Thanks for visiting our website! This is our first official blog post, an updated version of one originally posted on Charles Chan Massey’s personal blog in May 2013.
We plan to utilize this page as a discussion forum to share our journey and will also feature guest bloggers who will share their insight as well.
How I Became an “Accidental Activist”
Charles Chan Massey
“It has been said that sharing personal stories is one of the most effective ways to change people’s hearts and minds”. Shane Bitney Crone
Although it may seem like my life is pretty much an open book this is probably one of the most personal stories I have ever shared in an open forum.
Enter with an open mind and an open heart.
This is my story. And I’m sticking to it.
My partner (now my husband) Joseph and I took a quick trip to New York in April 2013. We had been working hard over the previous several months so I decided to treat us to a few days of vacation in the Big Apple. In truth, I’d actually had the whole trip planned for several weeks and I sprung it on Joseph at the end of a meeting in Palm Springs.
We did the usual touristy stuff – a Broadway show (we saw “Mamma Mia!”), went on a tour of the NBC Studios, had dinner at Tao, etc. Lucky for us, we also happened to be in New York during the Tribeca Film Festival and I was able to snag a pair of tickets for a screening of “Bridegroom”, a powerful documentary that has become a part of my journey.
Before I go further I’d like to back up a few years to where I believe my journey actually began, on a flight Joseph and I were on from Washington, D.C to Chicago.
It was a Sunday and we had stayed over for the weekend after a conference. Our upgrades had come through and we were comfortably seated in the first row of first class.
About a half hour or so into the flight the lead flight attendant came to our seats and said she wanted to introduce us to someone she knew who was seated nearby. That “someone” was a retired flight attendant named Alice Hoagland. If her name isn’t familiar to you perhaps the name of her son, Mark Bingham, is.
Mark is one among a group of heroes credited with commandeering United flight 93 on September 11, 2001 and bringing it down into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania rather than what was likely its intended target, the United States Capitol. It just so happens that Mark was also gay.
His heroism, along with his athleticism and masculinity, served to debunk gay stereotypes for many Americans. Alice had been in attendance at the Human Rights Campaign dinner and had accepted an award on her son’s behalf. We instantly connected.
I was deeply touched by her story. We shared some laughs, some tears, a hug or two, and exchanged contact information. We kept in touch for a few years via e-mail but eventually lost contact.
In early May, 2012 a video entitled “It Could Happen to You” went viral on the Internet. It is the true story of a young man’s tragic, accidental and untimely death and all that his partner went through in the aftermath.
Somehow it didn’t make its way to me until May 27th. I shared it on Facebook, commented, cried and shared, then got so busy with my own life once again that I didn’t think about it much for a while.
On July 22nd I received a very interesting Facebook message from the daughter of a high school friend. In her own words:
“I came out to myself when I was 13, but I only came out to my mom two and a half years ago, when I was 15. The road since then has been a long and bumpy one but it has been a journey that I’m glad I have been given the opportunity to embark on.
As we were talking it out that first day your name came up. She said her best friend had a gay brother and that he was one of the kindest and most successful men she had ever known. It still took her a while to become okay with me being gay but I feel like if she hadn’t known you, she would still be holding back to this day.
My dad still does not know, nor does most of my family, but I guess I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I get there. I believe you helped me through a situation that I might not have been able to get through on my own, and for that, I just wanted to say thank you”.
I felt gratified that my story had somehow touched and helped another person, without me even knowing. Once again, I responded back, we kept in touch, and yet again I got busy with my own “stuff”.
In February of this year I received an e-mail from my youngest sister. Again, in her own words:
“Remember my friend whose house I got married in? Well…she has a 14 year old son who is gay – just coming to terms with it in the past 6 – 8 months. Such a different time now. Youth are so much more tolerant today thank God! Anyway…u should friend her. Love you…”
I was touched by the story of her son’s coming out to her, a story of acceptance, love and social progress. So I sent her a friend request, we started “liking” one another’s posts and finally started communicating directly around the end of March. By the way, that friend, Sara Christie, would soon become co-founder of the Personal Stories Project. Who knew?
