On fifth anniversary, storytelling group with Philly ties returns to city
by Angela Thomas
Apr 03, 2014 | 860 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A national video project with strong Philadelphia ties is celebrating its fifth year of telling LGBT stories from all corners of our country.

I’m From Driftwood was launched in March 2009 to help the LGBT community understand more about its own people, and to educate allies about their neighbors. The project was founded by Nathan Manske in March 2009. Originally used to promote written stories from LGBT individuals, the project slowly became video-focused when Philadelphia resident Marquise Lee helped create the “I’m From Driftwood Video Stories” in 2010.

Lee, who is originally of Garland, Texas, wrote one of the original 13 stories that helped launch the project and suggested to Manske that the stories could have more impact through the lens of a camera.

“With written stories you use your imagination because, when reading written stories, the authors don’t describe themselves in depth,” he said. “With video stories, you see the person and that is also a way of connecting. For people to see someone that looks like them from the same place, that is powerful. People tend to see that person in themselves through the videos.

Manske and Lee quickly filmed the first two videos and had them edited within one weekend.

The pair set off on a four-month, cross-country tour in 2010. The effort evolved into a book, and I’m From Driftwood has gone on to amass more than 850 stories.

Over the years, they have collected stories from all across the world, aiming to show different perspectives that were not necessarily of the norm in the LGBT community.

“From the start, the sense of the project was to show that a lot of LGBT people in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco come from everywhere,” Lee said. “We live in these cities but come from those rural places and from our own communities.”

Lee said his favorite story to film came from a man named Jake Conway from West Hartford, Conn. In the video, Conway says, “Even if I chose to live this life — what’s wrong with that? For me, it’s the ultimate sense of pride. “

“Jake was ambitious and he was coming out and in that process of realization that he loves being gay and the idea of, if it was a choice, he would still choose it,” Lee said. “It is the essence behind it: ‘Even if it was a choice, this is the choice I would make, I love my life, I like who I am.’ Once you have pride in yourself and who you are, that is very powerful.”

Organizers of I’m From Driftwood will stage a fundraising spring brunch at 1 p.m. April 13 at the John C. Anderson Apartments, 249 S. 13th St. The brunch will feature music, food, an open bar, raffle prizes and a silent auction.

“We do a fundraiser barbecue in New York every year and it has gone over really well and Philly is our second home,” Lee said. “Outside of New York, Philly is the largest concentration of stories. We had people requesting that we do it in Philly.”

The event will feature live music by performers who will appear at the OutBeat festival in September, the nation’s first LGBTQ jazz festival that will be staged at William Way LGBT Community Center. Lee said the IFD staff hopes to collect several stories from jazz performers and release those videos prior to the festival.

Lee said the Anderson Apartments complex is the perfect fit for the fundraiser.

“Fundraisers tend to skew to a younger crowd,” he said. “We liked the idea of intersecting different generations. We are hoping that residents of the apartments will come down and enjoy the festivities. We are about sharing our own stories and we like the idea of setting up the situations where you can communicate and share. At these events, we wear name tags that say, ‘Hello I’m From ... ’ and you would be amazed by the conversations had from them.”

For more information on I’m From Driftwood, visit http://imfromdriftwood.com. For more information or tickets for the brunch fundraiser, visit www.imfromdriftwood.com/brunch.
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