Guiding the LGBTQ+ Community Through Coming Out with Co-Founder and CEO of Worthy Mentoring Michael Edmonson

Michael Edmonson is the co-founder and CEO of Worthy Mentoring, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that connects mentors and mentees in the LGBTQ+ Community through a mobile iOS and Android App. The Worthy Mentoring App offers a safe platform for our community to seek personal guidance, professional advice, support, and friendship.

When Michael came out to himself around the age of 21, he found the courage to tell his close friends and family because he knew they would be accepting and loving. But at college age, living in Louisiana, he didn’t know what to do after that first step. Dating for the first time, trying to make close friends as a gay man, and figuring out how to navigate the online queer space safely were all challenging and new experiences for him. He realized he needed mentorship, but he didn’t know where to find it. This was the impetus for the non-profit he started, Worthy Mentoring. He knew that it would be a successful venture from the beginning because he knew how badly it was needed and how much the queer community wanted to help. The feedback Michael got right away from new users to the mentor platform was all the validation he needed.

“Ok, I did it. I accepted myself, I’ve told a couple friends, I’ve started to tell those closest to me and my family . . . now what?”

Even though Michael knew he had an accepting family and friend group when he came out, the big challenge was coming out to himself. Because he had been raised with an open mindset of acceptance and love, it gave him the courage to be honest with himself and reach out to others who were interested in making safe spaces for queer folk. This served him well when he got to D.C. and found opportunities to connect with successful organizers of communities that he wanted to model his mentorship platform after. He found like-minded bosses to work for, companies to learn from, and eventually the courage to start his own non-profit after seeing how hard the pandemic hit the queer community during social isolation.

“So many queer individuals want to give back because they know what it feels like to have no one.”

Worthy Mentoring is focused on bringing support and community to the coming out journey. It’s about bringing friendship, guidance and support to those who are struggling to come out. The biggest thing that they help with is coming out and being out. It’s one thing to be living in a progressive, diverse, queer hub like LA, SF, or DC. But it’s another to be living in a small town or city that has only known you as a straight person. Worthy Mentoring’s app lets people sign up for being either a mentor or mentee. Each mentor is vetted and verified with a background check before being posted on the platform so that mentees can search for a potential mentor that fits their own specific lifestyle, professional or cultural profile. There aren’t photos, imagery, or anything in the matching process that makes it feel like a dating app. Instead, the focus is on connecting with whatever level of anonymity someone needs to feel comfortable receiving mentorship.

As the reported size of the LGBTQ+ community grows, the need for acceptance, love, and the knowledge that closeted queer people aren’t alone are growing as well. Because of the ability through apps to express yourself without permission, the awareness of the LGBTQ+ community is expanding, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to out yourself or know what to do next. The hyper sexualization and social culture of the queer community doesn’t make it feel safe or accessible to many people who are looking to come out and not dive into those identities at the same time. The focus on companionship for many other queer apps is different than what Worthy Mentoring is offering. Instead, when searching for a mentor, a mentee can look at a person’s background and base their compatibility from a place of experience rather than appearance.

One of the biggest learning curves for Michael and the team at Worthy has been learning the importance of language and inclusivity in every part of the app design. As a cisgender male, it hadn’t occurred to Michael how asking someone’s name during a profile sign up process can be a challenging question if someone has recently transitioned gender. As the team is getting feedback from their community and advisors from consulting accelerators, they are learning that it’s not about making an app the most beautiful or engaging, but about making it the most helpful to their target users. They are also learning how to work with corporate partners who are genuinely interested in doing more to serve their LGBTQ+ community members. By offering the Worthy app as a health and wellness benefit, a corporation can provide an effective tool for the whole family of an employee. Whether those families use it for their children, spouses, or extended family, it is being seen as a valuable resource for corporations to meet a need that is already being asked for.

“I want people to say, ‘I’m struggling to come out and Worthy Mentoring is the place for me to find that authentic mentorship.’”

Key Questions and Takeaways:

What the queer community needs support with after coming out

Why mentoring rather than just friendship is needed for LGBTQ+ folks

What kinds of input are essential for a truly inclusive app experience



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Episode Transcript:

Michael (00:00:03):

When I came out, I was like, okay, I did it. Like I accepted myself. I've told a couple friends I've started to tell those who are closest to me and my family now what <laugh>. And I was like, oh gosh, I, I don't know. I, I don't know what safe spaces exist for me. I don't, I've never been on a date before. I had so many questions.

Mike (00:00:25):

Welcome to Cause and Purpose startup edition, the show about the leaders, innovators and change agents working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. I'm Mike Spear and today's guest is the co-founder and CEO of Worthy Mentoring Michael Edmondson. Worthy mentoring is the product of firsthand experience and lots of observation and collaboration and seeks to support LGBTQ plus students and adults as they navigate the complex and often difficult experience of coming out as to friends, family, and colleagues. This innovative program matches individuals with mentors of similar backgrounds, situations, careers, and interest to maximize the depth of the mentor, mentee relationships. I really enjoyed getting to know Michael and learning about the journey he took founding worthy mentor to talk about ups and downs, successes, failures, and lessons learned along the way as he and his team designed their application and started bringing it to market. Michael, thanks so much for joining the podcast. I excited to talk to you.

Michael (00:01:21):

Thank you very much.

Mike (00:01:22):

Tell me a bit about, you know, growing up what family life was like and, uh, you know, your own, your own coming out journey.

Michael (00:01:29):

No, of course. And no, I'm, I'm really grateful for the opportunity to talk a little bit about both my journey and this nonprofit adventure. Uh, I would call it, but I'm originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Uh, I currently live in Washington DC, but my whole upbringing was in the deep south. And I grew up in a, a pretty religious, pretty conservative, uh, military family. And, you know, growing up, I knew my family was incredibly open minded, you know, had been very traveled worldly, but being in that environment and, and being in a deeply religious community, uh, starting to realize that you are gay and you're and, and you're part of that community is, um, it's very challenging and it's very tough. Um, and as you can imagine, trying to figure out who you can confide in, where you can go to ask questions safely and, and, and find your own mentors is a, is a really, really difficult process.

Michael (00:02:23):

But look, I finally was able to, uh, come out to myself when I was about the age of 21. So towards the end of college, and when I did it, it, it was a very interesting experience for me because I had navigated so many internal conversations and, and, and so much turmoil internally that when I came out, I was like, okay, I did it. Like I accepted myself. I've told a couple friends I've started to tell those who are closest to me and my family now what <laugh>. And I was like, oh gosh, I, I don't know. I, I don't know what safe spaces exist for me. I don't, I've never been on a date before I had so many questions. I'm still going to classes. I, I don't know if it's really safe for me to be out on campus or really express myself in that way.

