:

– The families and friends of those lost to anti-LGBT violence or suicide
– Survivors of anti-LGBT violence
– The families and friends of LGBT people lost to violence whose murders are unsolved
– LGBT people who have survived hardship, discrimination, loss, or violence and would like to share their experiences

We speak to all who want to share, whether you are the survivor or the victim’s sister or their friend from high school. If you have something to share, you have a story.

The general link to our website is here, FAQs can be found here, stories already shared here. Facebook page is here. We’re more than happy to speak one-on-one with anyone who would like to know more. If interested, contact Meg or Alice at the.stories.project.lgbt@gmail.com and we will be in touch.

Authors: Meg and Alice

Keep Going

TW: depression brought on by loss and/or violence.

I’d like to take a moment today to say something a bit personal. This is something I increasingly don’t like to do in this space, as I prefer to remain more in the background and let the voices of those sharing their stories take center-stage. However, knowing that some of the people who read our blog and follow our work are struggling with the same or similar things that I am, I decided to post this publicly.

This is something I wrote this week that’s as much for others who are hurting as it is for myself: it’s called “Keep Going,” and it’s about living in the dance of contradictions that is the aftermath of loss and violence. It’s about looking for all the love and light still left in the world in spite of those experiences that have made it easy to believe there is none left. It’s about how we find reasons to make living worthwhile, together, just because we keep going.

Much love to Alice for letting me use and interpret her words to write this post. She along with many others have helped me keep going for many years.

I’m not going to lie: the past week, in spite of all the wonderful things that have happened and all of the wonderful people I am privileged to have in my life, has been incredibly difficult.

I struggled to understand how I could simultaneously feel so happy and yet so sad, sad enough I had crying fits lasting several hours for several days and could not eat a real meal for a solid week, until I realized something: this is the all-too-familiar dance of living in the aftermath of loss and violence.

Sometimes there’s a trigger. Sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes I just crash from the weight of my experience and the weight of trying to integrate it in a healthy way into my daily existence. People say time makes everything easier, but I haven’t necessarily found that to be the case – in fact, I’ve sometimes found the passage of time to be a terrifying, distressing concept that elicits an episode of sobbing for days at the drop of a hat. People say, “You’ve gotten through it before and you will again,” but that’s not an easy tunnel to see the light out of while you’re in it. However, this past week, one person in my life said two words that did help that I wanted to share with you:

Keep going.

Keep going, because although I can’t guarantee you’ll ever feel “better” about the things that have happened to you, the burden you carry will eventually lessen if you are able to notice all the light and love still left in the world.

Keep going, because once you start to notice all the light and love still left in the world, you might just realize that you are a source of light and love for someone who needs it, even if they won’t tell you.

Keep going, because light and love and reasons to live can be found in all kinds of unexpected places. There are people out there who are full of love and have an infinite amount of it to give, who give freely and selflessly without wanting something in return.

Keep going, because the world is brighter with you in it and would be darker if you weren’t. I know that to be true even if we’ve never spoken personally, even if we’ve interacted before and come to the conclusion that we don’t like each other. You matter. Your life matters.

Keep going, because even if you struggle with hardship, loss, the aftermath of violence, or depression, you are alive, and you should be. For those of us who feel guilty over the fact that we survived when others in our lives, or others in our position, did not, it’s nearly impossible not to question why it was so, and it’s something we can really beat ourselves up over. I don’t like the idea of surviving “for a reason,” but if you survived, I’m glad you did. I wish those who didn’t survive had, but it would be MORE painful, not less, if you had died with them.

Keep going, because we can be simultaneously healing and hurting, happy and sad, mourning and moving forward, brave and fearful, pained and pressing on – and to exist in this state of contradictions doesn’t mean we are broken, or not trying hard enough to move forward. It means we are human. It means something, somewhere along the way, tried to extinguish the warmth of our soul and failed, but left an irreversible impact all the same, one that still hurts and sometimes quite a bit.

Keep going, because it will be worth it. You will find ways to make living, even living with the weight of the painful things you’ve experienced, worthwhile.

Keep going.

