KEVIN RANDALL is a Senior Manager for Bright Horizons and a Producer with Parkway Media. He has been an on-air reporter with KSTU Fox 13 and a Media Producer for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was the Story Curator and Content expert for the LDS Church’s website mornonandgay.org and a producer for the “Voices of Hope” video project featuring stories about Mormons who identify as being same-sex attracted.
I wanted to talk more on the business side of storytelling. How we can make a profit off of your stories and move our personal, political and religious causes forward.
Throughout my career in storytelling there has always been a selection process that happens. Whether it’s in the newsroom figuring out what stories to tell in the evening broadcast or in a Church Office Building conference room for Public Affairs, it’s usually a small group of people who decide which stories are valid and important, and which stories can be tossed aside.
But this selection process doesn’t just happen in the business world. It happens in our everyday life. We choose who to follow on social media, what channels to watch, which radio host to listen to or people to agree with. And…ultimately which stories to share or ignore.
All of us take part in this world of information and people of influence are paying close attention. News Stations know who’s watching, what time they’re tuned in and the stories they’re clicking on. This drives the decision making process in every newsroom in the world. Same goes for politicians, marketing professionals, religious leaders and so on.
When I was a TV journalist I looked for stories that were relevant, informative, had shock value, great video possibilities and kept people interested. One of my favorite stories was following federal agents through a tree farm in Oregon. On atv’s, helicopters overhead and machine guns at the ready they discovered hundreds of thousands of marijuana plants put there by a Mexican Drug cartel. The illegal plants were confiscated and destroyed and several men were arrested in the drug bust. It had the shock value, great video, relevant information for the area and ended up making national news. Great news day!
But as many of you know, a variety of news agencies can often tell the same story but choose to tell the story in a way that will advance their bias. We’re definitely seeing that today as we approach a presidential election.
VOICES OF HOPE
I later left the news biz to become a media producer for the Church. Around that same time I came to the realization that I was gay and couldn’t deny it any longer. Wanting to stay a faithful member of the church I turned to North Star and started producing the Voices of Hope videos, a project aimed at telling the stories of faithful latter day saints experiencing same-sex attraction. It’s strange for me to use that terminology now. But I joined the project primarily to figure out how people made it work because I was sure struggling at the time.
We went through a similar selection process. Many asked to share their story but our focus was solely on people who were choosing to be faithful to church doctrine and policies. It was a missionary effort. In the two years I worked on the project I think we produced around 80 videos. This was an exciting time in my life. I loved that we were advancing our cause. It felt like we were doing the Lords work. It certainly provided me with hope as I was living in a mixed-orientation marriage at the time.
The goal was a thousand stories. I believe there’s around 70 videos today and they’ve added some new ones since I left the project. So a number of stories have been taken down, usually because the participant has chosen either to leave the faith, or enter into a same-sex relationship including myself. We just don’t fit the brand any longer.
I can’t speak for the other co-creator of the project but I went through my own selection process. I only wanted to hear the stories of faithful latter-day saints because that was my goal as well. I chose not to broaden my perspective. I viewed stories of people who left the church or entered into same-sex relationships as a threat to my family. So I did my best to ignore them. Regardless though I still struggled with this conflict and decided to leave the project to find another avenue of support.
MORMON AND GAY
Just as I was leaving Voices of Hope, the Church decided to re-vamp mormonandgay.org and create version 2.0. They recruited me to join the Public Affairs team that would update this resource for our LGBT members, their families and church leaders. I felt invigorated and excited to have a seat at the table! My assignment was to be the Story Curator and a Content Expert on the project. I was to use my contacts in the LGBT Mormon community to find stories. But this time, rather than search for only faithful members, I gathered around 140 stories which ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other. Stories from same-sex couples who left the church, to individuals living in celibacy or couples in mixed-orientation marriages who were faithful temple worthy members.
WALL OF STORIES
We carefully read and presented them to management in Public Affairs. I recall a day when we had printed each story with the person or couples picture on this large wall in a conference room in the Church office building. Above each grouping was a heading. Headings included topics like: same-sex couples, mix-orientation couples, single, male, female, white, Hispanic, Black, and any other group that could add to the diversity of the website. With the exception of transgender people who would not be included on the site. Church leaders were not going to tackle that topic even though I hoped they would.
Then began the selection process. As you can expect, we were instructed to cut anyone from the list that was not living a lifestyle in agreement with Church policies. This should not be shocking to anyone. This happens in every company who has an image to maintain and wants to stay in business. The Church is no different. And it’s a small group of people, mostly older, white men, who decide which stories to share with members.
CUTE GAY COUPLE TAKEN DOWN
I recall there was a cute same sex couple, gay men, who looked to be in their late 20’s. The picture we received was of them holding each other as if it was an engagement photo. They looked so happy and I remember just feeling a little jealous at the time. Sadly I had to take their picture down and their story off the wall and set it aside.
We whittled the number of stories down to 16 and felt we had enough men, women, singles and couples. Everyone needed their bishops approval. If they weren’t worthy they were tossed out of the mix.
This was a struggle for some of us because telling the stories of only worthy people tends to paint a picture of perfection and sets an unrealistic expectation for those who made it on the site. In fact, out of the 16 stories I believe there are only 4 stories left today. Only 2 of those are actually gay. The other two are parents of gay children. In other words, the majority of the stories have been removed due to worthiness issues. It’s simply easier to take the stories down when they stray than to update their stories and follow them on their journey.
This was an eye-opening experience to me. It didn’t feel right at the time and it feels dehumanizing today to erase those who choose to find happiness in other ways and live a lifestyle that is different. It brings into question the ethics of using stories when they’re convenient to our campaign rather than share the entire story.
So what have I learned through all this?
- As I go through my own selection process…I’m trying to broaden my search a little and not limit myself to only one perspective.
- Take everyone’s story with a grain of salt because it’s probably going to evolve and change.
- Show empathy to those who are willing to put themselves out there and be vulnerable. It’s not easy to do. And even though our stories will change, it’s all part of the human experience. Let’s cut each other some slack and not be so critical online.
I’m grateful for the world of information that is available to us. For all the stories that have influenced me one way or the other. I believe telling our stories is one of the most powerful things we can do to create real change in our culture. And that’s why I’m here today. Thank you.