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Stonewall Reminds Us We Must Preserve the Stories of LGBTQ Seniors

Dave Isay

I am the very proud son of a remarkable gay man.

My dad, Richard Isay, was a psychiatrist who would become an intrepid crusader for LGBTQ rights. His books would help transform the way therapists viewed and treated their gay patients. He paid the price professionally for his activism, but never blinked. He was an incredible man — and an even better father.

My dad came out to me in 1988 when I was 22 and he was 52. It came as a complete shock. In one of our strained conversations, my dad mentioned the Stonewall Riots — how one night in 1969, a group of young black and Latino drag queens fought back against the police at a gay bar in Manhattan called the Stonewall Inn, and how this uprising sparked the modern gay rights movement.

The story stopped me in my tracks.

I had recently graduated college and started making radio stories, so I decided to pick up my tape recorder to find out more.

With the help of a young archivist named Michael Scherker, we tracked down all of the people we could find who had been at the Stonewall Inn, to record their memories of what happened that night. Our documentary Remembering Stonewall aired on public radio for the 20th anniversary of the riots. It was the first time the story of Stonewall had been told to a national audience. I dedicated the program to my dad. The experience changed my life.

Twenty-three years later, on June 28, 2012, the anniversary of the riots, my dad passed away suddenly from cancer at the age of 78. He had recently married his partner of 25 years, Gordon. Dad was still working full-time, fighting the good fight for dignity, equality, and the power of love up until he received his diagnosis a few days before he died.

Next month, we mark the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. StoryCorps, the nonprofit organization that I founded in 2003, is working to preserve the personal histories of gay people who lived before Stonewall and to make their voices a permanent part of American history, preserved at the Library of Congress.

Today, in partnership with SAGE, National LGBT Taskforce, GLSEN and GRIOT Circle, we’re announcing Stonewall OutLoud, an effort to inspire people to honor an LGBTQ elder with an interview on the StoryCorps app during the month of June.

Anyone can record anywhere. Download our app, find an elder you want to honor with an interview, and ask important questions like, “What was it like to be gay when you were young?,” “Can you tell me the story of when you came out?” and “Who was your first love?”

With your help, Stonewall OutLoud will be a big, meaningful and loving celebration of LGBTQ elders. I am looking forward to interviewing my dad’s husband Gordon on the app. Who would you want to honor with an interview?

I hope you’ll become part of this historic effort — spread the word, listen and record! Find out more and pledge to join us at StoryCorps.org/outloud.

Dave Isay is the founder of StoryCorps and the recipient of numerous broadcasting honors, including six Peabody Awards and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. He is the author/editor of numerous books that grew out of his public radio documentary work, including The New York Times bestsellers: Listening Is an Act of Love (2007), Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps, All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps (2012), and Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude From the First Ten Years of StoryCorps (2013) and Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work (2016).

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