Looking for a way to meet other queer people, have fun, and do good work in the community? Gay for Good coordinates volunteer activities around Pittsburgh and in other locations across the United States. Lindsay Onufer, one of six volunteer leaders of the Pittsburgh chapter, spoke to QueerPGH about their upcoming service event honoring civil rights leader Harvey Milk.
QueerPGH: What is Gay for Good?
Lindsay Onufer: Gay for Good is a national nonprofit that aims to energize and mobilize the LGBT community to interact with the greater community by volunteering our time to various social welfare and environmental service projects. In total, Gay for Good has around 11,000 members nationwide, and has performed over $20,000 of community service with community partner organizations. Gay for Good: Pittsburgh is one of eleven national chapters. We work with local nonprofits to organize service projects once every 2-3 months, along with occasional social events.
QueerPGH: How many members do you have in the Pittsburgh area?
Onufer: That’s hard to say. Our members just follow us on Facebook and attend the events that interest them. We have about 1700 Facebook followers, but I’d estimate that we have a core group of about 50 or so who volunteer regularly.
QueerPGH: When was Gay for Good founded?
Onufer: The Pittsburgh chapter was founded six years ago by Jared Pascoe. He has participated in service projects with the Los Angeles chapter while living in LA. When he moved home to Pittsburgh, he saw a need in the LGBTQ community for activities that didn’t revolve around the bar scene (not that we don’t love the bar scene!). Gay for Good offers opportunities for LGBTQ people to meet, make friends, and serve their communities, which was a totally new idea for Pittsburgh at the time.
QueerPGH: What kind of projects do you do?
Onufer: All types! We’ve planted trees with Tree Pittsburgh, sold t-shirts at the Bitches Ball, acted as escorts at a senior citizen prom, cleaned up the rivers, reupholstered chairs at the GLCC (Gay and Lesbian Community Center), made kitty toys at Animal Friends, collected gift cards so that moms at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh could holiday shop for their kids, painted pillow cases for kids at Children’s Hospital, served holiday dinner at Shepherd Wellness, just to name a few. We like to change up our projects often because one of the best things about Gay for Good is that volunteers can just come to whichever project interests them. So if you’re not outdoorsy, only want to come to projects which involve animals, have physical limitations or mobility challenges, we will have projects you can participate in. Our projects vary enough that everyone can find something that they can attend and be passionate about.
QueerPGH: What groups have you raised money for?
Onufer: We don’t raise money, but we regularly host happy hours and collect donations for organizations. The most recent one was the gift card drive for the Women’s Center and Shelter. We collected something like $700 in gift cards. Element was kind enough to host us and offered some nice drink specials. In terms of service, our chapter has partnered with approximately 50 community organizations and performed thousands of hours of community service.
QueerPGH: Have you gotten any response from the community about your work?
Onufer: The community response has been overwhelmingly positive. WQED profiled us on Pittsburgh 360 a few years ago, and several other publications have done stories about the work we do. What surprised me the most was the response from the community organizations we reached out to to partner with for projects and the feedback from community residents. I started volunteering with Gay for Good pretty soon after its founding, 5-6 years ago. Pittsburgh was less LGBTQ-friendly and I kind of expected some organizations to refuse to work with us or for residents to be unhappy to see us in their neighborhoods with our Gay for Good name tags on. It was just the opposite. Only one organization has ever turned us down when we offered to volunteer. All of the others were thrilled to have us and said so. We’ve gotten to the point where we have to occasionally turn down requests to volunteer so we don’t overbook ourselves. Residents have actually stopped to thank us during projects. I also believe that bringing LGBTQ people into communities to complete service helps combat homophobia in a small way. It’s harder to demonize the people who planted trees in your neighborhood last weekend.
QueerPGH: You’ve got the word ‘gay’ in the title, but it looks like your mission statement includes the ‘L’, ‘B’, and ‘T’ members of our alphabet soup, too. Are other queer people welcome to join, or do you try to keep this group a gay space?
Onufer: I wouldn’t describe the group as a “gay space,” or at least not a gay-exclusive space. I’m one of two chapter leaders who falls into the “L” category. We’re a chapter of a national group, so we share their name, but everyone is welcome, including any members of the queer community and straight allies. People have even brought their kids to child-friendly projects.
QueerPGH: Tell me about the Harvey Milk Day of Service.
Onufer: The Harvey Milk Day of Service is about celebrating Harvey Milk’s legacy and spreading his message by serving communities. It falls around his birthday. This year, our Harvey Milk Day project is on May 20th.
QueerPGH: How does Milk inspire us to service?
Onufer: Harvey Milk was an incredible civil rights leader and one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. He championed gay rights, along with a lot of other issues. He famously opposed and helped defeat the Briggs Initiative, which was a proposition in California which would have made firing gay teachers mandatory. He received death threats constantly and was shot when he was just 48 years old. Harvey Milk inspires me because he was a leader who mobilized his community. A lot of what he accomplished had to do with empowering the disenfranchised and improving neighborhoods. I love Pittsburgh, and I LOVE the queer Pittsburgh community. Harvey Milk Day is all about celebrating that.
QueerPGH: What are your plans for the day?
Onufer: On May 20th, we’ll be meeting at the Aviary at 9 am. We’re partnering with one of our favorite organizations, Tree Pittsburgh, to do some planting, mulching, and gardening throughout the Northside. At noon, we’ll head over to James St. Gastropub and Speakeasy for the after-party. They’re offering happy hour specials: $2 off appetizers and craft drafts and $3 PBRs. At the after-party, we’ll hold a raffle. Everyone who shows up for the service project automatically receives one ticket which will be entered into a drawing for a gift certificate from Bar Marco for a multi-course dinner with wine pairings for 6 people. Bar Marco has been incredibly generous to us for several years. You can also buy tickets for smaller raffle items from a variety of different local businesses. We’ll publish a list of all raffle items on the Facebook event page as we receive them. The money we raise during the raffle pays for Gay for Good’s chapter dues and snacks and supplies we buy for volunteers for projects throughout the year.
QueerPGH: How can people participate?
Onufer: We ask that you RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and completing this super short form for Tree Pittsburgh. It’s particularly important that people RSVP for this event because Tree Pittsburgh will be providing us with supplies.
QueerPGH: Thanks for all the great work you do!