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Ohio LGBTQ+ organization does ‘the little things’ for the entire community

Though Have a Gay Day has its roots in LGBTQ+ activism, Knote makes it clear that his organization is for everyone — queer or not

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Have a Gay Day's new community van (LA Blade Photo by Zachary Jarrell)

DAYTON, Oh. — On September 18, 2011, a 14-year-old bisexual boy from Buffalo, New York, committed suicide — sparking grief and outrage across the United States. His name was Jamey Rodemeyer, and just months before his tragic death, he participated in the “It Gets Better” social media campaign, started by journalist Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller to combat suicide among LGBTQ+ youth.

In his video for the campaign, he shared that people would call him gay slurs in the hallways of his school and “constantly send him hate.” But he assured viewers that “it does get better.”

Jamey’s parents supported him, and he was seeing a social worker and a therapist. But the constant bullying didn’t stop. 

“No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you’re the ones calling me [gay slur] and tearing me down,” he wrote on September 8, according to the Washington Post

“I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens … What do I have to do so people will listen to me?” he said the next day. 

Jamey’s story was covered by major news outlets across the country, touching the hearts and changing the lives of many.

In an interview with Time, Jamey’s mother, Tracy Rodemeyer, said, “We got so many messages from people who [told us they] were [considering suicide], and they heard Jamey’s story and reached out to us, and they said, ‘He saved my life.’ I mean, hundreds of people.”

Yet, Michael Knote, founder of Have a Gay Day, noticed “no one had really created a memorial page” for Jamey. So, he took matters into his own hands and started one himself.

It didn’t stop there as Knote would later travel to Buffalo and raise $17,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And that was only the beginning. 

What was once a memorial page on Facebook is now a rapidly expanding, award-winning nonprofit called Have a Gay Day in Dayton, Ohio.

An art piece by Monterrey, California-based renowned Out artist Paul Richmond, hangs in the lobby of Have a Gay Day’s storefront home in the Dayton, Ohio area.
(LA Blade Photo by Zachary Jarrell)

Knote started the organization because he felt like there were “a lot of organizations that were just trying to cash out on bullying and suicide.” Instead, he wanted to create “an escape — a place where people could just kind of be themselves and be free from people trying to make a profit off of them, or stroke drama for likes, or share really emotionally charged kind of stories.” 

Describing exactly what Have a Gay Day does is difficult because of the sheer amount of services it provides. “We’ve done everything from going to clean up tornadoes to doing advocacy work for individuals that are in need,” Knote said. “I don’t know, for a little organization, we just were kind of pushing forward and really trying to fill that void.”

One of those voids, especially in Dayton, is food and other resources. Census data shows 30.6% of people in the city live in poverty, and according to Feeding America, almost 20% of Dayton is food insecure.

The pressing need shifted the organization’s main focus to providing free food and other resources to all of Dayton, and the surrounding Montgomery County, not just the LGBTQ+ community. And it’s not just any food bank — they deliver to people who can’t get to them in person. 

“We will deliver anywhere in the county to anyone that’s in need,” Knote said. “And we also have a pet food pantry and a little pantry that’s outside where people can get food. We give away heaters. We give away laundry tokens — when we have them available. We give away personal care items. We are just looking to fill the needs.”

On Friday, Knote and the organization’s volunteers unveiled a new community van — provided in part by the Hall Hunger Initiative, PFLAG Dayton, LexisNexis Pride and a host of community supporters and sponsorships — that they can use to deliver food instead of their own vehicles.

Michael Knote stands in front of new community van. (LA Blade Photo by Zachary Jarrell)

“Make sure to get pictures of the volunteers, it’s not all about me,” Knote continuously told the media at the event. 

In his interview with the Blade, Knote also praised the organization’s volunteers, saying, “The volunteers are amazing. They make everything possible at Have a Gay Day. It’s just beautiful. It’s diverse, it’s glorious.”

Have a Gay Day is entirely volunteer-run — even Knote himself is one. He is employed full-time at FedEx to “pay the bills,” running the organization in his time away from work. “Eventually, I want to work for Have a Gay Day,” he said. “But I don’t want to be the first employee.”

But for now, Knote wants to use the money the organization takes in to continue to expand, so they can keep serving the community. In addition to the van, the organization also plans to move into the space next to them. To him, more space means more opportunities to help those in need. 