Michael (00:03:12):

And I, I was just really lost and really torn. And then I started getting flooded with messages from people, because the reality for the space is you don't really own your story once you come out, you know, because of, because of the digital landscape and the fact that the avenues you have to go to, to find other friends, to, to find others like you, the digital landscape forces you to be in a setting to out yourself, right? So if I wanted to find other friends or the sense of community, I've got companionship apps, I've got social media. And because of that, you, you have to out yourself. And so what I quick quickly realized was so many other people were struggling with this in Louisiana. And I was flooded with messages, uh, on Facebook and other platforms, just asking me simple, simple questions. You know, how do you come out? Is it safe to be on campus? It's safe to come out to my family. And it just really prompted me to begin this journey for, for the nonprofit,

Mike (00:04:07):

What are some of the, the pitfalls that people sort of experience online with the resources that are out there?

Michael (00:04:12):

Like anything else the digital landscape can provide you with some really, really great options to find community, to find network, to find friends, but when you're joining platforms that weren't designed for genuine, pure mentorship and authentic friendships at its core, you're sometimes put in predatory and toxic situation. You know, the reality for the community is that when we're coming out, the place that we know, and I, and I was talking to someone else recently about this, the place that we know, especially for those communities where there aren't very many social outlets. There aren't very many, you know, there isn't a, a resource center there isn't this place that, you know, you can go to, we know that I can go find others like me in dating apps. Am I going to dating apps with the purpose of dating someone? No, of course I'm not I'm going because I go, oh my gosh, for the first time I have a community.

Michael (00:05:10):

And as strange as that may sound to someone to utilize those platforms, that's all that exists. I, I mean, you know, outside of social media, but for so many in the space, we've built up a social media presence as a closeted individual. And so we really can't even use social media as a place to go find other, other folks because we're outing ourselves again. And then we're opening ourselves up to, you know, potential herd and, and potential negativity that could come, come along that way. So we go to companionship apps and we go to dating apps to find friends. And, you know, the, again, it's not that these platforms are negative at their core because of course they're not, they, they bring people together and they start some incredibly lasting relationships, but they aren't designed to provide you with a mentor and someone to guide you and someone to ask you questions. And, and that's really the problem. And again, that's, that's a lot of the motivation behind our nonprofit.

Mike (00:06:07):

What was one of the first sort of turning points or indicators that you saw that, that made you think it was gonna be successful?

Michael (00:06:13):

Being in the startup world? It's tough. And so, as you get started, as you are growing an organization, you know, you certainly have your setbacks and, and things that you, you know, need to address and fix and improve. But I think from the beginning, we just got so much great feedback and testimonials from both mentees and mentors, just loving this. And, you know, when an individual on the platform signs up as a mentor, and then we can go a little bit into it. And I know we will about how the app works, of course, but when an individual signs up as a mentor on the platform, they have to answer a short questionnaire and we have additional vetting and verification that we do. But the, the, you know, one of the main questions of course is why do you wanna be a mentor? Why are you signing up?

Michael (00:07:03):

And I, I mean, I can tell you, everyone says basically the same thing. They want to be that person that they needed. They wanna be the person that they wish they could have had when they were coming out. And when you're reading all of this and, you know, even as we're getting started and we're dealing with hundreds of individuals right now in our community with, you know, a, a set plan to really expand this in the coming months. But when we're looking at the hundreds of individuals who are currently on the app, it's pretty identical. Everyone really just wants to be that person that they never had. And they wanna give back in that genuine, authentic capacity.

Mike (00:07:38):

Talk to me about your, you know, your parents and siblings and what they were, you know, were like growing up and, you know, some of those values they instilled in you that led you to become entrepreneurial and feel safe in this environment and opening up.

Michael (00:07:49):

I'm very blessed. I had an incredibly supportive and motivational family that gave me the opportunities to pursue, you know, things that I was passionate about from studying abroad, to, you know, being involved in sports and athletics and, and all sorts of avenues. And of course my education, I mean, they, they were really great. And I'll give you some context because I think this is important. My mom's from new Orleans and, you know, growing up, I constantly heard stories about her friend groups and her community and my mom, uh, her best friends in new Orleans were part of the community and the stories that she has and the memories that they shared together during a very tumultuous time, you know, and, and I, I, I'm very aware and of, of our history, um, do you know, the, the pandemic that, that we faced as, as individuals with the aids crisis.

Michael (00:08:42):

And so she had so many incredible stories, memories, friends that she's lost, uh, due to that crisis. And so I knew that coming out to her was going to be okay, but that still didn't make it any less difficult to come out to myself. And, you know, I, I say that because I think when people come out sometimes and whether it's your own friends or your own family, and you kind of shrug it off in a sense and say, well, of course you knew I was gonna be okay with it. Like, those are my friends. And, and I have friends who are and I love you. And like, nothing's gonna change. And you kind of shrug it off, take a quick moment to understand that your friend, your son, your daughter also just came out to themselves. And that was really <affirmative>. And that was really, really hard because we have so much just internalized turmoil from growing up and having teachers say things that, that were very derogative, having friends, community of religious leaders.

Michael (00:09:50):

I mean, gosh, I could go on and on about that. And we certainly shouldn't do that on this, but just take a moment and appreciate that. And, and, and if, if, you know, if that's, if you're able to that that individuals came out to themselves, cuz I do think that even in the most accepting families and friend groups, we forget that and how hard that is, mom. I knew it was gonna be great. Uh, my dad was the head of the state police. So we had a very interesting upbringing. He was, you know, constantly involved, uh, in all of that. But you know, the, the biggest thing that I will say about my dad that has always been a sense of inspiration for me is he is one of the most selfless and open-minded people that I have that I've ever encountered in. I credit a lot of that side of my life to him and to both of my parents, you know, but as he was a very, he was a public servant, um, you know, as, as the head of the state police and I mean, he was just so selfless and he was just so invested in getting to know the community, others who weren't like him, others who had struggles that were nowhere near his and, and different families, different communities, different neighborhoods.

Michael (00:11:03):

And that was always a big part of his life, um, is giving back and really understanding the struggles of, you know, again, those who are like you and those who are not. So I really grew up with that understanding that I was in a very open minded family who, you know, just because we may feel one way about something, we are constantly constantly aware and open-minded to the facts that we could change our thoughts and we could change our perceptions. And that was something that I, um, I really took to heart as a kid.

Mike (00:11:38):

Tell me a little bit about, you know, the career journey and you know, what you did before starting the app.

Michael (00:11:42):

I graduated from college. I had just came out, um, as a gay man, I'm told my friends, told my family, I'm moving to LA, I'm doing it. Moving to LA. I'm gonna be in media. I'm gonna find friends. I'm gonna find that sense of community. I'm moving to Hollywood. I'm gonna do California media get involved in all of that. I secured an entry level job with CBS, you know, just outta college. And so I was like, I'm gonna go be gay. I'm gonna go live my life. I'm gonna make so many friends. I'm gonna be, you know, eventually successful in media. I wasn't ready for that. I wasn't ready for Los Angeles. And I think folks who know that area know that region, understand what I mean when I say that and I wasn't ready to be gay that yet. So after a year in LA, I, I packed up and begrudgingly went home, started law school. The other students were great. The schooling was great. Teachers were fantastic, but I immediately realized after week one, I was like, absolutely not. I cannot be here. I cannot be my authentic self in Louisiana. I can't grow into who I know I need to be in this small town. And so I packed up, had an opportunity in DC and just took it. And so then I eventually ended up in DC and saying that all out loud, I'm like, gosh, it's been a journey, but it it's, it's really been great.