I don’t believe in never crying. I believe in crying together. I also don’t believe in only letting people see or share stories of resilience, of strength, of overcoming adversity, of healing to the point where the loss or the violence rarely impacts you again on the level it once did. I believe, and I always have believed, in the power of the human story. I’ve built an entire project around that belief and included that phrase in every letter I’ve ever sent about it. I speak openly, and I share my reality, however sad or messy or painful it may be, because I am aware of the power in owning my truth. Because I know that there are people in my life who are experiencing similar pains, and whether or not speaking out is important to them, it’s easier to feel you can be honest if someone else has done so first.

So I’m not going to lie: I’m struggling, and at the moment, quite a bit. I’ve struggled with the things I’ve experienced for a long time and I can’t imagine there will ever come a time where I don’t struggle, or where I don’t cry. But I’m going to keep going and continue looking for all that love and light in the world that I have seen time and time again through the people who have invited me into their lives, if only briefly.

I can’t promise that everything will be okay – not to myself and not to anyone who may be reading. I can promise, however, that we are loved, that the lives we lead are important, that there is much still to love in the world, and that we will find ways to make living worthwhile in spite of our bad days – or bad weeks.

Keep going.

Author: Meg

Turning Off the Queue System

TW: none

We’ve made a small change to the way our comment system works and have decided, for the time being, to do away with sending all comments into moderation for one of us to approve manually.

Comments on the blog have always been a little buggy. During the early few months of the project, some would randomly disappear after being posted and I would never see them. We didn’t use a queue system back then, so there was no reason for the comments to not show up right away, and this happened to several people across multiple computers including myself when I tested it. We’ve also had ongoing issues with subscribing to comments on posts and then not being notified when a comment is made on that post (which is what’s supposed to happen when you subscribe to a thread).

The latest issue involves some people being able to read and respond to comments that were shown as unapproved and still in moderation and therefore shouldn’t be visible to anyone except us. We noticed – and I can’t believe we didn’t notice sooner, honestly, because this happened on a few posts – that one person with a story on the site who answers all questions had responded to unapproved comments by hitting reply and creating a thread, something she only could have done if the comments were visible to her on the post to begin with. When we had some people test it, a third to half of them were also seeing comments before they were approved. Which kind of defeats the purpose of having comments go into mod.

So to spare ourselves the hassle, we cleared out all of the comments in the queue and turned off the setting that sends them there. From now on, a comment should be visible the moment someone posts it. If this becomes a problem, we’ll turn it back on, but since it hasn’t been, we’re fine doing it this way for the time being.

Author: Meg

2014 Year in Review

TW: none.

With the holiday season and the end of the year upon us, it’s about time for the projects to go on hiatus until after the new year. But before we go, we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect a bit on our accomplishments this year – and look ahead to 2015!

First of all, you’ll note that I said “we” and “us” in the paragraph above. That’s because one of the major changes implemented this year was to add a second person to the Stories Project and Week of Action team. I’m happy to have Alice on board to co-run the projects. She should be making her voice known more after the new year, as we’re going to try to rotate who posts about certain topics more often so we’re not always speaking as a unified hivemind. 😉 Until then, you can read more about Alice and why she wanted to get involved on the “About Us” tab.

Some changes were additionally made to the site itself in an attempt to present ourselves and our work in a more cohesive and consistent way. All posts now include two things that were not there previously: tags for potentially triggering content at the top of the page and author tags at the bottom of the page. All of the “about” tabs were updated with current information and a statement in writing that we do in fact have the families’ approval to collect stories about their loved ones; we rewrote the posts in a way that more accurately reflects what we are trying to do now and provides a clearer, more-straightforward understanding of what these projects are. Some posts were made private due to outdated, conflicting, or no longer relevant information and others were password-protected. We also shifted the layout around and tweaked some of the wording on the site to make it clear the Stories Project has become the bigger/main project with the Week of Action running on the side.

Other things that are new for 2014 include a new email address, the.stories.project.lgbt@gmail.com, which is going to serve as the main contact for the projects from this point on, a new logo for the Stories Project (see below), and a Facebook page.

cropped sp logo

Four stories were collected this year, bringing the total to fifteen collected and twelve published (two are in progress as we speak). This year, we received stories from: Christine Thomas, a friend and classmate of Rebecca Wight; the Rev. Rebecca Strader, minister of Julie Williams; Jazmin Johnson, a young trans woman who refuses to be defined as anything but a human being and a survivor; and Clea Matson, the daughter of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder. Their stories can be found at the links below:

Christine Thomas, Rev. Rebecca Strader, Jazmin Johnson, Clea Matson

The other stories collected so far can be found here: Mark Brady, Karen Poiani, Bill Thomas, Wayne Wilcox, Clayton Ham, Tessa Crawford, Judy Wight.