If you’ve read this far you’re likely thinking “if it was a snake it would’ve bit him”. And you’re right. These stories were changing something in me, affecting me, calling me to action. All the signs were there but for some reason I wasn’t seeing them.
That quickly changed, also in March 2013.
In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s hearings on Marriage Equality Facebook became an endless sea of red and white “equal” signs in varying shapes and sizes. I could see it all around me. Activism was alive and well and gaining momentum!
At about the same time I started seeing posts announcing that “Bridegroom”, referenced above, would premier at Tribeca. It’s a documentary based on “It Could Happen to You”, that first story which touched me so deeply.
I knew I that Joseph and I had to be there. As I started to put together the pieces of the puzzle, all of the stories felt like signs that had been slapping me in the face to help, to try, to DO SOMETHING!
On April 9th I sent a message to a group of my Facebook friends. I announced that, although I have never considered myself an activist in any way, I felt called to work on a project related to both my business and personal lives that supports the LGBT community. I admitted to being both excited and a little frightened. I asked anyone interested in joining me to email me and let me know.
Almost immediately after I hit “send” my inbox began filling up with messages from all corners of my life. Gay, straight, young, old, male, female – you name it, all with messages of support. Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction.
I wasn’t connected with Alice Hoagland on Facebook, but I was able to reconnect with her via email. I cut and pasted the message into an email and sent it off. Within about 15 minutes Alice sent me a message back indicating that she was “in” as well.
And that, my friends, was the moment I became an “accidental activist”.
I am still amazed at how much my perception of my life and purpose had changed by the time Joseph and I made our way to New York to see “Bridegroom”. We were first in line so we got our pick of seats. Once the movie started my eyes were glued to the screen and the next 70 minutes flew by.
After the film we were privileged to participate in a Q&A with Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the director and producer of “Bridegroom”.
In an unexpected surprise Linda announced that Shane Bitney Crone, the partner of Tom Bridegroom and the subject of the film, was also in attendance, sitting just a few rows in front of us. At that moment I realized that his story had so profoundly affected me I drew in a quick breath and I am absolutely certain that my heart stopped for a second or two.
At the end of the Q&A Joseph and I stood in line to speak personally with Shane.
If I could find any one word to use to describe Shane it would be “normal”. The fact that he had the courage to share his story has and will continue to change countless hearts and minds. But he’s just a regular guy. We chatted for a bit, exchanged handshakes and hugs, then Joseph and I left the theater and walked back towards Midtown and our hotel.
The next morning I reached out to Shane via Facebook message to let him know how profoundly his story had affected me. “You’ve touched my life in a way I don’t completely understand and your story has awakened something in me I didn’t know was there. For that I will remain forever grateful to you and Tom.” To my surprise, exactly 11 minutes later I received a message back from Shane thanking me for my support and kind words.
So here’s what you’ve all been waiting for – why am I telling you this?
I’m part of a group that is in the early stages of forming a social media based, not-for-profit organization that will use the power of story-telling to benefit the LGBT community. By providing support and a forum to those who have the courage to share their stories we believe that we can change hearts and minds about crucial LGBT issues and inspire people to activism, advocacy, and support for a broad range of issues – be they political policy or real-world needs-based initiatives.
This project is still in the early stages but I can guarantee you it’s going to happen.
If you’ve read this far and you haven’t seen it before Shane’s original YouTube video “It Could Happen to You” is in our “Videos” section.
I think you will agree that stories well-told are pretty powerful stuff.
We have a long and complex journey ahead of us. With the help of each of you, and all the folks I’ve referenced above, I have no doubt we can accomplish anything we set out to do and more.
I am grateful for the outpouring of encouragement I have received from so many people I have shared my story with thus far.
I wanted to give you an update on our progress and to let you know that I am more committed, excited, and dedicated to effecting change than ever before.
What very recently seemed like a dream to me will no doubt become a reality with the help of you all.
I’ll keep you posted as our project progresses, so stay tuned!
Best Wishes, Charles