Mike (00:13:11):

Uh, what was the first job in DC?

Michael (00:13:13):

First job in DC, I worked for an event production company, the individual's names, Phillip du for, uh, the companies due for collaborative, unbelievable opportunities that I was provided because of that just events with former white house leaders events with former secretaries of state and, and really just global leaders. I was all of a sudden at these events and part of the logistics and, and part of the, you know, run of show and, and all of that for some of the honestly global gatherings happening here in DC. And it was incredible, you know, and I, I continue to be really close to that organization and the leaders there, uh, because that was just such a cool experience. The beautiful thing about my first job there was how it got started. And Phillip, uh, the individual who owns that firm, uh, he's from Louisiana and he's also a gay man and he is best friends with my former boss in Louisiana at a running store.

Michael (00:14:13):

And so the individual at the running store, um, you know, UN when I came out, you know, was like, you should, you should talk to Phillip. You know, Phillip gets it, he's from Louisiana. He got, you know, he got opportunities out of here. He's grown a life, he's got a partner, he's got a family and you should just talk to him and basically say where you're at and, and, and all of that. And so I did, and, and that's when Phillip was like, just come up here, he's like, just come up here. We've got opportunities. I think you're gonna thrive. I certainly did. And would love to sort of take you under my wing. So the interesting thing about the event space is that you've got the individuals who do a lot of the fundraising and the cultivation, uh, for these events to make sure that they're a really successful fundraiser.

Michael (00:14:56):

And then you have the event producer. And so when I was working for Philip, we were doing the event production side, making it just a wildly successful event from, you know, the entertainment to the logistics, to the guest experience. Um, and then as I was part of those events, I realized that there was a whole other side of it, which was getting the right people in the room, um, making it a successful fundraiser and making it have a sincere impact on the nonprofits and the organizations that it was benefiting. And there was a whole other team that focused on that, and it was, uh, you know, philanthropic, uh, consulting. And so I got connected to, uh, Steve whisk, um, which is the job that I've had for, you know, gosh, the past over five years now. And that has been such an incredible experience because being a part of a philanthropic consulting firm, you immediately get to the heart of these globally impactful nonprofits.

Michael (00:15:58):

And so you, you know, we've been involved with groups such as special Olympics, Morehouse college, uh, the us Olympic and Paralympic committee earth day network, a, a variety of, of organizations and a variety of, of causes incredibly important causes. And you immediately get at the mission and you go, okay to keep this sustainable work and mission and impact, and, uh, the global community and difference that these, these organizations are making, it requires resources, you know, and, and, and nonprofits, you know, which I, I am a part of and I've created myself because of that experience. But, you know, the lifeblood of nonprofits are stakeholders. You know, the individuals who invest in the mission from corporations to foundations, to, to individuals themselves. And it's a lot of development work to make sure that you are listening to those stakeholders, that you're cultivating them appropriately, and you're working with them because again, they're the, they're the lifeblood. So I've been working as a, um, nonprofit, philanthropic consultant, uh, with, with Steve whiner for the past five years,

Mike (00:17:03):

What was the moment or, or the process like, you know, to go from, you know, all these things that you've been very busy with to wanting to create a new organization.

Michael (00:17:12):

It's really, really hard being and coming out as. And we live in a society today that it's becoming increasingly easier, but I mean, look, you look at Florida, you look at some of the legislation that's happening in local neighborhoods all over, both the north and the south recently. And I, I just was looking at an article, um, that a lot of public school teachers can no longer have stickers that say, you know, they're a supportive ally or everyone's welcome. And, and that's happening both on the local and national level. And we're seeing the impacts of that, you know, hearing all of that, thinking about my own story, thinking about how much, how many individuals reached out to me, it all hit me pretty hard during the pandemic. And, you know, every single day during the pandemic, you kind of have to talk to yourself a lot more than you want to, cuz you're not seeing your friends.

Michael (00:18:06):

You don't have those social outlets. So you're kind of stuck with yourself and your roommates, um, and, and your, your significant other, but you, you didn't have those social outlets. So again, it was like your thoughts kind of could eat away at you at times. And we saw the effects on that on a mental health standpoint. And we can certainly talk about that, um, later, but for me, I just kept waking up and going this, this needs to be addressed. And if I don't take some time and, and, and do the due diligence to try to make this nonprofit successful, it's never going to be this, isn't an afterschool project. This isn't, you know, something that can just fall to the wayside because it needs to happen. And so for me, again, I just kept waking up. I was just, just conflicted with that thought. And, you know, finally I took a courage pill and I went to my, you know, my former boss, Steve, and I said, Hey, you've been in this world for so long. You've gotten nonprofit started, you have been in the, you know, the, the nonprofit space, uh, for your entire career. And I wanna do this. And he said, you absolutely should. And he said, I think that's incredibly smart and I wanna help you. And so it's been a, a wild ride since then,

Mike (00:19:22):

Give us a story. What is worthy mentoring and how did you go from zero to one? What was that? What was that development and launch process like?

Michael (00:19:28):

It has been an experience. It's been a lot of growth on a personal level, on a professional level, but all of this started, you know, as I said, from my coming out experience and going, this needs to exist. And a few years ago I, you know, put pen to paper and I said, okay, here's a name I have for it. Here's how I think it's gonna work. Here's how I think it's gonna connect people who are our competitors. And I started, you know, getting some legal individuals involved to figure out copywriting and all that stuff. And in that moment, you know, living in DC and just having a really strong sense of community, um, I had a buddy reach out to me and say, Hey, there's two other individuals on social media who have this same concept. And they really started to frame out a nonprofit and their names were Rex Woodbury and spear and social media entrepreneurs themselves, and, and really, really heavily involved in community and activism.

Michael (00:20:22):

Um, and so many things in the space and beyond, and they had a website, um, you know, worthy mentoring is what they were calling it. And they're still trying to, to, um, flesh out a name. And I reached out to 'em and I said, Hey, um, I love what you're doing. I've had this, this idea. And I have some, some thoughts on how to really take off. Like, I, I love where we've started and I wanna, like, I want to just get so heavily involved in this, because I think you're starting to frame 'em out an organization that's gonna be wildly successful. And they have half a million followers combined on social media. So I was like, okay, well, how do you get to these individuals? And so something in my mind just went, okay. The blog that they have is probably connected to their Gmail.

Michael (00:21:08):

And I was like, so if I send a message on their blog, it's gonna go to their Gmail and say, you have a message. So the blogs have like a contact us. So I did the generic contact us and they responded and they said, awesome. Let's hop on the phone literally this week. So hopped on the phone. And the, you know, the rest was really history. You know, we got involved, they were doing matching, um, through, you know, a web-based, uh, interface for mentors and mentees. And I got involved and I said, I love this. Um, but I wanna make it a mobile app. I think that's where we can meet people where they are. I think that's what people are looking for. And I really wanna focus on that. And so we brought in a team of, of developers in Brazil who really, really have been fantastic.

