It all started in 2011 with the death of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, a high school freshman in Buffalo who committed suicide because of the constant bullying he encountered for being bisexual. Knote, who lives in Piqua, Ohio, started a memorial page on Facebook and went to Buffalo to attend the teen’s memorial service.
After Rodemeyer’s death, Knote wanted to create a safe place online that was all-inclusive and all-accepting. A place to spread positivity and share content that made people smile. With a play on the iconic 1970s “Have a Nice Day” yellow smiley face, “Have A Gay Day” was born.
His “Have A Gay Day” Facebook page now has more than 665,000 followers from all over the world.
The majority of followers on the page are under 35 years old, and more than a third are under the age of 17, Knote said. “We talk to kids as young as 10 or 11 years old.”
“What young person has not heard, ‘That’s so gay!’ as an insult? In some schools, it’s a daily occurrence,” said Amy Eldridge, executive director at Kaleidoscope Youth Center in Columbus. “Exuberantly reclaiming ‘gay’ as a positive asset is part of accepting and loving who we are, and is especially important to young people who may just be finding or looking for positive supports and sense of community in their lives.”
Article continues belowKnote has shared between 40,000 and 50,000 images with his fans, and at the beginning he was posting about 40 times a day. He posts photos, cartoons, inspirational quotes, personal testimonies and questions that have been submitted by fans of the page. Now, he posts around five to 10 times each day and is very involved with the comments section.
But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
Followers of the page have used the inbox to ask for advice on coming out, to seek refuge and – at the darkest of times – announce their plans for suicide. Knote has between 70 and 100 volunteers from all over the world answering private messages and providing support to fans who are seeking help.
Have A Gay Day also works with local, national and international law enforcement to reach out to people before it’s too late.
“There wasn’t enough information on the person’s profile to properly locate them. Most people don’t know that we will track them, but we take suicide very seriously.”
Knote stresses that Have A Gay Day is a labor of love and community, and he doesn’t promote his site to make money for himself. There have been offers, though. He once turned down $20,000 to purchase the Have A Gay Day name and page.
“We sort of laugh about it now.”
While there are T-shirts, bumper stickers and bracelets, the goods are either given away (stickers and bracelets) or the profits are donated to charities (T-shirt sales benefit the Los Angeles homeless). Donations are accepted, but Knote is reluctant to ask fans for money. They’re often kids with no disposable income.
“It’s all about giving back, taking every dollar and stretching it,” he said.
Article continues belowGrowing up in a Christian community in Georgia, Knote never imagined this is where his life would lead. But he’s embracing his role in the community and has ideas for other projects, such as a mobile community center and a safe-space network.
He recently launched a phone line called Prism. It’s not a suicide hotline or crisis line, but a resource for those who just want someone to talk to.
“The Trevor Project normally focuses on the crisis rather than people who just want to talk,” he said. “Normally, they will limit their times for people who want to come out, or who are seeking resources. Sure, there’s Google, but sometimes, people just want to talk to someone. I think we’ll definitely change the shape of things.”
“If you treat people like they matter because they DO matter,” he said, “people will eventually notice.”