April 26

Ep.17: Filling Voids in the Community with Kindness

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with Michael Knote

I was thrilled by the opportunity to speak with Have a Gay Day’s executive director Michael Knote. This is a man who creates miracles everyday, supports his community and in doing so is answering his own unique calling. 

Have a Gay Day is a service organization based in Dayton, Ohio that focuses primarily on supporting the LGBTQ community to feel seen and loved where kindness is lacking. This organization is stepping into any and all spaces where they can support humanity, from food pantries, to loving messages posted on billboards. 

The origin story of Have a Gay Day is a sad one, Michael tells me of a young man named Jamey, only 14 or 15 who decided to take his own life. In response Michael and some friends started a memorial page raising $17,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. From this stemmed anti-bullying conversations in local schools in an attempt to simply make difference for the better by filling the voids by being there for people that needed them.

The goal became to create a happy, fun place where people could escape to feel safe and supported.

We’ve done a lot in the community. People would send us a note where they were ready to ‘go’ and we would send support. There were people that were trying to escape countries and we facilitated the way for them to escape. There were people that were trying to get married, even here in Ohio at the time, it was not legal to be married. And so we would drive couples over to Indiana to be married.”

Tell me a bit about your life journey:

“Back in the day I was a caregiver for my grandmother, so she never had to go to a retirement home or a nursing home, after that I made the decision to live.

That was the first step because back in the day I was ready to be done. And in being done, I made the decision to step off my ladder as it would be, and kind of give my life over to humanity. 

I had a weird path and I’ve had and the struggles of day-to-day, being homeless and going through the court system at a point has really made me more compassionate for humanity, and also gives you a different perspective of how things are and how things work and quality of life.

I always say to people, that in humanity we’re the only thing that pays to be. And then the thought of what it takes to live here on earth, we as humans, set the price on everything when it comes to healthcare, when it comes to the quality of food, when it comes to the quality of life.

And if you really think about it, everyone that’s suffering in this world, no matter how you look at it, mankind has put those stipulations and regulations on how other people live. 

Tell us a little more about your billboard campaign and what that is:

“We actually put up our first billboards in 2015 or so. And the billboards that we put up were just positive affirming messages to the community. We invited other organisations to send us graphics and we would put them up there in digital places.

We initially put them up in 23 locations, 16 states and on the transgender day of visibility, which was the 31st of March, we put them up in 205 locations. 

The visibility is huge. It’s a sad fact that you have to tell people that they’re loved and accepted, but the deep truth is even within the LGBTQ community, there are so many people that are not accepting of someone that’s standing right next to them.

And so what we decided to do was just send out messages of love, just saying that we’re here for you, that we love you. We support you.”

How did Have a Great Day’s food pantry evolve and what are you planning next?

“It started by, again, a void of service. There were a lot of people that had no option when it came to going to a pantry that was supportive and loving and kind and affirming. 

For us when it first started, it was just a small room around a hundred square feet. Now we’re getting ready to add 1200 square feet to the pantry space and the number of people that we help. This last month we did 120 food pantry deliveries anywhere in Montgomery county in Ohio. We had as a whole 644 people that we helped, around 220 families.

As far as filling in the void of service for the pantries. How can I explain to you when you’re an LGBTQ individual going into a faith-based pantry and at the same time they’re calling you a sinner while giving you food?

When it comes to food and filling in the voids of service as an organization, we support and help anyone that’s in need. There isn’t a stipulation of you must be LGBTQ because for us, even though the undertone of our organization is focused on the LGBTQ community in what we do, as far as helping all, there’s so many people that are invisible to being a part of the community. 

And for people that love us or people that hate us having a place that they can go to on a Sunday, when most of the pantries are going to church and they’re closed it’s again, filling in that void.

You see a need in the community that you can fill, how do you manifest this into reality?

“It depends on what the need is. If it’s a need that we can maneuver into very quickly, we can do it. So laundry tokens are something that we have from time to time. When we first started the program, it was just an idea that we heard back from the community. 

So a lot of times we’ll ask members of the community, ‘what do you need? What are you looking for?’ And they’ll tell us. 

One thing that they told us was laundry tokens and laundry detergent. So the first thing we do is we ask the social media following that we have, and we say we’d like to do this. We raised, I think it was $350 in about an hour.

We were able to start offering tokens to the community within 24 hours.

So it really comes down to listening to the community and not trying to assume what the community wants or needs or what you want or need for the community. It’s really about listening and then maneuvering with the information that you have to find support, to find growth in it, and then making it happen”

In your process of stepping into this role what has been the biggest block that you’ve faced?

“I think the biggest block is other people’s perception of what is, and isn’t possible. 

The biggest thing is when people say ‘don’t go there or you can’t do that’ is that you can go there and you can do that because there’s a need. I’ve never been into a place in this entire world that there’s not a need, no matter what that need is.

It’s really a mindset, as far as what we listen to when it comes to other people, will there be moments that are difficult? Yes. Will there be.

Will there be moments that you question even your existence to help out in some sort of way? Yes. 

But at the end of the day, to understand that you make a difference, even if it’s giving someone spare change, even if it’s being that change. That’s EVERYTHING.”

When you see something in the world that just isn’t sitting right with you, you have two options. You can, you can complain about it or you can step into your calling and say, “I’m going to make a difference. I’m going to change this. I’m going to be a catalyst for change in the world”. And that’s exactly what Michael and Have a Gay Day are doing.

You can support them by following them and seeing what they’re up to at any of the below sites:

Website: https://haveagayday.org/about-us/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mygayday

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mygayday

Twitter: https://twitter.com/haveagayday


Tags

authenticity, service, unique calling


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