Michael (00:21:51):

Uh, they're S Informatica, and they've been working with us for the past few years, um, share our mission, share our vision. Uh, and they've just been wonderful and Rex and Nina, and I got together and we said, Hey, what, what makes sense for the future? And I said, Hey, I, I really wanna drive this. I wanna be CEO. I wanna drive forward with this. And they said, go for it. Let's advise you on the side. Let's continue to be partners in this venture, but we are gonna take a more, more advisory role right now and, and let you, because I, I don't know, you know, I just kept going to them and being like, Hey, I love what we're doing, but like, I am ready to drive this car. Like I'm really, really ready to, to get in the driver's seat. And yeah, they said absolutely shared vision, shared, you know, ideas and, and dream.

Michael (00:22:38):

And that's kinda how we all, uh, got started there. We are bringing support and community to the coming out journey. You know, worthy mentoring is about bringing friendship, guidance, and support to those struggling with coming out at its core. That is exactly what we do. And, and that's our purpose, Wey mentoring. We're a, a 5 0 1 C three nonprofit that connects LGBTQ plus mentees and mentors. Um, for mentorship. The biggest thing that we do is is we help those come out and we help those be out. And I wanna focus on that for a second, because I think it's important that so many individuals, whenever you come out, you move to a progressive city. I live in DC. It is a bubble. I mean, it is very much a bubble. You move to a very progressive hub. You forget that the coming out experience is really lifelong.

Michael (00:23:31):

You start a new job. You have to come out, you've got a new friend. You have to come out. Your parents have a new friend, you gotta lunch with them. You gotta come out. You move to a new neighborhood. You have to come out again. You know, your NA your, your neighbor in the apartment across from you is talking to you and, oh, Hey, like, how's it going? You have to come out to them, you know, once you become good friends. And so what we do at worthy mentoring is no matter where you are in your journey, no matter how comfortable you are being anonymous, being public, and truly living in that authentic life, you're able to get connected in a safe and secure space, to a verified and vetted mentor who is just like you, you're able to talk to a mentor based upon criteria.

Michael (00:24:12):

That's important to you. So through our platform, again, like, as I said, you sign up as either a mentor or mentee. Our mentors go through an application process. There's verification, there's vetting. And then we do a background check. We're really clear what we're searching for in a background check. We're, we're very, very transparent, um, through that process. And then mentees are able to filter through our vetted and verified mentors for the exact person they're looking for. They can filter by location, uh, by age range, by gender identity, by sexual orientation, by ethnicity, by profession, by religion. Um, you know, two of the biggest topics are athletics and military. And so all of a sudden for the first time, you're able, as someone struggling to walk into a space and go, okay, I don't have to out myself. I can be anonymous, but also I'm religious and gay.

Michael (00:25:05):

I wanna talk to someone else who is, I am looking to be an attorney and I'm lesbian. I live in Texas guarantee. There are thousands of others who are in that same position, who struggled with the same things who are lesbian attorneys, and really wanna give back to you. And so for the first time, we are making that process easy, seamless, and putting you in front of that person who has been in your shoes. So you can just immediately start talking to someone, no judgment, no stigma. You do not have to out yourself. There's no photos, there's no imagery. There's no components that make this feel like a dating app or any sort of platform designed to design with how attractive you are, because I think that would really get in the way. Um, but for the first time through a digital platform, you're able to find someone just like you and just have that open conversation to grow as a individual.

Mike (00:25:57):

And, and to be clear, this is primarily a mobile app, right? Yes. How accessible is it for folks?

Michael (00:26:01):

The app's called worthy mentoring. It's available in the, uh, and for all us iOS and Android devices, we're just in the us right now. And primarily focusing on how to leverage verification and background checks globally. Um, and so that's a big priority focus for us, but right now we haven't figured out in the us, and we're really making some change from that perspective. But you wanna download the app, you search worthy mentoring in your, your app store, and it presents you with exactly what to do. If you're curious about getting connected to a mentor, or if, uh, you wanna be a mentor,

Mike (00:26:31):

You know, with any community, I think being clear on what it's not is as important as what it is, what are those guard rails and why did you choose those boundaries

Michael (00:26:42):

More and more individuals in the United States are self identifying as LGBTQ plus right now, you know, from a recent Gallup study, 18 and a half million us adults, 18 and a half million us adults identifies LGBTQ plus 7.1% of the total adult population. And that is up almost two percentage points from, uh, the year before, which is unbelievable. And that's a 20, 22 statistic. And so you kind of take a look at that and you go, wow, that is an incredibly large number. I'm like, okay, well, what does that mean? Let's look at the landscape. And as someone who came out as an adult and as someone who's really, most of my entire community came out over the age of 18, you go, okay, well, what exists for us? And the reality is it's daunting and there aren't many, and there's this weird misconception that adults magically have.

Michael (00:27:39):

It figured out and adults magically have it figured out when they're trying to accept themselves and come out and struggle through all of that. Because you look at so many organizations that exist from, from mentorship platforms and, and, and other, uh, entities. And it's really heavily focused on LGBTQ youth, incredibly important. I am so happy that we have organizations invested in that, um, both from a crisis prevention standpoint, but also from, um, just a growth standpoint, helping youth. But if you were to type in right now, you know, adult mentorship, very little exists, it's, it's in program, it's brick and mortar. You know, it's not very intuitive. It's not very engaging. What you're gonna get are dating apps. Um, you're gonna get things that present themselves as being something that's not a dating app, but they are dating apps. I can tell you from experience that they're all dating apps, but there's a lot in the youth space.

Michael (00:28:32):

And, you know, and, and there are some leading organizations that are focusing heavily on the youth space space from the Trevor project, um, center link, you know, other organizations that are really, really focused on youth, but not adults. And I think, again, I think there's this weird misconception as adults that we magically have it figured out, and we don't. And what happens is we go, okay, I'm, I'm. And now the options are dating apps, crisis intervention, or pack up all my stuff and move to a progressive city. And, you know, I was blessed to be able to do that. I am a different human being because I was able to pack up all my stuff and, and move to DC. That's a privilege. And I'm very comfortable saying that, that I was privileged in, in my life to be able to pack my things up and move to DC. And many people can't do that. And it just it's, it's entirely, I guess I'll say unfair that we don't offer a more supportive digital space for those who live in rural areas to connect to someone and find that sense of community outside of crisis intervention or, or dating apps.

Mike (00:29:41):

There's 2% more LGBTQ folks in the U.S.

Michael (00:29:44):

Rough, roughly, roughly, yeah.

Mike (00:29:46):

Than there were. That population didn't grow by 2% magically overnight. <laugh> like, what, what do you think has changed so the reporting's different?