It’s hard for Knote to believe that Have a Gay Day has become what it has become. “We started with Rainbow Takeovers in the middle of the night, we would randomly post for like an hour to rainbows, and we wouldn’t tell anyone when it was happening,” he recalled. 

Rainbow Takeovers turned into marching for marriage equality. Before same-sex marriage was legal in Ohio, the group took couples to neighboring Indiana to get married — something Knote called “the little things.” 

As they grew, the organization needed a home. So, they moved into a 150 square foot space in the KeyBank tower, a 27-floor building in Dayton’s downtown. “We were there for almost two years, but the people that were leasing it out said that they couldn’t sell the space because of our rainbow trees,” Knote said. 

They continued to move up as they grew– to suburban Dayton in Moraine, Ohio, settling in a storefront suite in a strip mall a few miles north of downtown. “When we came to this location, we were told by the community that we shouldn’t be here because it was dangerous,” Knote said. “But this is where the need was.”

“We go into a lot of spaces that many would consider us a brave organization,” he said, noting Have a Gay Day’s involvement in religious events. 

In particular, Knote remembers an anti-bullying event hosted by religious groups — and sponsored in part by Chick-fil-A, which came under fire again this summer for having ties to a group fighting against the Equality Act. “It was very faith based, very faith based,” he said. 

But that’s not what Knote took away from the event. “The fact is: Have a Gay Day, an LGBT organization, showed up to a Chick-fil-A sponsored event with a roomful of religious individuals, and spoke in front of them,” he said. “And that’s beautiful.”

Looking ahead, Knote wants to make sure the organization never limits itself. “We don’t want to be a focus organization,” he said. 

“We want to be like a fully diverse organization that just maneuvers through the community, creating resources where we can and filling in the voids for anyone that’s in need to create a better community for everyone,” he said. 

Michael Knote smiles as he celebrates the unveiling of Have a Gay Day’s new community van.
(LA Blade Photo by Zachary Jarrell)

Though Have a Gay Day has its roots in LGBTQ+ activism, Knote makes it clear that his organization is for everyone — queer or not. 

“How many LGBT people are you specifically serving?” is a question often posed to Knote.

“For us, we do not keep track of those numbers,” he said. “We don’t ask people how they identify. The biggest reason is we’re actually trading allyship. It’s a beautiful thing to imagine or to think about the different individuals that are coming in — I don’t care if they’re supportive or not. The thing is, we’re offering genuine kindness in a non judgmental way. And because we’re allowing individuals of all ages to grow and to prosper in a place where we change the whole scope of what the community expects from an LGBT organization.”

Knote can only imagine how the “little things” Have a Gay Day does for the community now could change the life of an LGBTQ+ person in the future. 

“Maybe a person will come out someday, and their family, who may not have been supportive, will maybe think about Have a Gay Day and reserve that same sort of kindness for their child, parents, spouse or whoever that is.”

“The work that’s tied into all of that — the sort of fun, happy, random times — is pushing to make a difference for not only just the queer community now, but the queer community in the future.”

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LGBTQ Non-Profit Organizations

One Archives Foundation to host encore readings of ‘The Normal Heart’

The first reading last May reached audiences in the U.S.+ 19 countries. It marked the 1st time the play featured a BIPOC & LGBTQ cast

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ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries (Photo Credit: ONE Archives)

LOS ANGELES — One Archives Foundation, the oldest active LGBTQ+ organization in the U.S., will host two encore virtual readings of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” with a star-studded cast — including Sterling K. Brown, Laverne Cox and Daniel Newman — on December 4 in honor of World AIDS Day. Showtimes are at 12 p.m. and 5 p.m., and tickets are available here.  

The first reading premiered last May, reaching audiences in the U.S. and 19 countries. It marked the first time the play featured a cast that is predominantly Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ.

“This presentation of ‘The Normal Heart’ and its extraordinarily talented, diverse cast made an incredible impact earlier this year,” said director Paris Barclay. “We all felt it was important to re-stream the historic reading to bring more awareness not just to World AIDS Day, but to the message of Larry Kramer’s landmark play—which feels even more relevant today.”

