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 took part in the ‘It Gets Better’ social media campaign launched by journalist Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller to fight youth suicide LGBTQ +.
In his video for the campaign, he shared that people would call him homosexual slurs in the halls of his school and “constantly send hatred.” But he assured viewers that “it’s getting better”.
Jamey’s parents supported him and he saw a social worker and therapist. But the constant bullying didn’t stop.
“No one in my school cares about suicide prevention, while you are the one calling me [gay slur] and tear me down, ”he wrote on September 8, according to the Washington Post.
“I always say how bullied I am, but no one is listening… What should I do to get people to listen to me? He said the next day.
Jamey’s story has been 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 have received so many messages from people who [told us they] were [considering suicide], and they heard Jamey’s story and contacted us, and they said, “He saved my life.” I mean, hundreds of people.
Still, Michael Knote, founder of Have a Gay Day, remarked that “no one had really created a commemorative page” for Jamey. So he took matters into his own hands and started one himself.
It didn’t end 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 growing, award-winning nonprofit called Have a Gay Day in Dayton, Ohio.
Knote started the organization because he felt there were “a lot of organizations just trying to profit from bullying and suicide.” Instead, he wanted to create “an escape – a place where people could kind of be themselves and be free from those who are trying to make a profit with them, or fondle drama for likes, or share truly emotional stories. ”
It is difficult to describe exactly what Have a Gay Day does due to the amount of service it provides. “We’ve done everything from cleaning up tornadoes to advocating for those in need,” Knote said. “I don’t know, for a small organization we were just going ahead and really trying to fill that void.”
One of those voids, especially in Dayton, is for food and other resources. Census data shows that 30.6% of the city’s residents live in poverty, and according to Feeding America, nearly 20% of Dayton is food insecure.
The pressing need has shifted the main focus of the organization towards providing free food and other resources to all of Dayton and surrounding Montgomery County, not just the LGBTQ + community. And it’s not just any food bank – they deliver to people who can’t get there in person.
“We will deliver anywhere in the county to anyone in need,” Knote said. “And we also have a pet pantry and a small outside pantry where people can eat. We donate radiators. We distribute laundry tokens – when we have them available. We distribute personal care items. We are just looking to meet 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.
“Make sure you get pictures of the volunteers, it’s not just about me,” Knote told media at the event.
In his interview with The Blade, Knote also praised the organization’s volunteers, saying, “The volunteers are amazing. They make it all possible at Have a Gay Day. It’s just wonderful. It’s diverse, it’s glorious.
Have a Gay Day is run entirely by volunteers – even Knote himself is. He is employed full time at FedEx to “pay the bills”, leading the organization while he is away from work. “Ultimately, 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 raises to keep growing, so they can continue to serve the community. In addition to the van, the organization is also planning to move into the space next to them. For him, more space means more opportunities to help those in need.
It’s hard for Knote to believe that Have a Gay Day turned out to be what it is. “We started with Rainbow Takeovers in the middle of the night, we would post randomly for about an hour on Rainbows, and we wouldn’t tell anyone when that was happening,” he recalls.
Rainbow Takeovers has turned into a march for marriage equality. Before same-sex marriage was legal in Ohio, the group would take couples to neighboring Indiana to get married – something Knote called “the little things.”
As they grew up, the organization needed a home. So they moved into a 150 square foot space in the KeyBank Tower, a 27 story building in downtown Dayton. “We stayed there for almost two years, but the people who rented it said they couldn’t sell the space because of our rainbow trees,” Knote said.
They continued to progress as they grew – to the Dayton suburb of Moraine, Ohio, settling into a storefront suite in a mall a few miles north of downtown. city. “When we got to this place, the community told us we shouldn’t be here because it was dangerous,” Knote said. “But that’s where the need was.”
“We are going to many spaces that many would consider a courageous organization,” he said, noting Have a Gay Day’s involvement in religious events.
In particular, Knote recalls an anti-harassment event organized by religious groups – and sponsored in part by Chick-fil-A, who was once again criticized this summer for having links to a group fighting against the law on legality. “It was very faith-based, very faith-based,” he said.
But that’s not what Knote took away from the event. “The point is: Have a Gay Day, an LGBT organization, showed up at a Chick-fil-A sponsored event with a room full of religious people and spoke in front of them,” he said. “And it is beautiful.”
Going forward, Knote wants to make sure the organization never stops. “We don’t want to be a focused organization,” he said.
“We want to be like a totally diverse organization that just maneuvers in the community, creating resources where we can and filling the gaps for all who need them to create a better community for everyone,” a- he declared.
While 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 do you specifically serve? Is a question often asked of Knote.
“For us, we don’t keep track of these numbers,” he said. “We don’t ask people how they identify with themselves. The main reason is that we are in fact negotiating an ally. It’s a beautiful thing to imagine or think about the different people coming in – I don’t care if they support me or not. The point is, we offer genuine kindness without being judgmental. And because we enable individuals of all ages to grow and prosper in a place where we are changing the full scope of what the community expects from an LGBT organization.
Knote can only imagine how much the “little things” that Have a Gay Day does for the community now could change the life of an LGBTQ + person in the future.
“Maybe a person will go out someday, and their family, who may not have been supportive, maybe think of Have a Gay Day and reserve the same kind of kindness for their child, their parents, his spouse or whoever it is. “
“The work that goes with all of this – the kind of fun, happy, random moments – is making a difference not just for the queer community now, but for the queer community in the future as well.”