Have you ever heard of Have A Gay Day?
We have been following them for quite some time now since they first emerged as a Facebook page and social media presence just over 3 years ago, now boasting nearly 700,000 followers on Facebook.
Earlier this year, we told you about their bold billboard campaign which went up in Ohio, Indiana, and across Michigan, which gave visibility to multitude of important issues and organizations in the LGBT community.
Since that time, Have A Gay Day (HAGD) has set up their global headquarters in Dayton Ohio, opening an office and resource center on the 22nd floor of the Key Bank Tower with plans to continue expanding in the coming year. They have filed grants for an estimated 250,000 dollars to open up a call center and crisis prevention task force for the LGBT community that would operate across the globe. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about how this organization started, before the offices and before the social media power.
Have A Gay Day was created by Michael Knote, who currently lives in Piqua, Ohio.
Michael says his inspiration for creating HAGD was born out of the tragic suicide of a young bisexual teen named Jamey Rodemeyer. On September 18, 2011, the 14-year-old teenager from Buffalo, New York, tragically took his own life after suffering years of relentless bullying. Michael created a memorial page for Jamey to honor his memory and that lead Knote to dive deeper into advocacy work and community involvement.
Following a wave of LGBT suicides, Michael noticed that social media was filled with this tragic news and there weren’t many messages of hope and inspiration, just a constant stream of stories that had tragic endings.
Michael tells us that during a random conversation with a friend, he came up with the idea to create a safe, fun, and educational space online where everyone could feel free to be themselves. A virtual Utopia of rainbows and positive messages that some people sadly could not find in their real lives.
The page was to be a judgement-free zone, where everyone was accepted and a place that could be a sweet escape to all the sadness online. “People have thrived over the sadness, lets create a place that speaks joy, hope, and gives people a reason to smile,” said Michael. “So, what should it be called? The name was an immediate thought. Have A Gay Day, a reclaiming of the word Gay to mean happy.”
So, on February 25th of 2012 Have A Gay Day was born. Reclaiming the word and reclaiming a reason to give people hope to continue on and smile through all the sadness that surrounds their lives. Maybe not a perfection but definitely a hope for the better.
Initially, the Facebook page began by posting rainbows and fun and care free memes. People immediately took notice and the page started to grow. “It was just a fun place to read all the shared stories, little inspirations, and from time to time, a unique conversation about the LGBT community,” said Michael.
Over time, people wanted to make donations to HAGD and Michael wasn’t sure what the next step was or should be. He never really saw this as an organization, just a fun safe space. So what to do? In 2013, through the generous donations of a few fans of the Facebook page, he was able to hire a lawyer to begin the process of registering HAGD as a non-profit 501c3 organization. By the fall of 2014, the paperwork was approved and Michael began his search to move from his home office to a larger office so he could transition the once simple Facebook page into an organization with a stronger focus on the LGBTQ community.
“Have A Gay Day started out as just a fun place but it began to start reaching people all over the world and we were the page that many people turned to for a friend or someone to talk to. Everyday, we receive over a hundred messages from across the globe. Many of the messages range from people asking for coming out advice to relationship advice, and even more serious messages from people that feel we are their last hope. This is actually a huge undertaking and one that we have worked on improving as a support system, not only for our followers, but for the LGBT community and our Allies that just want to talk. We found more of a need when someone that wrote to us was suicidal and we referred them to a suicide hotline that was supposed to be there for that youth. The person told us they had already called the line and they basically dropped the call. So, in a fit of outrage, we called the number and were told that they indeed hung up on the person. LGBT crisis lines assess the situation and if they felt the person didn’t fit their criteria, they would do their best to end the call as soon as possible. This person wasn’t a volunteer on their line, they represented to us that they were staff. It was so heartbreaking considering we had referred to them as a helpline for years.”
“So that leads us to the next thing we have been working on, which is a talk line. We have been funding a talk line for over a year and staffing it as we can find the volunteers. If someone just wants to talk for an hour, so be it. We want someone to be able to have a friend, or even someone to listen to. In a world where so many say they are alone, we want to at least be there to say “No, you’re not alone” and then stay with them that minute, that day, that week or as long as they need us to be a friend and confidant in their life. In time, we want to assign case managers for each person that calls us and really do the work for them to make sure they are more than just a voice on the line, but understand that Have A Gay Day is really a community and a family.”
“We also operate an outreach center. We do have our offices, but they just really act as more public and community space than a private room that no one has access to. When we are in the office our doors are always open to the public day and night. If someone needs a safe space, they are welcome into our space. We provide working computers, conference rooms, board rooms, lounge areas, a kitchen and offer information about other important LGBTQ organizations. If someone wants a cup of tea or coffee, we have it. If someone is hungry and they need something to eat, all they have to do is ask and we have that available as well. We run a pay it forward system in our office that supplies many of the needs of the community as well. So providing a safe space is awesome, but being a resource to the community is one of the great things that we are just starting to be able to do.”
Everything we do follows our mission which is “To create a safe environment for the purpose of Equality, Education, and Support of the LGBT community and their Allies.”
“As an organization I think we dream big, but in dreaming big I think we will accomplish so much of what I’m about to say. We want to set up a much larger community space and work space for the volunteers and staff of Have A Gay Day. We want to have a fully operational call center and open offices across the globe to be a positive force for change. We would also would like to bring as many global LGBT organizations together to work towards a common goal. There seems to be such a rift and I think it’s something that really needs to change. We also want to take the thought of community and community center on the road but that is a part of the plans we haven’t finalized yet.”
We have recently started a membership program called the Unicorn Army to keep positive funding for all our growth. So expect some great things with that also.
If you will be in the Dayton, Ohio area this Saturday, check out HAGD’s open house and community event from 1-4pm at 10 west 2nd street. There will be 15 organizations ranging from the Trans Lifeline from Chicago, GLSEN, PFLAG, The Harvey House from Toledo, The Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus, The LGBT Center of Greater Dayton, The Center For Spiritual Living, Equality Springfield, The Aids Resource Center of Ohio, Unite Cincinnati, Brite Signal Alliance, and I honestly can’t remember the rest. There will be food, photos, information, education and community. It’s an open and free event to the public and just something we are doing to try to bring the community even closer together.
A big thanks to Michael Knote for all his tireless work to make this world a better place for all our PRIDE community.