By Ari Karpel
Originally published on Advocate.com September 03 2010 3:00 AM ET
Back in the fall of 2008, while on one of their usual Saturday morning treks in the hills of Los Angeles, Frank Roller and Steve Gratwick got to talking about their desire to do more volunteer work. Inspired by the triple whammy of then-president elect Obama’s volunteer initiative, the Harvey Milk biopic “Milk” and the passage of California’s antigay Proposition 8, they determined to figure out how to take LGBT people beyond the “gay community” and into the larger world to actively do some good.
A year and a half later, Gay for Good, cofounded with Tony Biel — whose gay hiking group Take a Hike brought the friends together to begin with — has completed more than 18 day-long volunteer projects around the city of Los Angeles, mostly focused on tangible environmental pursuits, like landscaping and cleanup. “Because of the hiking group and the location, we have a lot of people who enjoy the outdoors,” Biel says. Every month 50-150 gay men (and a few women) get to meet people outside the bar scene, learn something new, and have a feeling of accomplishment for an environmentally positive job well done.
So far, they have planted trees in fire-scorched Malibu in partnership with Tree People, landscaped a senior community housing complex, spruced up a trail on Santa Catalina Island and even picked oranges to distribute at local food banks with Food Forward. The club has spawned two additional chapters in California—San Francisco and San Diego—as well as one in Boston. Chapters in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago are in the works.
While cleaning up L.A.’s Ballona Creek, which leads to the Pacific Ocean, the group saw firsthand that cigarette butts make up the bulk of trash coming down through storm drains, along with the expected plastic bottles and caps. “To see that when someone throws a cigarette out a window, it doesn’t get picked up by the street sweepers, it ends up in the ocean, that makes people think,” Biel says. “It’s not going away; it’s going somewhere.”
Biel and his friends are making sure the gays are going somewhere green, too.