In her six-minute video testimonial, Kristen, a charming woman dressed in business causal office garb, shares that she grew in Orange County, California. It was a few decades ago, but she never met a single person who was out. It wasn’t until her twenties—after she’d moved to Brooklyn and learned more about the feminist movement—that she realized two things: First, she wanted to do more to battle inequality in all its forms. Second, she wanted a woman to be her life partner.
“It was kind of astonishing,” she says. “All along I had been experiencing these thoughts and feelings.” Finally, she felt like she was able to start sharing that. “[I realized], ‘Oh, this is me,'” she says about being a lesbian.
In celebration of LGBTQ History Month and National Coming Out day, Kristen agreed to share her story on VideoOut, a nonprofit online platform that allows people from all over the country to share their own coming out stories and experiences about living as queer. Since 2014, VideoOut has posted more than 150 stories that are free for people to view online. But Kristen’s marks a turning point for the nonprofit effort. She works for the New York Commission on Human Rights, which partnered with VideoOut to tell the stories of its own employees. The commission is also sharing several through its own social media channels to give the effort even more visibility.
It’s the first time that VideoOut has tried this sort of civic and nonprofit partnership, which is especially important because not all states grant their employees enough protections to comfortably share their sexual identity at work (an issue currently before the Supreme Court). It’s working on several other ways to expand viewership, both to help people of all genders and sexual orientations realize they are not alone, and in hopes of humanizing the gay perspective among those who are still close-minded.
“When people hear these stories, it really changes their perception and it makes equality a possibility,” says Jordan Reeves, the founder and executive director of VideoOut. “One thing that we say is, ‘One story is important. Several stories are powerful, but all of our stories together are an unstoppable collective that demands equality.'”
To build that collective, VideoOut typically travels to small towns, rural communities, and cities in states with extremely poor LGBTQ civil rights records. It works with local community advocates to find more LGBTQ people willing to share their perspective, and shares the resulting playlist of testimonials with groups who might want to use it for their own activism.
The group has recorded over 400 stories total, many of which will go up in the coming months. Another way the organization is hoping to build its audience is by working with popular LGBTQ celebrities and social media influencers. Earlier this month, actor B. Hawk Snipes ,who is currently featured on the FX show Pose, teamed with the nonprofit to share a personal narrative with fans.
Model and writer Devin-Norelle who goes by @SteroidBeyonce on Instagram will also share a personal story later this month. Both B. Hawk Snipes and Devin-Norelle have tapped a collection of friends and followers to share more narratives.
“We’ve done a really good job over the past few years of carrying programming to communities that need it most, whether that is Birmingham, Alabama or El Paso, Texas, or Hampton Roads, Virginia,” Reeves says. “But where we could really grow and get better is in actually amplifying these voices and using them as tools for advocacy. It’s really about finding the places and the people who… can help us put [these] voices in front of a lot of people.”
As Kristen shares in her own video, coming out felt exciting and great, minus the fact that she had to break it to her then boyfriend (they’re still close friends). But it remains a continuing process in whenever she meets now people or corrects others’ mistaken assumptions. “It’s important because that’s what I lacked when I was a kid,” she says about making sure others see her as a visible advocate for the community. She’s doing that as part of VideoOut’s collection of stories. Her hope is that others who might need it will see people “in all the different variations that we are, so that they can be who they are,” she says.