Growing up in rural Texas, Nathan Manske's awareness of LGBTQ perspectives was extremely limited.
"I grew up on a 40-acre ranch. We had pigs and goats and horses and cows, and our morning chore was getting eggs from the chicken coop," Manske told Windy City Times at an event Comcast, SAGE and I'm From Driftwood ( along with co-sponsors Out & Equal and Center on Halsted ) hosted. ( The May 11 event showed previews from I'm From Driftwood: The LGBTQ Story Archive and showcased a panel discussion with the director and storytellers. )
When he came out at 18, school bullying or family rejection weren't issues. Rather, it was the isolation.
"I had no exposure to different cultures and certainly none of the LGBT community," Manske said. "I really thought I was the only gay person in Texas."
So he did something about it, and in 2009, Manske began a project to film the personal experiences of LGBTQ people from across the country.
Manske's project, I'm from Driftwood, is named after his hometown and is inspired by a famous photo of activist Harvey Milk holding a sign during a San Francisco pride march that said "I'm From Woodmere, New York."
In eight years, Manske and his team have published more than 440 short video stories and about 750 written accounts of LGBTQ folks talking about their struggles coming out, finding their identity, coming to terms with their sexuality, love and loss, tragedy and triumph.
Manske and his team even undertook a 50-state tour to procure stories of LGBTQ people, especially from small towns.
"We started with a mission of helping LGBTQ youth in small towns know that they're not alone," Manske said during a panel discussion on Thursday where he, his team and a few storytellers talked about the project. "Within days of launching we started getting a lot of feedback from people all across the world. It was then that I realized that we were sitting on something much more important than helping LGBTQ youth in small towns but really the importance of feeling a connection to a broader community."
Recently, the project has started to feature elder LGBTQ stories as well.
Don Bell, who was interviewed in the project's What Was It Like? series, related his experience of sneaking off to Washington, D.C., to protest the Vietnam War. Soon after returning home, he called his parents to come out, but hesitated and instead confessed he went to the march.
"And my dad says to my mom, 'See? I told you that was that boy we saw on television,'" Bell said, who eventually came out to his accepting family.
"We are your history. But we also want you to know that you are our legacy, and that we want the generations to embrace each other, because we need each other. There's nothing we went through that wasn't important because we wanted it to be different and be better for your. So that's why I did this project," Bell said.
I'm from Driftwood even inspired a man in South Carolina to come out at 57, and prompted a school in Marshfield, Missouri to adopt non-discrimination policies after a storyteller talked about being bullied two decades ago.
Cable provider Comcast recently began offering I'm from Driftwood content through an on-demand service.
"What we've found is that, generally speaking, there's a hunger for all kinds of stories," said Jean Claire Fitschen, Comcast's executive director for multicultural consumer services.
In fact, LGBTQ content is among the top-ten most-searched categories through this service, she said.
I'm from Driftwood also partners with other nonprofits for LGBTQ people in need of emotional or psychological support.
"We look at what we do as a responsibility for the community and we want to take good care of these stories and people," Manske said.