Interview with Michael Myers (he/him/his)
Founder & Chief Executive Officer at BLACK&GAY
“At the intersection of two marginalized communities in our society, Black LGBTQ adults face a unique set of challenges based on their experiences, facing more health disparities, discrimination, economic woes, and violence than non-LGBTQ Black adults.”
– Michael Myers
New Orleans, LA — With hate crimes on the rise, so too are feelings of fear and hopelessness. It’s quite easy to look at today’s headlines and feel as if we are drowning in negative statistics. And then there are people like Michael Myers. A natural problem-solver and motivator, paired with a signature style of creating joy wherever he goes, he is determined to find a way to bring light to his community.
For Michael, this cause is deeply personal. He is a survivor of the very struggles he seeks to remedy in the world. “I was physically abused by my father for 16 years because I was gay, and was eventually given to foster care.” He attempted suicide twice, spent a year in a mental hospital and had to leave home and survive on his own during his teenage years. Homeless and couchsurfing, at nineteen he moved to New Orleans and lived at Covenant House. “They gave me the tools I needed to be successful, helping me to find a job and my first apartment.” After years of therapy, Michael found the healing he needed. Despite so many hardships, he has embraced the world with curiosity and an open heart.
“I jump into life and opportunities because I feel there’s no point in holding back. You only live once, so you might as well do something BIG!”
Around the end of 2016, he had settled into a decent paying job, but would soon take a life-changing leap of faith. “I met a man named Talisman when I was working as a pastry chef at Sucré in New Orleans.” Talisman was visiting from London and staying in New Orleans for only a month. They serendipitously met and fell in love – one week before he was set to return home. Determined to meet again, what started as a joke to reunite in some exotic place, became a reality: Keeping in touch over FaceTime, they made plans for a whirlwind trip to India.
His only hesitancy was the prospect of leaving his job. “My boss said to me, ‘How old are you?’ And I said 27. He said,’GO. Don’t miss your chance. If you don’t go, I’m going to fire you!’ So with that, I left!” In only a month, he quit his job, sold all his belongings, and was off on his first international trip. In a little wink from the Universe, he stumbled across some engrossing reading material which gave him a serious sense of deja vu: “One of the most amazing coincidences is that I discovered the book, The Alchemist, on that journey.” The beloved Paulo Coelho novel about finding oneself and following one’s heart and its famous line, “When you want something, all the Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,” echoed a powerful parallel.
Their adventure took them around India for a month, then spontaneously off to Sri Lanka for the next, as Talisman’s birthday wish was to attend one of their massive festivals. The odds of achieving this goal, however, seemed bleak, with no money or connections in the area. Despite this, they hopped a plane, and found themselves stranded in the airport without a plan. As luck would have it, Michael’s boyfriend met a woman at the airport who was not only going to the festival, but also happened to be friends with the person in charge of volunteers. “We ended up driving eight hours across the entire island of Sri Lanka to get to the festival.” Even then, their ticket inside was not guaranteed. Ultimately the couple’s efforts paid off, and they received volunteer positions manning a pizza shop, in a building that was shared with an additional business.
“So I’m working and I hear an American accent and I’m like, ‘What? Wait a minute – an American accent – in Sri Lanka?’ I see this blonde (classic-California-looking babe, who turns out to be from Ohio), who turned out to be a volunteer in the same building at a humanitarian organization.” Compelled, as soon as the festival concluded, they decided to volunteer there.
“We all have so much potential, and some of us don’t truly understand our power. That’s what this is all about.”
