Bridging the cultural gap between Chicago’s LGBTQ+ individuals and the greater community sometimes starts with a simple act of giving back, like volunteering at a food pantry or cleaning up the debris at Osterman Beach on the city’s far north side.
Gay For Good (G4G) Chicago—part of a national network of 17 chapters—seeks to overcome ignorance through action by partnering with other social welfare and environmental service projects. G4G Chicago has participated in 102 service projects since its inception in 2011, with at least 30 different groups, including Friends of the Forest Preserves, Ravenswood Community Services Mobile Pantry, St. James Food Pantry, Cradles to Crayons, and the Hearts and Flour Bakery at Misericordia, to name a few.
“There’s just this resounding positivity that comes from working with other service groups,” says Matt Belcher, who along with James Richard and Ryan Thompto, is a G4G Chicago chapter leader.
While G4G’s aim is to promote “positive, enthusiastic camaraderie” through inclusive, coordinated volunteer events, Belcher admits the group’s moniker, Gay For Good, may not represent the full spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community and its heterosexual allies.
“Honestly, I do not know the origin story of the name,” says Belcher. “Gay may not be the best word to represent the entire LGBTQ+ community today, but I struggle to find a word that does. Our name may be Gay For Good but we are also Lesbian For Good, Bisexual For Good, Transgender For Good and every other color in the rainbow and letter in the alphabet. We are an all-inclusive organization—everyone is welcome here.”
Gay For Good was founded by three gay men in Los Angeles in 2008, in the wake of Proposition 8, which abolished same-sex marriage in California. Chicago, the sixth chapter formed in 2011, started with a volunteer base of 225 members. Today, there are 1,100 volunteers on G4G Chicago’s distribution list.
“We rely heavily on social media and word of mouth to get potential volunteers signed up to our distribution list,” says Belcher. “We’ve looked into other ways to increase our footprint, but at the same time, we are running our events at capacity. Because of COVID-19-related precautions, we’re filling up those rosters much more quickly and we have wait lists, which is great on the one hand, but it is also very disheartening to have to tell someone who wants to give back that we can’t accommodate them for a specific event.”
G4G Chicago in-person events were on hiatus for much of 2020 due to the pandemic. The group’s “comeback event,” according to Belcher, was an Adopt-a-Beach outing in September that drew 15 volunteers to Osterman Beach. The crew collected about 20 bags of garbage and a wallet that was returned to its grateful owner after a bit of Facebook sleuthing.
Belcher and the other G4G Chicago chapter leaders are currently finalizing details for future G4G Chicago events. Potential partners for Summer 2021 and beyond include the Shedd Aquarium, Brookfield Zoo, Friends of the Chicago River, Chicago Tiny House, among others.
“When we show up [for an event] the volunteer coordinators for the partner group light up and they are always so visibly excited that we are there,” says Belcher. “We genuinely have a sense of community with each other, whether you’re a first-time volunteer or a regular, we smile, we engage, and we get the job done.” v
Gay For Good Chicago’s next event—Friends of the Forest (LaBagh Woods) on May 2—is currently at capacity, but volunteers are encouraged to check the website as space may become available due to cancellations. Join Gay For Good Chicago’s distribution list and view future projects here.