At the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Abasi Umoh sat at the counter of an old-school diner, put on a pair of headphones, and closed their eyes.
The 22-year-old Umoh, who uses they/them pronouns, was transported back in time, to a time when their skin color would have excluded them from the diner — but when sit-in demonstrators did so anyway. The sounds of shouts and violence came through the speakers, yelling at them to leave, to get out of this public space.
Just minutes before, Umoh had watched as their “proud and strong African father” sat through the same simulation, and began to cry.
It was shortly afterward, empowered by those civil rights leaders who came before them, that Umoh decided that it was time. It was time to come out to their father as queer.
If You GoWhat: Prideful Voices Vancouver, a storytelling event for LGBTQ young adults in Clark County. When: Doors open at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, and performances start at 3 p.m. There will also be a resource fair starting at 2:30 p.m. and following the event. Where: Unitarian Universalist Church of Vancouver, 4505 E. 18th St. Cost: $10, but organizers are also collecting money to benefit charities supporting LGBTQ youth, as well as canned food for Martha’s Pantry.
We won’t spoil the rest of the story for you. You’ll have to listen for yourself.
Umoh and three other queer and gender nonbinary Clark County residents will take to the stage at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Vancouver to share their stories of triumph and struggles on their journeys of coming out. Doors to Prideful Voices Vancouver open at 2:30 p.m. at the church, located at 4505 E. 18th St. Tickets are available on a sliding scale starting at $10, and proceeds will benefit Triple Point, Queer Youth Resource Center and PFLAG Southwest Washington, Vancouver organizations supporting LGBTQ youth. There will also be a performance by Acchord, an a capella choir group from Portland made up of transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming singers.
It’s the first Vancouver event for Portland-based Our Bold Voices, which organizes storytelling events — part TED Talk, part motivational speeches — throughout the metro area.
“There’s this attempt to erase or eradicate or devalue these life experiences, especially politically,” said Paul Iarrobino, artistic director and storytelling coach for Our Bold Voices. “My vision is to celebrate and create space for these stories and share that, so that we don’t forget.”
And this group of young storytellers is certainly celebrating. Their stories are bright, lively and filled with joy and humor.
“It really is sort of uplifting of voices that we don’t usually get to hear,” said Stephen Herndon, family support specialist for Triple Point.
Three of the four storytellers gathered at the Children’s Home Society to practice and put the finishing touches on their stories on a recent weekend. Quinn McCray, a 23-year-old transgender man, talked about living life as an out and proud lesbian as a teenager, only to discover his first taste of “gender euphoria” when he was fitted for a tuxedo for prom. Finally, he felt right in his skin. Joe Marshall, a 27-year-old transgender man from Camas, talked about being in awe of an early mentor of his, another transgender man, for being able to do pull-ups.
For Marshall, it was important to show the “day-to-day humanity” of trans and queer people. Sure, there’s plenty of hardship, he said. But that’s not what this event is about.
“That real stuff is what’s important,” he said.