LGBTQ people share poignant testimonies on Personal Stories Project

Charles Chan Massey believes personal stories are the LGBTQ community’s most powerful tool to help erase fear, give hope, and unite people.

Chan Massey has put his belief into action with The Personal Stories Project, a digital nonprofit that promotes activism, advocacy, and support for the LGBTQ community and its allies through sharing personal stories.

Chan Massey is the project’s executive director.

“Our personal stories are probably our most important tool,” says Chan Massey, 53, a North Carolina native, who lives in Silver Lake with his husband, Joseph Chan, 51. “When you harness that and you share it, you share it wisely. You make sure that you share it with the people that need to hear it.

“But you also share your stories with the people that don’t want to hear it, but need to hear it,” he says. “The goal of sharing your personal story is to change hearts and minds and ultimately lives.”

On Saturday afternoon, Charles and Joseph will host their second annual Spring Mixer and Garden Party fundraiser for the Personal Stories Project. Tickets are $35-$150.

Net proceeds from the event will be divided among four LGBTQ nonprofits:

5 percent to Camp Brave Trails

5 percent to the [email protected] Coalition

45 percent to the Personal Stories Project

45 percent to One Million Kids for Equality

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Chan Massey also is vice president of One Million Kids for Equality, whose mission is similar to The Personal Stories Project, but focused on LGBTQ youth empowerment.

Chan Massey and Sara Christie founded The Personal Stories Project in 2012, and more than 20 video stories, or condensed oral histories, are posted on the website, including Chan Massey’s. Here are three others:

  • Michael Garcia, a young man from Denver, was kicked out of his home at 14- years-old because he’s gay. His story is an amazing display of courage in the face of adversity.
  • Garland Gabriel Guidry is a 41-year-old transgender woman living in Los Angeles. In part one of her interview, Guidry talks about her early life and what it means to be transgender.
  • Peter Jarman, 85,  lives in a San Diego retirement community. In part one of his story, Peter talks about gay life in the 1950’s when he was serving in the U. S. Air Force.

Charles Chan Massey, left, and his husband, Joseph Chan Massey are LGBTQ activists. Charles is the executive director of The Personal Stories Project, a digital nonprofit that promotes activism, advocacy, and support for the LGBTQ community and its allies through sharing personal stories. Photo: Charles Chan Massey.

In an interview with Q Voice News, Chan Massey talks about being an “accidental activist” and staying in the closet because his grandmother didn’t like a 1970s TV character.

Here are some excerpts.

Being an “accidental activist”

“I wasn’t involved in civil disobedience, if you will. I had never held up a sign and protested against something I felt was unjust,” Chan Massey says. “I figured there were other people doing that. I was one of those gays that gay activists talk about.

“Around 2012, 2013, a series of things were set into motion,” he says. “I came across the story of Tom Bridegroom and Shane Bitney Crone that was made into the documentary “Bridegroom.” They were a Los Angeles couple, and Tom accidentally fell off their apartment roof. They were not married at the time. It wasn’t legal. Tom’s family was from Indiana and banned Shane from the funeral. I was looking at it like, That could be us. Not that either one of our parents would do something along those lines, but we had no legal recognition.”

The second sign

“Shortly thereafter, I get a message on Facebook messenger from someone who I’d never met,” Chan Massey says. “She was the daughter of my older sister’s high school best friend. Essentially, she came out to me. She said, You know, I don’t think that my mom would have handled it as well had she not known you. Essentially it was a thank you message.”

The third sign

“A couple months later, I received a message from my younger sister who said that one of her friends had a son who was coming out, and she was scouring the internet for resources and could I help her,” Chan Massey says.

“At that point, I just looked up and said, OK. I’m not terribly religious, but you’re trying to tell me something. Out of that, the Personal Stories Project was born.”

Sharing his own personal story

“During this whole process of  sharing my own story on The Personal Stories Project, I had remembered something that I kind of forgot,” Chan Massey says. “In 1976, I was 12, and my grandmother and I were traveling with my family. We got connecting hotel rooms, and I stayed with my grandparents.

“So I’m sitting on the bed watching the TV show ‘Alice’ starring Linda Lavin, who played a cafe waitress. In one episode, she was dating a retired pro football player. It turns out all I remember is the pro football player said, ‘Alice, I’m gay.’ My grandmother gets up and walks over to the television. She didn’t say a word, just looks straight ahead, changes the channel, comes back and sits down.”

Sharing stories can be cathartic

“I knew there was something up with me,” Chan Massey says. “I didn’t have a label for it. I didn’t know what gay was and all that, but I kind of related to what the guy was saying on ‘Alice,’ but then I realized it must be something really bad if my grandmother changed the channel.

“That probably put me back in the closet for six more years because I came out at 18,” Chan Massey says. “It didn’t come up until last year when I was doing some writing of my own for my story. When you share your own story, it can be very cathartic. Not only are we encouraging people to share their stories for other people that might be able to relate, but it helps you.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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