Michael (00:29:53):

Gallup, uh, like a few years ago changed just how they were grouping that, you know, a microcosm of, of the population. And I think that all of a sudden people are like, oh, okay, hold on. I am. I cuz I do identify in this area. So I think we saw, um, some increases from that perspective, but I think here's the biggest thing. We are seeing more individuals like us right now through social media. I mean TikTok and with gen Z. I mean the biggest sort of uplifting factor for this percentage is gen Z. I mean gen Z right now, one in five members of gen Z, according to a Gallup study as of 2021 self identifies LGBTQ one in five. Now what does that mean from an actual perspective? We're unpacking that are they gender fluid? Does that mean they're, they're gay, lesbian, bisexual?

Michael (00:30:43):

Are they, you know, questioning? Are they non, you know, non-binary all of these things, we're, we're unpacking that. Right. But presenting it as a, as a question that says high, you know, gen Z adults, you know, roughly, you know, 18 to, I think like 23 is gen Z, uh, adults, gen Z adults, you know, do you identify as one in five, which is just like a, a, a crazy statistic. I mean, that's, that's crazy. And, and I think a lot of it has to do again with the fact that through TikTok, through some of this, these cutting edge, social media platforms, they're seeing people for the first time who look like them and you're going, okay, well, hold on. I, I can, I can, I can be myself. Like I've, I've wanted to do that. I've wanted to be more gender fluid. I've I've wanted to, you know, I don't feel like he, him pronouns fit me.

Michael (00:31:34):

I don't feel like I fit in this box. I've never felt like I fit in this box and this person's not fitting in the box and people are showing them love and they're showing them acceptance. And that is me, you know? And here's the caveat. We're still not helping them come out, but we are showing them that it is okay to be out. And now how do we help them get to that stage? And that's what worthy mentoring does because you shouldn't need to try to connect to that social media influencer in a one-on-one way, because it's not gonna happen. And you shouldn't have to use TikTok to try to find others, to tell you to answer your questions that can provide you acceptance and love and genuine relief, knowing that you're not alone. And then you go to wordy mentoring and say, okay, I wanna talk to someone else who also feels this way, who also is committed to me. And also is non-binary, who's also gender fluid who is also in general, who lives in Texas, who blah, blah, blah. And that's the space that you can really sort of come into yourself

Mike (00:32:29):

As much or so it's sort of a way to combat, I guess, what they're doing, uh, in, in having apps like this, including TikTok, as you mentioned, where people can just sort of express themselves without permission, you know, without, without the need to, to seek approval of entrenched powers.

Michael (00:32:44):

Here's what I also say to folks too, your affinity groups, your slack channels that are, you know, part of your pride networks, your virtual gatherings, your, you know, all of these entities, your resource centers on campuses, all of these organizations that exist. Here's where they miss the mark. You have to out yourself. And it, it takes saying that out loud for it to really like make sense, right? So all of these, these entities that exist a lot of times, what you're hearing are people who are already talking, talking louder. And that doesn't mean they're not doing incredible work because they are, they are showing representation. They're showing that you're welcome at this organization. They're showing that they're committed to you being, you know, living authentically and, and living a happier life. But for those struggling that maybe in a heterosexual relationship and know that they're and they need to figure out how do I respectfully live my authenticity by respecting my current partner.

Michael (00:33:42):

And that is a very much a reality for the community, especially those who grew up in areas where they could not be gay, you know, marrying into a heterosexual relationship. How do I anonymously navigate this in a way that doesn't involve me, Google searching endlessly, you know, getting on these, know this, these forums to try to talk to people or trying to find someone on social media or dating apps. And that's, that's where we really are unique. You don't have to out yourself, you can be anonymous as a mentee. Um, but you're gonna get connected to someone who is, is legitimately there for you for, for all the right reasons,

Mike (00:34:16):

Every other online forum and app that is out there with an identity. I haven't seen one yet that just has no images. Talk to me about, you know, that policy and, and, uh, what it means for worthy

Michael (00:34:29):

Your options are dating apps, right? You know, you're really, really focused on that or Christ intervention and in the community, when you're really figuring all these things out, you kind of get pushed into quite often party scenes, social scenes, you know, areas that are hypersexualized and just super dense with, with that at its core. And you know, this is a very difficult topic and this is something that's, that's difficult to talk about is on this podcast, but also difficult to talk about within our community as well. We are a very, very hyper sexualized and, and, and, and social focused community. And that is because of a lot of things psychologically that's because of a stunted growth that's because we really don't get to live out our college years until after college. We don't really get to, many of us are not dating and figuring out our social and romantic lives until many years after college, because we never got to do that.

Michael (00:35:28):

And so for all of our heterosexual counterparts who were figuring themselves out in, you know, junior high in high school, going on dates, figuring out what they wanted in a partner, what they didn't want in a partner, we never got to do any of that. And so when you are coming out, you're surrounded with so many people who have been stunted in that growth that you're in a community. That's again, just, just hyper in all of those senses. And so it's very, very, very easy for platforms to immediately turn to how attractive you are, how, you know, interesting from that perspective and, and, and to, to quickly devolve into a companionship app or a dating app. And because of all of those features, because again, we've been so stunted in that growth that when we enter these communities, it's easier for, to fall into that pit trap.

Mike (00:36:19):

I think, you know, also a tied up in that I would assume is, is, you know, what you'd alluded to previously with, you know, the idea of needing an anonymous space, you know, if you might be in a compromised position or have, uh, we'll, we'll call it stakeholders in your life that may, you know, have opinions or whatever, but protecting somebody's identity on that level to make it comfortable to connect with somebody else without having to put their photo up there. I think, you know, in this case, I'm sure leads to some safer conversations.

Michael (00:36:45):

This is the thought process going into the app of like, okay, we live in this sort of community. We've, we, it's very easy for us to be in, you know, to sort of take things and make them more companionship, dating app romantical based. So, you know, we got together as a team and we said, okay, how do we make sure that we keep the mentorship, the actual, genuine, authentic friendship at the core? And we said, well, make people read about the other person. They're not gonna find a mentor based upon the fact that they think they're attractive. They're not gonna match with someone simply because they think they're good looking, they're gonna have to read about them. And they're gonna have to read about the mentor and say, here's our profile. Sure. We can do bit emojis. We're not there yet. Um, I don't think we, we may not necessarily ever be there.

Michael (00:37:28):

Um, but mentees click a profile that pops up based upon what they've searched for. And then they have to read about the person and their background, why they signed up, what they wanna give back to their mentee. And it, it causes you to really invest yourself and say, okay, this is a really good fit. They're also in the military, they're also religious. They have that background. Here's why they signed up. Like, this is perfect for me. Like, this is the type of person that's gonna get me and understand me, and that's gonna be the core of our mentorship and keeping it at that. And when we, you know, did, did our initial testing with, um, not having profiles, not being able to send images, um, people really loved it. And, you know, asking, you know, for feedback on that front, people said, you know, it kept the purpose of this at the core, the purpose of this was simply to help me and it never deviated from that. And that's what they really liked about it.

Mike (00:38:22):

How different, or, or close to the initial concept is today's version of worthy mentoring. Uh, and what were some of those learnings along the way that sort of guided how you created the application?