On a personal note, I had the opportunity this past summer to pay a visit to Michaux State Forest as well as the Colonial Parkway, two places where some of the victims spotlighted here lost their lives, and to meet with one of the individuals who has shared their story on the site. I wrote two posts detailing the impact those visits had on me – overall, going to those sites was an extremely powerful and transformative experience. I left those sites and that meeting with this renewed sense of being grateful that I survived my brush with violence to have an impact on someone’s life, instead of continuing to question why it turned out that way.

I feel that 2014 has been our most successful year so far, and I am very happy with the progress we’ve made. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t dropped the ball in some respects with the projects and our own goals this year – we are always looking for ways to improve, and it’s important to be able to honestly critique ourselves. Firstly, even with two of us having access to the website, we let the queue of comments build up again and there’s around fifty or so that we need to sort through and approve. This is something that we have got to find a better system or strategy for; I remember writing the same sentence during the 2013 review. We announced that we would be posting an interview we did to tell our own stories for National Coming Out Day back in October, but this post never came about because we put it off and never went back to it. We additionally failed to properly acknowledge several important things that happened this year, like the Black Lives Matter movement and the Transgender Day of Remembrance. So here are our goals for the upcoming year:

1. In 2013, we decided that the Stories Project was lacking stories from trans people of color, even though trans women of color are the most likely group in the LGBT community to experience violence and hate crimes. We did wind up receiving stories from three black trans women, one published this year and two that will likely be published early next year, but it’s not enough for us to focus on these women’s stories for just a year and then call it a day. So our main goal for 2015 is to continue to seek out diverse stories that represent the full spectrum of LGBT people and their experiences. We are also in the process of speaking with a few people who have expressed interest in being guest posters; they would be added to the Stories Project team and have an equal voice in the direction of the projects. We don’t just want to give lip-service to creating something that represents all LGBT people; we intend to implement whatever changes are necessary to actually do it.

2. We desperately need a better system of getting comments out of moderation before they build up. In 2015, we need to create that system and then follow it.

3. This is a fairly simple goal, but one we want to make sure to keep in mind as we do bigger things with the projects: to never forget where we came from and the people who helped us get there, and to never allow any external rewards that we might receive to interfere with or corrupt our internal motivations for doing this in the first place.

Happy holidays to all who celebrate, and best wishes for the new year. We will see everyone in a couple of weeks!

Author: Meg

Site Update

TW: none.

Though it took two weeks longer than expected, all posts have been unlocked and the site is up and running again! Here are some of the changes we made:

1. You’ll note that I said “we” in the sentence above. That’s because there are now two of us co-running the projects – welcome Alice to the Stories Project team! I’m happy to have her on board and she should be making herself known around here soon; in the meantime, you can read more about her in the “About Us” tab.

2. All posts now have two things: trigger tags at the top of the page and author tags at the bottom of the page. Content notes are included for but not limited to: grief, loss, slurs, violence, murder, death, suicide, misgendering, abuse, and self-harm.

3. The Stories Project has a new email address. For those of you who already have my personal one, you’re welcome to keep it and contact me that way, but the new address, which is going to serve as the main contact for the projects from this point on, is: the.stories.project.lgbt@gmail.com. The Stories Project now also has its own page on Facebook that we can be reached at as well.

4. All of the “about” tabs – About Us, About the Stories Project, About the Week of Action, Contact, and Who We Are Not: a Warning – have all been updated with current information. We rewrote the posts in a way that more accurately reflects what we are trying to do and more provides a clearer, more-straightforward understanding of what these projects are.

5. Some posts were made private due to outdated, conflicting, or no longer relevant information, such as old announcements of contact information changes. Additionally, posts involving my story have been password-protected. I will gladly provide the password to those who are interested in reading those posts; however, I am implementing this both as a safety measure and because I never wanted to be the main focus of the projects. In the future, it may be the case that posts involving my story will not be password-protected, but that is the case for now.

6. The site remains the Week of Action Movement in name and has not been split into two separate sites. Instead, things have been shifted around layout and wording-wise to make it clear the Stories Project is the bigger/main project with that event running on the side.

