On June 12, 2016 a lone gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Among those killed was Deonka Drayton. She was 32.
Deonka left behind a young son and her co-parent, Emily Addison. At StoryCorps, Emily sat down to remember her.
Originally aired June 9, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
There were hundreds of people at Pulse the night of the shooting, and some were able to escape in time. Christopher Hansen is among those who survived that night. It was the first time he’d ever visited Pulse, having just recently moved to Orlando. He came to StoryCorps to remember what happened that night.
These interviews were recorded in partnership with WMFE and the Family Equality Council. In March, StoryCorps recorded 14 conversations in Orlando, Florida about the Pulse nightclub shooting and the lives that have been deeply affected by the tragedy. The project welcomed survivors of the shooting, friends and family members of lost loved ones, and community organizations who have been vital in the aftermath to record their experiences, and focused on capturing stories from the LGBTQ community. In addition, WMFE used the StoryCorps app to collect stories from the broader Orlando community, in a project they called Taking Your Pulse.
Top photo: Deonka Drayton with her son, Diyari. (Photo courtesy Emily Addison)
Middle photo: Emily Addison and Deonka Drayton with their son, Diyari. (Photo courtesy Emily Addison)
Bottom photo: Christopher Hansen at StoryCorps
Drew Cortez and Danny Cortez
Danny Cortez was the founder and pastor of the New Heart Community Southern Baptist Church in La Mirada, California, in 2014 when his 16-year-old son, Drew, told him that he was gay. Up until that time, Danny’s church would either recommend celibacy or reparative therapy—a widely discredited form of treatment that identifies homosexuality as a mental disorder with the goal of converting people to heterosexuality—to congregants who identified themselves as gay or lesbian.
Even before Drew’s coming out, Danny had slowly begun to reevaluate his views on homosexuality and whether he was doing more harm than good. When his neighbor invited him to visit the HIV clinic where he worked, Danny was introduced to a community of people he had not previously known much about. This began, for him, a gradual change of heart.
Years later, as he was driving Drew to school, “Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis came on the radio. Danny liked it a lot but didn’t understand that it was a celebration of LGBT love. Drew, encouraged by his father’s affection for the song, then revealed to him that he was gay.
Realizing that they could no longer keep this secret from those they love, Drew posted a video online, and a week later, Danny delivered a sermon to his congregation about his changing views on homosexuality. As a result of the sermon, the Southern Baptist Convention cut ties with Danny’s church and his congregation split leading he and other members to form a separate LGBT inclusive, non-denominational church.
Danny and Drew came to StoryCorps to remember the sermon that changed their lives.
Originally aired on August 28, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition
Doug Neville and Ryan Johnson
Doug Neville (left) and Ryan Johnson (right) met in 1986, shortly before Doug was diagnosed as HIV-positive.
At StoryCorps, they talk about their three decades of friendship and how Doug’s diagnosis has shaped their perspectives on life.
Originally aired December 21, 2014 on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.
Patrick Haggerty and Robin Bolland
Patrick Haggerty grew up the son of a dairy farmer in rural Washington during the 1950s.
As a teenager, Patrick (above) began to understand he was gay—something he thought he was hiding well.
But, as he told his daughter Robin (right), someone was onto him. One day, when he went to perform at a school assembly, his father, Charles Edward Haggerty, decided to have a serious talk with him.
Patrick later formed a band, Lavender Country, whose self-titled 1973 album is the first-known gay-themed album in country music history.
Click here to watch 2016 Sundance Film Festival selection “The Saint of Dry Creek”—Patrick’s story told as a StoryCorps animated short.
Originally aired June 27, 2014, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Bottom photo: Patrick Haggery in a 4-H drag show in 1959 courtesy of Paradise of Bachelors.
Samuel Taylor and Connie Casey
When he was 15 years old, Samuel Taylor came out to his mother, Connie Casey.
In an attempt to “fix” her son, Connie sent Samuel to a series of ex-gay conversion therapy ministries affiliated with Exodus International. Samuel was in therapy for three years.
Samuel, 22, came to StoryCorps with Connie to talk about his experience—and to hear about the evolution of her beliefs.
Originally aired June 28, 2013, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
This story was originally broadcast a few days after Exodus International folded and apologized for promoting reparative therapies. At the time of this broadcast, subjecting minors to conversion therapy remains legal in 45 states.
John Curtis and John Wikiera
John Curtis and his husband, David Wikiera (pictured at left), have two sons. The couple adopted their first child, also named John, from Vietnam when he was a baby.
At StoryCorps, John and his son, 11-year-old John, talk about the boy’s hopes for the future, and the father’s desire to be a parent.
Originally aired April 12, 2013, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above: John and David arrive home from Vietnam with baby John in 1998. Photo courtesy of John Curtis.
Tracy Johnson and Sandra Johnson
North Carolina National Guardsman Tracy Johnson (left) is an Iraq war veteran and an Army widow. She is also believed to be the first gay spouse to lose her partner at war since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Tracy married her long-time partner, Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson, on Valentine’s Day in 2012. Later that year, Donna was killed by a suicide bomber while serving in Khost, Afghanistan. She was 29 years old.
The Army did not consider Tracy to be Donna’s next of kin, but when Army representatives arrived to inform Donna’s family of her death, Tracy presented their marriage certificate and asked to be part of the military escort that would welcome her wife back to U.S. soil. This request was ultimately granted at the insistence of her mother-in-law, Sandra Johnson (right).
At StoryCorps, Tracy and Sandra talk about finding out that their wife and daughter wasn’t coming home.
Originally aired February 16, 2013, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.
Above: Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Public Affairs Office.
Michael Wilmoth and Bryan Wilmoth
Bryan Wilmoth (right) and his seven younger siblings were raised in a strict, religious household. When Bryan’s father found a love letter from a man in his box of things, he drove him into the countryside and dropped him off in the middle of the night with a five dollar bill.
Over the years, all of Bryan’s siblings either ran away from or were kicked out of their family home. He made efforts to reconnect with them, but many were initially resistant, so it took a long time for their relationships to grow.
At StoryCorps, Bryan and his brother Michael (left) recall how their family grew close.
Click here to watch “A Good Man,” a StoryCorps animation of Bryan and Michael’s conversation.
Originally aired January 25, 2013, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above: The Wilmoth siblings at Bryan and Michael’s sister’s wedding in June 2007. From left: Jude, Mike, Pam, Bryan, Amy, Curtis (groom), Chris, Luke-Henry, and Josh.
When Denny Meyer enlisted in the Navy in 1968, he had to hide the fact that he was gay.
At the time, homosexuality wasn’t tolerated in the Navy and anyone found to be gay would be discharged from service.
At StoryCorps, Meyer recalled what it was like to be gay and a sailor in those days.
Originally aired June 22, 2012, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Nathan Hoskins and Sally Evans
Nathan Hoskins knew from an early age that he was gay, but growing up in rural Kentucky in a family that did not tolerate homosexuality, he learned to keep it a secret.
At StoryCorps, he tells his friend Sally Evans a harrowing story of just how dangerous life was for him.
Originally aired January 13, 2012, on NPR’s Morning Edition.