“Where are you from?” Such a simple question. One that is asked all of the time. However, one we don’t really consider beyond the place from which we are from. Nathan Manske, Founder and Executive Director of I’m From Driftwood (IFD) was generous enough to sit with me and discuss what inspired him to weigh that question and start his archiving project.
“We envision a world where every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer person feels understood and accepted, and every straight and cisgender person is an ally.” - IDF
Nathan Manske, found inspiration after seeing “Milk” the film depicting the political life of Harvey Milk and being struck by a photograph in which Harvey is holding a sign that states “I’m From Woodmere, NY”. Nathan considered the distance Harvey had traveled to attend the San Francisco Gay Pride march as well how far other must have travelled to be part of the event. Nathan recounted how isolated he felt growing up in rural Texas and wondered what it might have been like to be gay prior to the internet, in Harvey’s time, how isolated one might have felt.
“The stories on I'm From Driftwood send a simple yet powerful message to LGBTQ people everywhere: You are not alone”. - IDF
Shortly after seeing the film Nathan found himself at one of life’s many cross-roads. While visiting with his family in Driftwood, TX, he contemplated living in NY, his career and what he wanted to do with his future. With many thoughts scrolling through his mind the one thing that found its way to the forefront was the image of Harvey Milk holding that sign. During that visit many things came to Nathan, the stars aligned and guided him to the trail he has been blazing since 2009 as he boldly decided to begin archiving the lives of the LGBT community across the country.
Founder & Executive Director, I'm From Driftwood
Since its inception IFD has worked to combat the isolation LGBT people experience. I’m From Driftwood, offers the community a voice in different ways. IFD empowers members of the LGBT community to document their existence and experience as members of a very vibrant and diverse community. It offers a community to those experiencing isolation, a place to learn for those interested in understanding the community and acts as history lesson for the community itself.
“I’m From Driftwood aims to help LGBTQ people learn more about their community, straight and cisgender people learn more about their neighbors and everyone learn more about themselves through the power of storytelling and story sharing” - IDF
What prompted you to start this type of non-profit?
After seeing the film “Milk” starring Sean Penn, I thought about a photograph of Harvey Milk. He’s in the San Francisco Pride March holding a big sign that reads, “I’m From Woodmere, N.Y.” I felt that even though everyone associates Harvey Milk with what could be considered the gayest city in the world--San Francisco-- he’s not actually from there. He’s from a town on Long Island that most people have never heard of. And even though I live in NYC, I’m not from here. I’m from a tiny town called Driftwood, smack dab in the middle of Texas. What that meant to me was the powerful message of “You are not alone.” No matter where you are, who you are, or what you’re going through, you’re not alone. Hearing a message like that would have meant a lot to me growing up gay in rural Texas.
What has been the biggest challenge of starting a non-profit such as this?
Easy but predictable answer: fundraising. The reality of all nonprofits--small ones in particular--is that there’s never enough money. We have some fantastic ideas for programs for literally the next 20 years--some local, some national, some international--that help different communities in different ways, all 100% accomplished through storytelling, but the fundraising just never gets easy. If you’ve ever been inspired by a story--from a book, a news item, a blog post, a film, a podcast, or any other form of media--you understand the power of storytelling, and I’m From Driftwood is focused exclusively on collecting and sharing LGBTQ stories that matter. So please donate and keep us going.
How can people interested in telling their story get involved?
Fill out the Share Your Story Form. I’ll review the form and then be in touch with you personally to help you craft your story. We’ll then figure out a time and place to meet to film your story. My biggest pet peeve is when people tell me they don’t have a story, or it’s a boring story. You never know who needs to hear your story, but they’re out there. I’d even go as far to say that you have a responsibility to share your story.
What are some special initiatives or projects on which you are currently working?
The program that is closest to the core of what I’m From Driftwood is our Weekly Video Story program. Every Wednesday we publish a new Video Story on our website (via our YouTube channel). We also have Storytelling Toolkits, one which is complete and others that are being produced. The completed Storytelling Toolkit is for Family Counselors and Therapists. It’s a collection of Video Stories for Family Counselors to use in helping their LGBTQ clients. It allows counselors to use the stories as tools.
Another really exciting program we’re working on is I’m From Driftwood TV. We’re working with YouTube to produce a 13-episode TV series. We have two amazing hosts who watch existing Video Stories and then discuss the topics and themes in the Video Stories. It’s a little bit like The View, in that they discuss current events and news items, except all the conversations focus on topics within I’m From Driftwood Video Stories, from love, race, and gender identity, to family, coming out, and aging.
But the biggest program we’re working on, and that we’ve ever done, will focus on LGBTQ Elders. Current elders in the community have witnessed more change in our community than anyone ever has or will. They have gone from being arrested simply for being gay, to being able to marry their same-sex partner. Their generation took a catastrophic hit from the AIDS crisis and now that many are going into nursing homes and quietly going back into the closet, their stories will be lost forever. We’re creating a national network of production teams to collect and preserve--and equally as important, share--the stories and histories of our Elders, who we have so much to learn from.
Do you have plans to grow your board and if so, what is the best way for interested individuals to learn about IFD Board?
We just doubled the size of our board, but with the Elders Program we’re working on and plans we have for the next 20 years, we’re always looking for people to join the board who are willing to help us grow. Contact me and we’ll chat about ways you can help I’m From Driftwood.
How can the nglccNY membership best help to support IFD?
Corporate Partnerships, plain and simple. Make an introduction between me and your ERG and let’s figure out a way for the company you work for to become involved with I’m From Driftwood. We have so many great opportunities, from volunteer opportunities to logo placement to actually collecting stories from your employees.
What message do you want readers to take with them about IFD?
“Storytelling is important.” I have pages and pages of feedback from people all over the world, from all ages and backgrounds letting me know what the stories on I’m From Driftwood mean to them. They have saved lives, empowered individuals to live better lives, and even helped pass laws. Storytelling is crucial to the LGBTQ community, whether it’s by increasing empathy or simply helping a queer kid in the middle of nowhere realize they’re not alone.
What has been your biggest take away about LGBT people, communities and the country and where we are on the acceptance of LGBTQ?
It’s often mentioned how diverse the LGBTQ community is, that every section of the human population has LGBTQ people in it, of all cultures, religions, races, backgrounds, countries, etc. But that’s so factual and analytical. What never ceases to amaze me is how unique our stories are. The only prompt I give to people when they share a story is “Tell me a story from your life that’s meaningful to you involving you being LGBTQ.” We’ve shared over 1,000 stories so far and they’re all so different. There are similar themes and stories that cover similar topics, but I’m always amazed at how being LGBTQ gives you perspectives and stories that some people just will never have. LGBTQ people are different, and that’s a good thing.
Learn more about I'm From Driftwood
Also learn earn more about NGLCCNY member Florin Helf and his personal LGBTQ story on I"m From Driftwood.
Written by Ingrid Galvez,