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LGBTQ Non-Profit Organizations

100+ U.S. Cities receive top scores in annual Municipal Equality Index

A record-setting number of 100 point scores & highest-ever national average show that localities continue to lead the way on LGBTQ+ inclusion

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HRC headquarters, Washington D.C. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Earlier this month the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation  in partnership with The Equality Federation, released its 10th annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI) report. According to the Washington D.C. based non-profit a record-breaking 110 cities earned the highest score of 100, which is up from 11 in 2012, the MEI’s inaugural year, illustrating the striking advancements municipalities have made over the past 10 years.

LGBTQ+ people are everywhere—in every city, county and ZIP code. Throughout its 10 year history, the Municipal Equality Index has been centered on supporting and celebrating the work municipalities do to serve LGBTQ+ people in the places they call home,” said JoDee Winterhof, Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs in a press statement.

This year, state-wide lawmakers have zeroed in on attacking transgender and non-binary children—for no reason other than in an effort to harm and erase them. Local leaders, however, have continued to move the needle of progress forward, and by doing so, they have spurred economic growth by signaling to residents, visitors and employers that their city is open to everyone,” Winterhof added.

In 20 states across the country, 74 cities earned over 85 points despite hailing from a state without non-discrimination statutes that explicitly protect sexual orientation and gender identity, which is up from five municipalities in 2012. These municipalities set a standard of LGBTQ+ inclusion by prioritizing measures such as enacting comprehensive non-discrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees, and providing services for particularly vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

However as anti-LGBTQ+ laws are proposed and then passed by various state legislatures, especially targeting Trans people, local non-discrimination statutes that explicitly protect sexual orientation and gender identity become critical.

In Springfield, Missouri, the News-Leader newspaper noted that Springfield’s score from HRC this year was just 53 points out of a possible 100. The national average was 67. Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis all scored 100.

“Kind of sad,” is how Nick Clinton-Elliott, executive director of Springfield’s GLO Center, described the Queen City’s showing in the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent report on LGBT equality the paper reported.

“I’m disappointed to see that Springfield is that far behind the national average,” Clinton-Elliott told the News-Leader a few days before Thanksgiving. “But we are seeing some growth, and that’s encouraging. We just have a lot of work to do.”

The city’s chief spokesperson, Cora Scott, told the News-Leader in a written statement that for several years the city has made “concentrated efforts” to do better on LGBT issues.

“We do not take issue with the scorecard,” Scott said, “however, we always look beyond the compliance of any one particular scorecard when it comes to our efforts to embrace inclusive excellence.”

Overall the News-Leader reported, Springfield’s score shows improvement over time on LGBT matters. In 2017, the last time the News-Leader reported on the campaign’s city-level ratings, Springfield scored just 21 points. (The national average that year was 57 points.) In 2019, Springfield’s score was 35. Last year, it was 47.

Even though local leaders continue to pave the way forward on equality, there remains an unacceptable patchwork of laws for LGBTQ+ people across the country. This reinforces the need for the federal Equality Act that would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.

The MEI rated 506 cities including the 50 state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the U.S., the five largest cities or municipalities in each state, the cities home to the state’s two largest public universities, the 75 municipalities that have high proportions of same-sex couples and 98 cities selected by HRC and Equality Federation state group members and supporters. It assesses each city on 49 criteria covering citywide non-discrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement and the city’s leadership on LGBTQ+ equality.

Other significant findings from the 2021 MEI include:

  • This year, 181 cities have transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits for municipal employees—up from 179 in 2020, despite more rigorous standards this year, and only five at the start of the MEI.
  • The national city score average jumped to an all-time high of 67 points, up from 64 last year and 59 in 2012, marking both the fourth consecutive year of national average increases as well as the highest year-over-year national average growth ever.
    • As a marker of the change that ten editions of the MEI have brought, cities rated by the MEI in 2012 averaged 59 points then; in 2021, those cities averaged 85 points.
    • 11 cities scored 100 points in the 2012 MEI; ten times that number did so in 2021, the tenth edition.
  • Cities around the country saw progress, with every region of the country seeing a higher average score than last year.
  • 43 municipalities have anti-conversion therapy ordinances in states with no state-level protections, up from 38 last year.
  • The tenth edition of the MEI tells a story of sustained, transformational growth in cities of every size in every region of the country. While state legislatures attacked LGBTQ+ people in a historically difficult legislative session, cities focused on solving actual problems.

The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.