Michael (00:38:35):

No, this is great. And that this is a really interesting discussion because first and foremost, like setting the stage, I am a white cisgender gay man. My experiences as a individual come from my experiences as a white cisgender gay man. So when I started building out the app in terms of here is some of the formatting, here's the language, here's the flow, handing that off to our developers and then getting people to take a look at it. You quickly realize, okay, you have to say things in the most inclusive way possible. And just because, you know, I was saying things one way, it could be a huge, huge barrier to other individuals of the community who take a look at that. And they go, oh, I don't like that language because that is not all inclusive. That's not all encompassing of, of our identities.

Michael (00:39:27):

And so I will say like the biggest, um, growth was bringing in individuals from all of those sectors to say, is this the right language? Is this the right terminology? Is this the right flow? And a good example of that is basically your name <laugh> and that's crazy, right? That's crazy. We're asking someone your name. And you're like, okay, no big deal. That's everything for transgender individual who is changing their identity. And so you have to be very, very cautious with how you're asking for that information, what that information leads, what's public, what's private, what you're sharing with, with the mentor mentee match, because that's intrinsically the most important part of someone's identity right now is the fact that for their whole life they've been called John, but they've never been John and they are not John. And if you're gonna do a background, check on them as a mentor, you need to have the decency to explain, okay, this is your, for many of them, you know, the community, it's their dead name, but this is your assigned at birth name.

Michael (00:40:29):

And here's why we're asking for that because we're simply just doing our due diligence, embedding you, but being very, very delicate through all of that is important because as much as certain factors of my identity are the most important to me, it's entirely different for other members, you know, and using the transgender individuals that as an example, but no, look, I mean, we originally started this with the idea that people need friends. You know, you need someone who gets you in a very, very safe and secure space because so many of us feel isolated. We have no one, we don't have a bar. We don't have, uh, you know, an intermural league of, of individuals. We don't have those folks we can turn to. And then all of a sudden hundreds and hundreds of people signed up and we were like, oh my, this is much bigger than just providing people with friends.

Michael (00:41:16):

Like this is a delicate process. This is a, a very, very thoughtful venture. And, and we need to treat it that way. And so at first we were really, um, letting mentors and mentees match over email, you know, connecting them through the app and then letting them take it through email. And then we that's a barrier. Um, because you know, that just adds into the layer of communication that is requiring an and know a mentee, a mentor to have an email address. And then we said, okay, let's make it as easy as possible. Let's just put a chat platform there. So we integrated a chat platform. We realized that that was what users wanted just to make it seamless and easy. Um, still very much growing, you know, adding features to the chat platform is really important. So people can link to their Google calendars. They can create reminders, they can create like a weekly session together if they want to. Um, so we're getting creative, we're getting, you know, intuitive from that perspective, but really from the beginning, it was all about bringing in the community to, um, to just map this out the right way.

Mike (00:42:16):

How are you making those decisions on new features and things? Is, is it just stuff that, you know, you know, intuitively need to be built or, uh, what has the feedback been like

Michael (00:42:25):

Taking feedback from our users successful matches successful. Those who've had, uh, critiques things that they wanted to see us do better, you know, ways that they wanted to see us improve immediately. What stood out from our users was the need for the chat platform and basically saying, Hey, it's just clunky to have to use the app then to go to email and then figure out how to communicate from there. Like, let's just have it all happen in the app. And that was consistent with feedback. And when we brought it up to users, um, during, uh, third party interviews, it was chat was like, okay, that's obvious, that's easy. It's not gonna cost us very much. Let's integrate it. Let's do it as we move forward. What is driving? This is, I, I mean, I'm working with professionals from the Boston consulting group to accelerator programs like fast forward, and then anyone and everyone in between who's who is a professional at, you know, some of these massive major companies from Google to Microsoft, to some local firms that have had some great success with mobile development, but being very strategic about how we are moving forward, because look, I am a nonprofit.

Michael (00:43:27):

What, what does a nonprofit do every single day we fundraised. And we have to bring in the capital. We have to bring in the resources to do all of these things and working on an earned revenue model, of course, um, as, as most nonprofits as want to, and, and desire to. But fundraising is the biggest thing. And, and how are we spending our resources and our, our funding wisely. And the biggest advice that I've gotten in every single session in this accelerator program with BCG, with these really powerhouse of tech developers is just cuz you wanna do something doesn't mean you should do it. First of all. So don't, don't simply do something. Don't call your developer and say, add this just cuz you want to get feedback from your users, make sure that this is gonna be something beta test, make sure that it's accessible for you.

Michael (00:44:11):

You know, you, you put a lot of money into it, but more than if, when you're building this out, make sure that your advancements in this technology is not simply just to make it the most beautiful or the most pretty or the most fun or the most engaging, but that it's actually helping more people. And like that's the biggest focus for me, right? So I'm not trying to be the next LinkedIn. I'm not trying to be the next TikTok or the next competitor with, with Instagram or anything like that. The features that we add, I want the core of it to be that our mission is able to be accomplished better. Our impact is, is higher. The people benefiting from this app are, are benefiting at a larger scale. So it's taking all of that feedback, all of the, the, um, advice and, and, and strategic thoughts from our partners and then going okay, is adding a reminder button going to allow us to have a better impact and going to allow us to better serve our community because it's going to make the mentorship better. It's going to make the engagement better.

Mike (00:45:11):

Yeah. How is worthy funded today?

Michael (00:45:13):

I'm through our website, worthy We've got an area there to, to donate to us, but like, like any nonprofit it's getting in front of the people who are directly impacted by this and saying, look, I, this is what we're doing. This is how we're changing the world. And I really need you to invest in us because an investment of X amount is gonna allow us to accomplish X, Y, Z, which in turn is going to really improve the community for everyone listening to this, I know that's gonna be like, okay, that's obvious. But you know, individual family foundations, uh, working with, uh, corporations, working with their affinity groups and they're in their, you know, ERG and getting them invested and involved in a way to say, okay, the success of this platform is going to be a better workforce for your company, because what we're providing is a way for them to better love themselves and accept themselves, which is going to translate into everything else in their life.

Michael (00:46:06):

You know? And so how do we as a nonprofit partner with you, well, let's, let's have you come in, help us with our build out, help us, help us with our technology, help us to make this platform successful. And then you're able to utilize that with your workforce and say, Hey, for those who may not be comfortable coming to our pride affinity groups to, to, you know, some more of our virtual summits, we are partnering with this, uh, nonprofit to allow you to be anonymous, to get connected to others within our corporation. Uh, but also out of our corporation to better come to love and accept yourself. And so we've invested in it, we're partners with it. And, and we're really excited about the growth there. You know, we certainly like other nonprofits have an annual fundraising gala just sharing our success and, and, you know, using it as an opportunity to bring in some needed capital, but really grassroots right now from that perspective

Mike (00:46:52):

Organizations and, and fundraisers, especially if they're somewhat new to the space are concerned with this idea that they're, they're out there with like, you know, tin cup, essentially saying, just give it to my thing. It seems like you've really leaned into the idea that there's mutual benefit. How do you, how do you think about making those asks and building those relationships

Michael (00:47:09):

When it comes to corporations? What we've seen that has been really successful is these groups want new alternative ways to better connect their community. And, you know, they're, they are struggling to, to offer those platforms and those digital resources that really bring this whole community together in a very legitimate way that isn't just, you know, changing their logo to a rainbow during June for pride month. There's no problem with that. Like it's showing that you're accepting invisible, but these corporations do wanna do more. And so it's, it's what, what is out there for them to be able to better connect their community, to be able to better serve those who are struggling with accepting and loving themselves. Because, you know, we see this, you know, bleed over into mental health issues and, and into, you know, depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, things like that for this community, that, that is really, really struggling to accept themselves.

