Five years ago, author Mason Funk was, well, in a funk. He couldn’t sleep.
Back in his youth, he was as ordinary as ordinary gets.
Los Angeles, California of the 70s was his home. The beaten Californian sun splashed the windshields of Sturz Blackhawk cars and Gulf petrol stands. Los Angeles Dodgers games dominated TV tubes.
A typical 70s good kid – part of a youth church group, straight As at school, always shouldering a smile – but Mason was gay. ‘What the hell was I going to do?’ Mason thought.
He was a gay teen flummoxed by his feelings. He had no clue how to express these feelings, but knew how to put on a pair of platform shoes and tight white pants to Dodger games.
‘Fast forward to five years ago, and I’m lying in bed with my husband,’ he told me over a trans-Atlantic call, ‘and I couldn’t stop thinking how my life got from there to here.
‘From the past to the present.’
Mason is the founder and executive director of OUTWORDS, a historical project that aims to preserve the voices of the LGBTI community. A taped, digitized archive of people’s lives, passions, and activism.
People of the past and present
People were the reason Mason has the life he has now. But history books – yellowing in public libraries – often have amnesia when it comes to queer histories.
‘But my favorite thing in the world is to find people – the more random location the better – and interview them. I thought, I just want to do this for the LGBTQ community.
‘To track down the LGBTQA pioneers and elders off the beaten road. Find them. Record them. Preserve their legacies and energies.’
Set to drop 21 May, The Book of Pride: LGBTQ Heroes Who Changed the World, is Masons’s move to preserve the present.
From the thrown bricks of the 60s to dot com poets today, Mason hit the road and spoke to these pioneers.
Moreover, he worked out of WeWork office in Los Angeles, who handed Mason the Community Giver Award and the funding needed to do pull this queer Jack Kerouac move.
Marriage pioneer Evan Wolfson, trans icon Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Stonewall-era rabblerouser Mark Segal, and legendary anti-DADT activist Grethe Cammermeyer, are just some of the names featured.
The story of Donna Burkett
In Milwaukee, Mason and his team dug and dug. Who could they interview in the city of beer, baseball, and bowling?
‘I heard about this woman Donna Burkett, who, in 1971, with her then girlfriend, marched into the country courthouse in Milwaukee and applied for a marriage license.
‘This was decades before marriage equality was on anyone’s radar. The ensuing publicity caused Donna and her family to suffer. Losing friends, family, and money.
‘Today, she lives in an assisted living facility wit the elderly. She felt forgotten by time. She gets around in a wheelchair.
‘When we called her and explained what we were doing, she was so moved. The whole experience made a huge difference. She felt remembered.’
Remembering queer icons
The experience of remembering is more intense today than it ever has been. Facebook ‘on this day’ notifications and TV streaming serves act as constant reminders of the past. Contained and archived. We constantly remember our own lives.
However, those not part of these archives – those in the margins of what’s written, in the silence of the spoken, and the invisible of the videoed – can struggle.
‘It meant so much for her to be remembered,’ Mason said, ‘the need to feel part of something bigger than us. It energizes any individual.
‘Young people today may or may not understand they are part of something so bigger than themselves,’ Mason’s voice rattles, ‘an incredible history that spans centuries.
‘I hope one of the messages I can convey is that young people are part of something,’ Mason said, ‘they are part of history, and soon they will create stories to pass onto next generations.
‘To the future.’