DAYTON, Ohio — In a small storefront off on Dayton’s north side, Michael Knote tries to provide everything his community could possibly need. There’s a lending library, a community meeting room, a small theater, a food pantry, free pet food and personal hygiene items, all surrounded by posters promoting positivity and many, many rainbows.
It’s the kind of welcoming environment Knote said Have a Gay Day strives to provide all of its visitors, whether they’re physically seeking help at the nonprofit, or turning to its viral Facebook page seeking 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 last 28 days, we’ve reached 17 million people,” Knote said of the group’s reach. “We’ve had 5,300,000 people engage with our posts.”
Knote, one of the group’s founders, said it started with a vision to create a safe, positive, online space for LGBTQ people to celebrate their identity, mourn acts of hatred against their community and eventually organize for change.
“We started as a fun safe happy place with rainbow takeovers in the middle of the night,” he said. “There was no expectations to ever be a charity. There was no expectations to ever put up billboards across the United States.”
As the page’s audience grew, Knote said the admins behind it started 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 founding, Have a Gay Day started 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 up places to help clean up after tornadoes,” he said.
Knote said Have a Gay Day also looked for more ways to serve its local community, Dayton, offering services that anyone from any identity could use, but may not be able to access. The group opened a pantry to run on evenings and Sundays when most faith-based organizations or full-time pantries are closed.
Then, during the pandemic, Knote said the pantry became one of only a few in Montgomery County willing to deliver to clients in need.
“A lot of people think that the LGBTQ community only helps the LGBTQ community, and for us, to help everyone means everything,” he said.
The pantry will serve anyone that comes through its doors regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, though Knote still considers that work a part of his LGBTQ activism.
According to the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group, 28% of LGBTQ Youth have reported experiencing homelessness or housing instability at one point in their life, with many also experiencing food insecurity.
From personal experience, Knote said he understands when you’re in a vulnerable position like that, it means everything to know when you reach out for help, you’ll find acceptance.
“There are places that I visited when I was homeless, it didn’t feel quite like that,” 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 clients and online followers.
The nonprofit’s pantry makes more than 80 food deliveries a week, while the group organizes 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 on a special committee with Meta to advise them on LGBTQ issues, all while Have a Gay Day oscillates between sharing memes to brighten users’ days and organizing nationwide campaigns to combat misinformation against the LGBTQ community.
Currently, Have a Gay Day is entirely volunteer-run. 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 service the Dayton community may need it to provide.
“Whatever they need to not just survive, but thrive,” he said.