Michael (00:48:02):

So when you go to a corporation, you say, Hey, we've done our due diligence. This is the platform that we provide. This is the testimonials. This is why we're actually different from everything else that exists out there. And this is something that you can offer as a health and wellness tool for your community. And so we're able to work with you and leverage this in a way that most benefits you and willing to get creative, you know, understanding that we're very much a startup. Um, you know, we're still growing, we're still scaling. Um, but you're able to go to your community and say, Hey, um, if you might be struggling, this is something that we've invested in and we're really committed to the health and wellness of our employees. And we think you'll find a lot of benefit in this because it's gonna allow you to really talk through some of those things, um, with someone who's been in your shoes before, but also even bigger than that, what I've seen is that offering this as a tool to employees, families has been really, really it's it's, it's, there's been a lot of synergy with that idea.

Michael (00:49:02):

Hmm. And so basically being able to say, okay, the families of X, Y, Z corporation, we at, you know, insert corporate corporation name are partnering with this. We've helped build out their technology. We've helped build out their development. We've invested ourselves. And we think this is a great tool for your families. And so do you have sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles, uh, your own parents who are struggling with this. And the reality is, of course they do so many of them do. I was talking to one, C-suite an individual at a, at a major tech company here. And they said, you know, the crazy thing for them was so many other, you know, mid-level to C-suite level executives come to this individual every single year and they say, Hey, my daughter is coming out. My son's coming out. My niece, my nephew, you know, my cousins, uh, I know you're out and visible. Can you talk to them because they're struggling. And so they resonated with this idea because they said we could offer this as a tool for individuals within our corporation to leverage in their families and to really offer this as a health and wellness tool for, for, of course, for the corporation and connecting us. But bigger than that, as something that we are investing in to really make a change within your personal lives at home.

Mike (00:50:25):

I'm curious, you know, if there are any moments when you, you thought to yourselves that you're just headed down the wrong track or surprises that have come up, uh, and any learnings on that level.

Michael (00:50:35):

I think for me, you know, just, just speaking as, you know, the CEO of this organization, I am so comfortable admitting what I don't know, and basically saying, I need people to come in and tell me how to do this, because I don't know. And, you know, when it comes to, you know, user experience, yeah. I, I don't know the best way to, to test all of that and to really take that feedback and, and utilize it in a meaningful way, but people do, and, and there are people who devote their entire careers to that. Um, so I think I can give a, a really good example of this. So when I first started this, you know, really marketing it right, and really saying, okay, I need individuals to sign up as mentors. I'm really trying to grow a base, a D diverse base that really reflects the diversity within our community.

Michael (00:51:25):

Um, I, as a white cisgender gay man went into some spaces that were for transgender individuals, for individuals of color, um, for, you know, indivi individuals who I, uh, sexually identified as lesbian, um, bisexual. And I just kind of like walked in to these groups, to these organizations and said, Hey, I'm Michael, this is what I'm doing. I want you to join us. And then it wasn't received well, and there was no negativity. There was no, you know, no, no harm, but I got feedback and said, Hey, you're approaching this the wrong way. You are entering a space that was designed safely for this certain sector of the community. And you didn't take a moment to reflect on that as a cisgender male, you know, you kind of entered these spaces that were designed for transgender folks, and you just showed up as your authentic self and said, join me.

Michael (00:52:21):

And like, let's change the world. You know, I took that with a lot of empathy because I was like, that's so true. Like I just showed up to these organizations that are designed for transgender folks or designed for, you know, different sectors of our community. And that's not the way to do this. You know, the, the appropriate way to do this is to get individuals who are part of those communities that understand the app that have benefited from the app who appreciate it and understand it to go to those communities with me and say, Hey, I've benefited from this as a, a bisexual individual as a transgender individual. I think that probably is, is part of something that I realized in the very early stages that I need to be surrounded with individuals who make up the different sectors of the community, because they know their community much better than I do.

Mike (00:53:06):

Uh, tell me just a little bit about, you know, fast forward, how did you decide that you wanted to be part of an accelerated program and what has it been like working with them?

Michael (00:53:12):

It has been fantastic. I mean, honestly, when I got the, uh, call and it was a quick video call and they surprised us, um, and basically said, Hey, we got a good question. It was just one of, uh, their employees was on the video call and they were like, we have a quick question for you. And so I was like, okay. And then all of a sudden, all 20 plus of them joined the frame and said, like, you're part of the cohort <laugh> and it was wonderful. It was fantastic. And I don't know, you kind of like have those moments where you're like, oh my gosh, we may actually make it. These people believe in us, like, oh my gosh, like, that's pretty cool. You know, it's been years of believing in ourselves and all of a sudden you're part of a group that believes in you.

Michael (00:53:53):

And so you're like, oh my gosh, like we, we may actually accomplish all those things we wanna accomplish in life, which sounds ridiculous to say, but it, uh, that was in that moment. What, what hit me, but no, the greatest thing about fast forward is, and we say this every single week, being surrounded by other entrepreneurs who are in the same stage as you, even if their corporation has been going on for a little while, they've had some great success. They're still very much in the same startup phase and mentality, and being able to lean on each other from a mental health and wellness standpoint, because it's really hard. You know, it's really hard being in this world. You, you definitely feel alone. Sometimes you definitely struggle with having way too much to do. And being able to kind of turn to your cohort and say, Hey, are you all feeling this way?

Michael (00:54:35):

And everyone going, yes, I have imposter syndrome. I struggle with, you know, closing deals with donors because sometimes I don't believe in myself as much as I should. I need to have more confidence I'm feeling burnt out. And so the, the great thing about fast forward is having that sense of community, but then taking those feelings and leveraging it each week by talking to industry professionals, those who have devoted their entire lives to marketing or their entire lives detect development or to cybersecurity and data privacy, and being able to say, okay, here's my problems. Here's my issues. And thanks to fast forward every week I'm in front of the right people to help me solve those problems. So yeah, I mean, it's, it's, it's truly been fantastic.

Mike (00:55:13):

So what's next for worthy? I mean, how do you see the platform evolving further? Uh, what's on the horizon for you guys.