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Trans non-binary visual artist & writer féi hernandez awarded grant

Define American, a culture change organization announced the winners of its 2021 Creative Fellowship project grant

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fei.hernandez via Instagram

LOS ANGELES – An Inglewood raised immigrant trans non-binary visual artist, writer, and healer has been awarded a $5,000 grant to write and illustrate the first volume of a three-part children’s book series.

Los Angeles-based féi hernandez will write and illustrate Heart of a Moth (Corazón de una Mariposa Nocturna), the first volume in the three-part children’s book series. The story will center Iká, a mixed-race differently abled queer young spirit warrior, that protects their hood from shadow beasts bred from corrupted hearts.

The Books are anticipated to be distributed in multi-accessible formats including: audio books, Braille format, and plushies for kinesthetic readers to enrich a new generation of differently abled, queer and trans, Black, Indigenous, youth of color to embrace what makes them powerful.

Define American, a culture change organization that uses the power of narrative to humanize conversations about immigrants, announced the winners of its 2021 Creative Fellowship project grant.

The organization’s Creative Fellowship, which awards a $5,000 grant to each recipient, is one of the few U.S. artistic fellowship opportunities that welcomes applicants regardless of immigration status, including undocumented creatives.

The other awardee is New York-based filmmaker Ash Goh Hua who will produce an abolitionist political cultural event around political prisoner liberation, focusing on the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Free Mumia.

Free Them All! will screen two short films, I’m Free Now, You Are Free and By Your Side; feature a panel conversation between the filmmakers, Ash Goh Hua, Mike Africa Sr and Debbie Africa and cultural worker Kazembe Balagun, and host a teach-in by Campaign organizer Johanna Fernández.

Abolition is a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment. By engaging the issue through art and films, it allows a story/narrative shift that moves people emotionally into the humanistic, cultural dimension of this struggle, which is crucial in political organizing, and thus will bring people closer to the issue at hand.

Past winners of Define American Creative Fellowship include Danyeli Rodriguez Del Orbe (2020), a community organizer with UndocuBlack, spoken word poet, and writer who is based in Los Angeles and New Orleans art duo Karla Rosas and Fernando Lopez (2019).

The Define American Creative Fellowship supports immigrant creatives working in narrative art forms as they build their professional practice and network. Recognizing the unique hurdles that immigrant creatives in these fields may face, the fellows selected for the Define American Creative Fellowship participate in workshops and conversations geared towards furthering their network and impact, connecting with additional resources, and supporting their community engagement efforts.

The Define American Creative Fellowship has been supported by the Kresge Foundation. This year,  the CAA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of talent and sports agency Creative Artists Agency, also joined as a supporting partner as part of its Full Story Initiative efforts.

“At least 95% of artists have lost income due to COVID-19. Additionally, the immigrant community in the U.S. has been largely overlooked by pandemic aid and stimulus checks,” said Define American Founder Jose Antonio Vargas. “Many immigrant artists pursuing a creative career now find themselves in an untenable situation. Their perspective and creative practice are more important than ever as we work to ensure our culture truly reflects the diversity of our country. As the creative community rebuilds post-pandemic, we want to make sure immigrant creatives have a prominent role in that conversation.”

“The CAA Foundation is honored to include Define American as partners in the Full Story Initiative, and to support their Creative Fellowship,” said CAA Foundation Executive, Maddy Roth. “The fellowship embodies our mission of driving forward authentic narratives in television and film for a more equitable future. We are thrilled to help support these brilliant storytellers in their creative journeys.”

The Define American Creative Fellowship is open to creatives in narrative-oriented art forms (writing, filmmaking, visual storytelling, theater, illustration, spoken word, digital journalism, etc.) with at least some experience (professional or amateur) in their chosen medium. This program is uniquely suited to supporting artists who have a deep commitment to their local communities and further developing their creative practice as they shape narratives of American identity.

“Artists and culture bearers are playing profound roles in their communities each and every day,” said Seth D. Beattie, Program Officer, Arts & Culture for The Kresge Foundation. “Despite enormous financial challenges, they’re helping communities process grief, raise the visibility of resources and build a sense of community even when socially distant. Define American is helping to lift up and support that work by actively challenging structural biases that impede the community efforts of immigrant artists, including the extensive discrimination facing artists living without documentation.”

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