DAYTON, Ohio — In a small storefront on the north side of Dayton, Michael Knote tries to provide everything his community might need. There’s a lending library, community meeting room, small theater, food pantry, free pet food and personal hygiene items, all surrounded by posters promoting positivity and lots of rainbows.
It’s the kind of welcoming environment that Knote said Have a Gay Day strives to provide for all of its visitors, whether they’re physically seeking help at the nonprofit or just turn to his viral Facebook page in search of a smile.
With 1.3 million followers on its 10-year-old page, Have a Gay Day is one of the largest LGBTQ nonprofits on social media.
“In the past 28 days, we’ve reached 17 million people,” Knote said of the group’s reach. “We had 5,300,000 people interacting with our posts.”
Knote, one of the group’s founders, said he started with a vision to create a safe and positive online space for LGBTQ people to celebrate their identity, mourn acts of hate against their community and eventually to organize for change.
“We started out as a fun, safe place with rainbow takeovers in the middle of the night,” he said. “There was no expectation to ever be a charity. There was no waiting to put up billboards across the United States.
As the page’s audience grew, Knote said the administrators behind it began looking for more tangible ways to support LGBTQ people in their neighborhood and beyond.
That’s when donations started pouring in, and a year after its inception, Have a Gay Day began applying to become an official nonprofit.
“We were driving people to Indiana to get married when it was illegal in Ohio,” he said. “We were marching for marriage equality. We were showing places to help clean up after tornadoes,” he said.
Knote said Have a Gay Day is also looking for other ways to serve its local community, Dayton, by providing services that anyone of any identity could use, but not access. The group has opened a food pantry to operate on evenings and Sundays when most faith-based organizations or full-time food pantries are closed.
Then, during the pandemic, Knote said the food pantry became one of the few in Montgomery County willing to deliver to customers in need.
“A lot of people think that the LGBTQ community only helps the LGBTQ community, and to us, helping everyone means everything,” he said.
The pantry will serve anyone who walks through its doors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, though Knote still considers this work part of its LGBTQ activism.
According to the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group, 28% of LGBTQ youth said they had been homeless or unstable with housing at some point in their lives, and many also experienced food insecurity.
From personal experience, Knote said he understands that when you’re in a vulnerable position like this, it means everything to know that when you ask for help, you’ll find acceptance.
“There are places that I visited when I was homeless, that wasn’t quite it,” he said. “We go to places that are supposed to be compassionate, and instead we find judgment.”
Have a Gay Day strives to provide the opposite experience, both to its customers and to its online subscribers.
The nonprofit’s food pantry makes more than 80 food deliveries a week, while the group hosts meetings and events to engage the local LGBTQ community.
Meanwhile online, as one of the largest LGBTQ nonprofit pages, Knote said the group’s admins are part of a special committee with Meta to advise them on LGBTQ issues, while having a gay day oscillating between sharing memes to brighten users’ days and organizing national campaigns. to counter misinformation against the LGBTQ community.
Currently, Have a Gay Day is run entirely by volunteers. Knote hopes in a few years to grow the group into a full-time nonprofit that can provide more services like emergency housing, financial assistance, and any other gaps in services the Dayton community may need. .
“Everything they need not just to survive, but to thrive,” he said.