7. Because we get asked, Alice and I have decided to add a statement in writing in a couple of locations on the site that says yes, we do in fact have the families’ approval to collect stories about their loved ones:

“We would like to note that for each of the individuals we have collected stories about through the project, we have the approval of their family to do so even if they have elected not to share themselves. In the majority of cases, the families are highly involved in the process from the beginning and some have continued to stay in touch with us long after we had a finished story on the site. So in case you are wondering if we have the families’ permission to do this – we do.”

8. A new logo that we created, of the same general rainbow hand print design, is in the works and should be in place shortly.

Thanks for sticking with us as we figured all of this out!

Author: Meg

Posts Temporarily Locked for Site Update

TW: none.

Just a heads-up, this is a note that all posts on this blog except for the Stories Project stories are going to be locked temporarily while I do some redesigning and updating with the site and the information on it. Not disappearing, just renovating, and all posts will be unlocked again no later than Friday, September 12.

Here are some of the things I am considering changing. Any feedback or suggestions would be much appreciated.

– The icon of the blog. I may not necessarily change it, but I do need to ensure I have the right to use it. I seem to remember it was a stock image I purchased the license to; however, in the event that I’m wrong, I will either purchase the license to a similar stock image, or I will create / commission a logo myself.

– The name of the blog. The website was created with one project in mind – the Week of Action – because the Stories Project did not yet exist. Even when it did, it was the side project. In the years that followed, the Stories Project greatly surpassed the purpose and scope of the Week of Action, and it is now very much the main project, with the WoA as a side event. I am thinking the blog name should reflect this. Should the blog, including its name, be remodeled to reflect this change – the Stories Project as the main, the Week of Action as the side?

– Whether or not to divide this site into two separate sites, one for the Stories Project and one for the Week of Action. Goes along with considering changing the name of the blog. Initially, I only had one project – the Week of Action – and I named and designed the blog with only one project in mind. When the Stories Project came about, it was at that time just an extension of the Week of Action, and I was not sure it would last. I didn’t know if anyone would want to speak with me and I also did not have a clear understanding of exactly what I wanted it to be – I certainly didn’t expect it would become its own entity and greatly surpass the scope of the first project. I’ve tried to find a way to integrate both on this site, but the balance seems off: the Stories Project is the bigger project I do much more with that is active all of the time, yet the website is still very WoA-centered, even though that is only a once-a-year event. Should I split the two projects into two different blogs, or is it better to keep them on the same one? How can I adjust the balance so the Stories Project is more the focus?

– The “about” tabs and their order. Firstly, they need to be rewritten – at least three of the five are outdated. The project tabs should also first.

– Trigger warnings / content notes on posts. This needs to happen, period. I didn’t tag anything when the site was new because I had no readers. This is not the case any more and some of those who read have been directly victimized by the type of violence discussed here – tags are not optional when it comes to subject matter like this.

– Locking or editing some of the older posts to avoid confusion. I hesitate to do this for transparency reasons, but the fact is that the projects of 2014 are not the projects of two years ago. The concept may be the same but in terms of purpose, scope, methods, etc., they are dramatically different. I wasn’t sure what I was doing or what I wanted to do with them at that time. So it’s crossed my mind to lock or edit some of the older posts that have possibly conflicting information or are not representative of what this has become.

– How visible I am in general on the site. I always wonder about how to minimize myself on the site and in the projects, because I have always said that if I could run these projects without anyone knowing who I was or what place I came from, if I could only focus on the stories and the victims themselves, I would do that. I am not able to do this the way I would like at times because these are the things everyone I’ve spoken with has wanted to know before agreeing to participate – who I am, what place I come from, what connection I have to X story, and whether or not what I’m doing is for reasons they can support. I’m okay sharing with the victims’ families how their loved ones’ stories have affected me – again, it’s something they often want to know before getting involved – I am not as comfortable sharing that with the world on a public blog! I’ve forced myself to be very open and personal on this site about how the stories have influenced me so that it doesn’t come across like I have something to hide, but co-opting / exploiting them is always a fear of mine.

