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    Preserving the Voices of LGBTQ+ Elders

    By Jennifer Kroot and Robert Holgate–

    One night in 2014, Mason Funk couldn’t sleep. The TV producer lay awake next to his sleeping husband, the love of his life, and wondered, “How did I get here?”

    Funk is 62. As a child, he never dreamed he’d be able to legally marry a man, or even be openly gay. That sleepless night, he decided that he would archive the stories of LGBTQ+ elders, who paved the way for his life to be fully realized. He’d use his production skills to make sure the stories would be filmed as beautifully as possible. The Outwords archive was born, and seven years later, he’s recorded almost 200 stories.  

    Mason interviews queer folks all over the country, and several are Bay Area locals, including San Francisco Bay Times writers Donna Sachet, Dr. Marcy Adelman, and Jewelle Gomez. Other locals include: Terry Baum, Corky Wick, Marcus Arana, Charles Stinson, and philanthropist Al Baum, who recently passed away.

    We wanted to know the full story about Mason and his rich archive.

    Jennifer & Robert: What is the Outwords archive? 

    Mason Funk: Most of our effort is in creating and collecting original, on-camera interviews of pioneers in the LGBTQ community. We value capturing every kind of meaningful diversity that we can think of, whether it’s racial, economic, cultural, or even geographical. 

    Jennifer & Robert: How do you find your subjects? 

    Mason Funk: Many ways. Often, people that we’ve interviewed suggest other people, but sometimes subjects find us. One guy in Houston, Texas, emailed me and said, “Are you one of those projects that only interviews people on the coasts?” And I’m like, “No, and I’m coming for you!” His name was Ray Hill, and his personality was kind of salty! We interviewed Ray on one of our first big road trips. He was like a giant of a man, not physically, but he was really father of the gay community in Houston. He’s passed away since, so we’re lucky we captured him.

    Jennifer & Robert: How do you get funding? 

    Mason Funk: We receive a lot of funding from government agencies in California. We’ve also gotten money from corporations, and we have a healthy handful of individual donors.

    Jennifer & Robert: You usually conduct the interviews, but we’d like to turn the tables. Please tell us about your evolution as a gay man. 

    Mason Funk: Sure! I remember going to the library in high school, and looking up the words “homosexual” and “gay.” A feeling of terror would run through my body. It was like I wanted to know about something that was antithetical to everything I saw around me.

    Around the same time, I had a born-again experience. I became deeply attached to my church youth group. It was a lifesaver in some ways. I made some real friends and we talked and shared feelings, but the problem, of course, was that I couldn’t tell my church that I was gay. In college, I confessed to a couple friends that I was gay. It felt like saying, “I think I’m an axe murderer combined with like a pedophile.” They gave me a look that I interpreted as, “You are screwed.”

    I was in my 20s when I started having sexual relationships, but still with a lot of guilt. It took me a long time to get comfortable. Even into my 40s, I would say things like, “I don’t really know what this whole Gay Pride thing is about. You’re just gay. It’s nothing to be proud of.”

    I think everybody wants to live an authentic life. I don’t think anybody wants to feel like they have to be a smaller, narrower version of themselves. To the extent that we’re out there, flying our flags and even engaging in behavior that’s considered outrageous, I believe that we’re making space for all people to let their freak flag fly, or just be a little bit more comfortable in their proverbial skin. This is why I’m tremendously proud of Outwords. 

    I think that transgender people, gender nonbinary people, and really anybody who shakes up the norms are God’s greatest gifts. They can make folks uncomfortable, and, yes, they take a lot of backlash, but they’re really doing us a favor by alleviating the rigidity of gender role conformity that so many people are trapped in. We don’t have to be stuck in boxes. We can be curious and a little less conformist.

    The creation of Outwords radically altered my own internalized sense of pride. Now I’m like, “Give me a soapbox!”

    Visit Outwords to see archived stories or to donate: https://theoutwordsarchive.org/

    Jennifer Kroot is a filmmaker known for her award-winning LGBTQ themed documentaries, including “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” and “To Be Takei.” She studied filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she has also taught. She is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

    A humanitarian, as well as a designer, Robert Holgate is dedicated to critical social issues. With his hands-on approach to philanthropy and social justice, he supports the advancement of local and national social causes. For more information: https://www.rhdsf.com/

    Published on September 9, 2021