At the core of service organization, Gay for Good is the idea that acts of kindness bring people together. Founded in California in 2008 by Steve Gratwick, Tony Biel, and Frank Roller, the now national nonprofit mobilizes LGBTQ and ally volunteers to participate in service projects in their communities.
Gratwick, Biel, and Roller established the organization in response to the passage of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California by public vote. The Gay for Good founders believed the way to change people’s hearts and minds was to build relationships in the community through service.
Gay for Good grew fast. After only two years, there were chapters in seven cities throughout five different states. Now, 13 years later, the organization has chapters in 18 cities, has served 579 nonprofits, and has executed over 1400 service projects.
Community building has always remained at the heart of Gay for Good’s mission. The organization offers a unique opportunity for volunteers to create their own chosen family with other participants while also strengthening connections to their broader community.
At the helm of this work is executive director Anne Friedman, who first discovered Gay for Good while searching for a way to meet other LGBTQ people after coming out later in life.
Friedman fell in love with the mission and quickly joined the leadership team. At the time, Gay for Good was completely volunteer run, but it needed a full-time leader to keep growing. So three years ago, Friedman quit her job and made Gay for Good her life.
Queerty spoke with Friedman about the power of the organization, the communities it has served, and the relationships it has fostered.
Why do you think Gay for Good grew so fast? What was it about the organization that resonated with people?
Gay for Good offered a very different way to connect and meet with other queer people. It was outside of the bar scene, it was out in the community on hiking trails, at food banks, in animal shelters.
It was really this unique and innovative way to bring people together to not only serve the community, but to meet each other and to build community within the organization. I think that really spoke to a lot of people.
Gay for Good was formed in the wake of Proposition 8 and losing marriage equality, and I think the other draw for people was an opportunity to get to know people and hopefully change hearts and minds through our interactions with them out in the community.
What are some of your favorite service projects that you’ve participated in?
Personally, I love when we get to work with other people. At the core, that’s what we’re about, connecting with the community.
One of the organizations I absolutely love working with is Operation Gratitude. They’re a nonprofit that puts together care packages for service members. We have an opportunity to go into their warehouse and bring 50 Gay for Good volunteers to work alongside another 500+ volunteers from the community from other groups.
You’re walking up and down these assembly lines getting to smile and have conversations and meet people over the course of the morning as you’re volunteering together, all for the common goal of making a difference for someone else.
Has the organization been able to continue service projects through the pandemic?
In the very early days of the pandemic, just like all of the nonprofits, we completely came to a standstill. Once we realized that volunteers were really essential workers and the need for food and certain services actually increased due to Covid, we really saw that need and where we could, jumped into help.
Many of our partners were quick to pivot. An example would be our partnership with the LA Food Bank, who figured out they could safely distribute food using a drive through model.
The other thing we were able to do was to create virtual opportunities. We had a nonprofit called Casa De Paz in Colorado join us for a virtual card making workshop where we made cards for immigrants coming out of the detention centers. We were able to make these beautiful cards in different languages, which were really the first thing these immigrants would see.
Most organizations that are centered on LGBTQ people focus on charity for the LGBTQ community. This is, of course, more than necessary, but is there special power or meaning in putting LGBTQ people in the driver’s seat as the ones giving back?
Absolutely. There are so many wonderful organizations out there that are providing direct services or that are advocating to change policy in our government, but we take this innovative, boots-on-the-ground approach to trying to change it from the ground up by being out there, by being alongside our community, by serving our community.
Over the course of a morning, standing side by side with a neighbor or serving a neighbor, we find that prejudice and misconceptions, those things fall away. You hope that by the end of your time together people realize we’re all just human beings, we’re all just people who have the same wants and needs.
I also think we provide a unique space for LGBTQ people to come together. Oftentimes, our volunteers do lack support from their families or aren’t out at work, and for them to go out to a nonprofit and do charity work and be out and open isn’t always easy.
There’s something about the safety in numbers, safety in being around likeminded people and knowing when we show up, the nonprofits know who we are before we’ve gotten there, so there is going to be the rare eye roll or side look, but for the most part we find that we are not only welcomed, we’re invited back time and time again.
What kind of relationships have you seen grow from Gay for Good?
I have seen countless friendships grow out of volunteering with Gay for Good. I see pictures on social media of folks who are spending time with people I know they’ve met through our organization. I’ve witnessed them meeting and create these lasting friendships. I see volunteers when they’re in other cities searching for their local chapter and meeting with leaders or meeting with volunteers and meeting up even when there is not an activity going on. There’s a social aspect where countless friendships are being made.
What advice do you have for people who want to get involved but are nervous they’ll feel awkward or won’t fit in?
I can guarantee you will feel welcome, you will feel included. We make a point at all of our events to welcome everyone. We try to figure out who is new. Everybody’s got a name tag on so we can talk to each other and know who our other volunteers are and call them by their names and use the right pronouns. We often meet for lunch afterwards.
It’s not a scary place. It’s a very welcoming, warm group of people. Each city is unique, but that’s the one thing I would say is common to every one of them. Every single chapter is a warm, welcome space for anybody, not just the LGBTQ community, but anybody, all of our allies, our friends, and families are welcome.