How obvious it should be that I have permission to talk about these stories. I wonder about this at times too, if there should be an indicative note somewhere on the blog that states I do have permission to talk about these stories in the way I do. The first year was disorganized and chaotic, so I wasn’t always certain because I was fairly afraid of the people I contacted – but I do know now. I always thought it was somewhat obvious that if I had a story from someone, particularly a family member of the victim, I had someone’s approval, but I have been asked. With one story in particular that gets focused on a lot around here, I do have the family’s approval to go forward with the projects, though it’s not stated on the site anywhere in writing. Maybe it should be?

Author: Meg

2013: Wrap-Up and Resolutions

TW: brief mentions of death and violence toward the end.

It feels odd that we have again reached the end of the year. For me, it seems like it was just 2012, counting down the seconds to this year with dread because I had no idea what to expect in 2013. 2012 had been such a milestone year for me in so many ways that it seemed impossible the year would actually end – but it did, and now so has 2013, which means that the time has come for an annual wrap-up of the projects and resolutions for 2014.

All in all, I believe that this was quite a successful year. I had to remind myself periodically that while I was more prolific in 2012, I was more successful in 2013. I was more practiced, more polished, the projects were more established, and less mistakes were made due to inexperience or insecurity, as they were the first year. Five new stories were posted to the site; additionally, I finally came forward with my own during the Week of Action after two years of being too afraid to talk about it. Sharing my story was a liberating experience, albeit a terrifying one, and though the decision to stop denying what happened has come with a whole host of new issues, it was definitely the right choice. The four other stories collected in 2013, all of which are well worth a read if you haven’t yet, can be found below:

From Wayne Wilcox, a friend and classmate of Rebecca Wight: https://weekofactionmovement.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/the-stories-project-wayne-wilcoxs-story/
From Clayton Ham, a youth who wanted to share his experience of being openly gay in high school: https://weekofactionmovement.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/the-stories-project-clayton-hams-story/
From Tessa Crawford, a youth who has been touched by both suicide and homicide: https://weekofactionmovement.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/the-stories-project-tessa-crawfords-story/
From Judy Wight, the youngest sister of Rebecca Wight: https://weekofactionmovement.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/the-stories-project-judy-wights-story/

I will also link the stories collected in 2012, just because:

From Mark Brady, a friend and classmate of Rebecca Wight: https://weekofactionmovement.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/the-stories-project-mark-bradys-story/
From Karen Poiani, a friend of Rebecca Wight and Claudia Brenner: https://weekofactionmovement.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/the-stories-project-karen-poianis-story/
From Bill Thomas, the older brother of Cathleen Thomas: https://weekofactionmovement.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/the-stories-project-bill-thomass-story/

Now, on to 2014. In the previous post, I detailed three things I am going to try to see if they improve the projects; additionally, I have created four resolutions for the new year. First, I resolve to sort through the 100+ comments in moderation as soon as possible and get them posted on the site. Yes, there are more than 100 comments in moderation – the Stories Project has been blowing up as of late! I am not sure how it happened or where the traffic is coming from, but people are taking notice of and responding to your stories. Second, I will focus my efforts on the stories of trans* people and people of color this year, because I want to represent the entire LGBT community, not just certain segments. Third, I will find a balance between caring too much and too little about appropriating the stories. As I have mentioned before, this is something I struggle with – if I care too much about appropriating the stories, I will freeze and become unable to proceed forward, but if I care too little, then I couldn’t say I care about the victims because I would indeed be using them and using their stories. I recently stepped away from the projects for six weeks due to freezing and becoming unable to proceed. Balance is key and I need to find it.

Finally, I resolve to take back the woods. I’ve always found the woods a little unsettling, but I developed a deep fear of the woods after becoming invested in the stories of women who faced violence while out in nature. I think one of the stories said it best – you can’t help it, they just influence you like that. The thing is, I don’t want to be afraid of the woods. I don’t want to feel unsafe in the outdoors, which is supposed to be a safe place. I don’t expect it to happen overnight, but I intend to at least take the first steps: this summer I will be visiting and sleeping over at some of the spots in the woods where I feel the most ill at ease, one in Pennsylvania and one in Virginia. Which perhaps isn’t the most orthodox method of unlearning my fear of the woods, but it’s one that makes sense to me. If I stay at the sites where the worst has happened and emerge okay, the hope is that I will be less intimidated to go into the woods again. 2014 is going to be the year I take back the trails.

I’m looking forward to 2014. And as we’ve now passed the first of the year, the projects are both open again. Happy New Year to all, and here’s to the future.

Author: Meg