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"The Story of Us" shares LGBTQ+ experiences as part of UNC Pride Week

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A sign promoting "The Story of Us" stands outside Phillips Hall on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

As a part of UNC’s Pride Week festivities, “The Story of Us,” a theatrical performance, will premiere this Saturday at the FedEx Global Education Center’s Mandela Auditorium and share the experiences of LGBTQ+ life at the University from the lens of students, alumni, faculty and staff. 

Twenty-seven first-person accounts will be showcased on Saturday at 7:00 pm and Sunday at 2:00 pm, and tickets are free of charge. 

The featured stories were collected by the Southern Oral History Program, which is dedicated to conducting, archiving and exhibiting oral histories. These accounts will be brought to life by UNC alumni actors from New York, Los Angeles, Memphis and Chicago said Joseph Megel, a teaching professor in the UNC Department of Communication.

In 2020, "The Story of Us" began as a digital archive collection kept in Wilson Library in collaboration between Carolina Pride Alum Network, SOHP and the UNC Department of Communication.

CPAN spearheaded the project so that the LGBTQ+ community could be further represented in the University’s archives.

Many of these oral histories were recorded by doctoral student Hooper Schultz, and Elisabeth Lewis Corley used the thousands of pages of transcripts in order to create a script for the performance.

Schultz views the development of “The Story of Us” screening as a way of “bridging the gap” between research and the public.

A variety of stories being told collectively gives breadth to the experiences of UNC alumni and students who identify as LGBTQ+, said Megel.

He hopes that by performing these narratives, issues regarding the LGBTQ+ community will become humanized, and the public can better understand their history at the University.

“These are very human, very likable stories that have power by telling,” he said. “If we don't tell the stories we lose the significance of what these people went through, the pioneering they represent and the ways in which they engage with the university as a whole.”

"The Story of Us" will spotlight several “intersectional stories,” Megel said, giving the audience a sense of how multiple aspects of identity operate. 

“There's not going to be one experience or one story that's going to be the same, and I think that's powerful to realize that everyone had a different journey,” actor and CPAN board member Janora McDuffie said. “Whether that's male or female or non-binary, or whether it's Black or white.”

Narratives of students from the ‘60s-‘90s will show the progress the community has made throughout generations and allow alumni to reclaim their voices on issues they faced during their time at the University, Shultz said. 

“There are all kinds of stories, it's not necessarily a move from objection or repression to the light of the modern era,” Schultz said. “It's a little bit more complicated than that, which I think is a really fascinating piece of LGBT history in North Carolina.”

The performance will also feature more recent stories of oppression, such as then-UNC student Sara Isaacson, who almost had her ROTC scholarship revoked after coming out as a lesbian when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was in effect in 2010.

The purpose of this weekend’s performances is to tell the public stories that show both the strength of the individual and of the collective, Megel said.

The large variety of narratives were able to be featured due to the  “life story” format, which allows the interviewees to choose what aspect of their lives they want to take the time to talk about.

“These oral histories were broadly focused about the experience of being a person who identifies as LGBTQ on UNC campus, but because we use a life history or history practice, they really take off from there,” Schultz said.

While "The Story of Us" focuses on queer individuals, McDuffie hopes to see a diverse audience.

“I really hope that it's filled with allies as well because it's a human story, and we are all human,” she said.

While tickets for "The Story of Us" are sold out, there will be an in-person waitlist for seats at both performances.

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