The foundation, Stop Staring – Start Caring, was run by an all-volunteer staff. “This organization was set up to serve around 90 people with mental illnesses and disabilities.” There was no hot water and barely any food. “The first day I was there, I couldn’t help at all because I couldn’t stop crying…due to what I saw. There was a kid whose parents had kept him in a box for thirteen years, and all he did was bang his head against the box. A very small baby that couldn’t eat because it was so sick. I could only volunteer there for two weeks, before we had to leave. This was the most life-changing experience I had throughout my travels. It taught me so many lessons about patience and understanding. How the Universe works in a way that, by letting things flow, it will work things out for you when you operate with love.” Seeing how privileged we are as Americans truly changed my outlook on my own life, and made me realize that I (and so many other people) have everything we need to make the life we want and to find happiness.
Once he saw the other side of the world, traveling was all he could think about. “I realized, ‘I can do this! I can travel all by myself!’” So he looked up a volunteer organization someone had mentioned to him during his travels, called Worldpackers. “While I’d planned to travel for four months, I ended up going to different places volunteering for four years!”
In the end, he traveled to 18 countries, almost all of Europe, some of Africa and Sri Lanka.
Reflecting on his journey, Michael notes how he always seems to find himself consistently in the right place, at the right time. “When you go with your heart, incredible things happen.” And leading with his heart is what he has continued to do.
“I decided to start my own business because I didn’t see what I know our community needs, which is authentic representation of Black and LGBTQIA+ artists and entrepreneurs on a large platform.”
Back in the states, Michael had grown frustrated by the lack of media coverage his community receives, in terms of diversity/breadth of topics of conversation. “If I want to find black and gay news that deals with our community, it’s very hard. My goal is to change the way that we are portrayed in the media. For you to see a black, gay person on TV in an authentic way, and not reduce them to common stereotypes. This is what I’m trying to change and I’m starting with my website.
Michael’s mission is to promote black LGBTQIA+ creatives and entrepreneurs. To offer a space to chat, connect, and collaborate that is their own. BLACK&GAY is all about a safe place to meet new people, connect & collaborate with creatives and entrepreneurs, promote & sponsor opportunities for Black LGBTQIA+ businesses, artists, host fundraising events, and distribute relevant news, entertainment, education, health and wellness resources to their members.
The platform aims to be a rainbow bringing love and light to every community it touches.
Michael is currently planning to build a non-profit organization, combining his social networking platform with an international profit sharing marketplace, and is currently looking to buy land and create a sustainable, self-sufficient eco-village in Cave Junction, Oregon.
“I hope the platform and the products make the customers and the artists who create them feel proud of themselves, and our heritage. For them to feel successful and worthy of being seen and praised. I only just started this business in January, and already it’s grown exponentially because I think it’s so needed. It’s a beautiful thing. I believe people see the heart behind it and that I’m trying to do something amazing that will hopefully change the world, one brick at a time.”
Pictured: BLACK&GAY founder Michael Myers
Who inspires you?
I’m a musician in my spare time and am inspired by music and musicians who use their platform to bring awareness to social and economic issues. My biggest heroes are: Erykah Badu, RuPaul, Lil Nas X.
Any products or initiatives in the works that you’d like to share?
We update our collections monthly. BLACK&GAY is also currently accepting sponsorships and partnerships to help further our mission.
What does “Pride” mean to you?
Pride to me, is to give love, honesty, and respect to who you are. My proudest moments are when two people connect and you can see fire in their eyes from inspiration. I love bringing people together for moments like this.
What do you feel are the qualities that make a good ally?
1.) Always try to help authentically and honestly without bias or self-gratification
2.) Be loyal, honest, and always speak from the heart.
3.) Encourage and support everyone in their endeavors.
4.) Genuinely care and take the time to read an article or listen to someone speak.
What’s the best advice you ever received and your secret to staying focused on your dreams when encountering obstacles?
The awareness I received from the practice of Vipassana. It’s taught me that stillness is key to happiness and seeing the beauty of the world.
My secret is realizing that this isn’t about me at all. That what I‘m doing is for the world.
Describe your signature style.
If people are complaining, I’m the person that goes, “Well how can we change that? When you’re just about to give up… that moment is when you push yourself and something magical happens.”