Michael (00:55:19):

If you're struggling to come out, I want worthy intern to be the first thing you think about. If you're struggling to be out, I want worthy intern to be the first thing that comes to mind. If you have a question about health and wellness as a transgender individual, I want worthy interning to be the place. You know, you can go to, to talk to someone else who's transgender. Who's been there. Who can tell you how to change your name, who can tell you how to legally go through the process who can offer you advice on the medications and the procedures. If that's something you want to do, I want this platform to be synonymous with coming out and being out and finding the right people so that you don't have to stumble in the dark. You don't have to, you know, uh, you know, fumble for so long to, to try to find answers to questions or try to find genuine friendships.

Michael (00:55:59):

I want you to say I'm struggling to come out and worthy. Mentoring is the place for me to find that authentic mentorship. That's truly what I want because I, I think it's so needed. It's so important. And every single year, there's so many statistics about depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and just so much negativity within the space. And it's compounded by the pandemic and so many other things, and we need more positive outlets to get help, to get support, to get resources, um, in a way that we don't have to out ourselves. We don't have to fumble in the dark. We don't have to go into these dating environments, but we can just go show up authentically, show up how we need to and find someone who genuinely cares about us. That's just something that I'm really committed to. And, and I think is super important.

Michael (00:56:43):

Where are we going? Um, you know, if I look at this in the next three to five years, where do I wanna see this? I wanna see this be global, you know, and so right now, this is in the United States because we've been able to really refine a process when it comes to vetting and verifying our mentors. But I want this to be a, a global platform, you know, and, and, you know, the biggest thing we see with these humanitarian crisis, you know, what we're seeing with, uh, the Warren Ukraine right now quite vividly, is that it's bringing to light issues that were already there that already existed, but really shining a light on them. And, and there are so many members of the community in Ukraine that are being impacted by this in astronomical ways, losing all of their resources, all of their capital, all of their safe spaces and having to flee to new countries and that sense of community and, and, and safety and security, and it's gone. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, you know, and, and like, that's a very drastic example, but a real example. And so how do those individuals sort of start over, how do they find those, those individuals who get them and understand them and are there to support them and empower them? Um, and how can we leverage this platform that we're building on a global scale so that those folks can find each other again, and connect with each other in positive ways.

Mike (00:57:54):

It also strikes me, you know, some of the challenges that you mentioned around going into, um, spaces that were meant for people that maybe didn't fit your specific situation. Um, I think that'll be extra true as you go international. Cause then you have language barriers, different cultural, of course, you know, how, how are you looking at, uh, at that aspect of the expansion?

Michael (00:58:15):

When we do this, it's gonna take a lot of strategic implementation and really doing our due diligence, you know, from a perspective of understanding cultures and look, you know, what we're seeing right now and, and Trevor project is expanding into Mexico, um, to try to be a really supportive outlet there. And I'm so excited to see that because that is step one of what's gonna a global powerhouse for crisis intervention. Um, and that's really what they're focusing on is crisis intervention and designed for youth, but going into these new settings with the idea that when we make these new partnerships, if when we launch in these new countries, safety's most important. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, that's what we say. When whenever matches get made and someone wants to talk about coming out, we're providing them with professional resources to guide the coming out process. And, and you know, the number one question is, is it safe for you to come out and let's talk about that.

Michael (00:59:07):

Are you gonna get kicked outta your home? Are you gonna have a roof over your head? Are you gonna have food? Are you gonna have resources? Are you gonna be living on the street? Like that's important to talk about and safety, you know, transcend simply that simple question. But when you into these international communities, safety is sometimes it's against the law. Sometimes it's illegal. Sometimes the, the, the punishment is, is imprisonment or, or worse death, you know, and that's a reality for a lot of these communities. So, you know, and that's a very drastic conversation to get into, but it's real. That's true. Yeah. When we do go that route, it's gonna take a lot of a very pivotable leaders to make sure that we're doing that the right way.

Mike (00:59:49):

What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs like you, uh, who may be seeing a challenge or a problem in front of them, but don't necessarily have the community that you've had. And don't really know how to go from zero to one.

Michael (01:00:01):

I think what's been the craziest thing for me in this environment has been how much help is out there. Like it's crazy. Once I've started getting involved with this accelerator program, I fast forward once I've started reaching out to friends and communities, there's so much whether it's funding, whether it's, um, pro bono assistance, it it's just anything and everything in between. If you don't know the answers, that's honestly, that's a good thing because if you care and you don't know where to go from here, people do, and there are pro bono legal teams. There are, uh, tech developers, I mean anything and everything. When it comes to starting your nonprofit, getting your nonprofit going even yesterday, and maybe this was just simply, you know, cause I was naive, but there's a nonprofit called taproot. You go on TAPO and you're just like, Hey, I need to implement a CRM.

Michael (01:00:53):

There's so much going on out there. I need someone to help me volunteer, help me get this implemented. And then like, boom, you've got like 10 people who are like, oh yeah, I can definitely help you with that. Yep. Let's get connected. Let's do this. And I'm like, this is, this is crazy. What, and it's people who are committed to your mission and your work and want to make the world a better place and they have the skillset to implement your CRM. And it's gonna take them a few hours, get you signed up, get you connected, get you integrated. And all of a sudden your state key stakeholders, your users are properly living in, in this wonderful, innovative space. So in conclusion, I think I say all that, just to say, theres so much help out there, which has just been so rewarding in so many ways.

Mike (01:01:36):

If you don't have that naivete, you're probably not gonna make the change that you wanna make.

Michael (01:01:41):

I think part of my personality because of my family, because of my parents and more personality, more character, because they think this is character defining. And I'm like, I'm not trying to like toot my own horn here or anything, but I have a lot of empathy. And like, I think empathy is one of the best traits you can have as a human being mm-hmm is to empathize that somebody's struggling with something while it might not make sense to you. You need to empathize because they're struggling. And so I think like you said, showing up and being naive is one thing. But I think having the empathy to walk away from those moments and go, they know that better than I do. Yeah. And I need to go back to them because they're gonna really help me. And I need to humble myself and leverage the fact that they are the professionals right now and it, and whatever this is.

Mike (01:02:23):

If you, if you didn't go down this philanthropic road, the, the impact road, what would you be doing with your life and career?

Michael (01:02:28):

One of two things for me, one would be broadcast journalism, what that looks like. I'm not entirely sure. I love being behind the camera. I love being behind the mic. I love just engaging with new people that way storytelling and, and learning new people and their struggles. Like I've said probably a million times in this podcast, but either that, or I think getting in this space has made me show up with so much empathy again, for struggles, mental health and wellness. You know, I, I very publicly admit that I see a therapist and like, I think that's incredible. I think more people should see professionals in this space. And it's a good point to make too that where the mentoring is not a substitute for professional therapy, it's an simply a compliment. You should be able to more easily find friends. It's not a substitute for your professional therapist by any stretch of the imagination. But I say all of that to say, I think being in this realm has made me realize how life impacting the mental health space is. And so I think whether it's a therapist or a psychologist or a psychiatrist, something in that realm, um, I think if I went back to school now, it would kind of put those two things in front of me and say, who, what, what do you wanna do

Mike (01:03:38):

Outside of this cause, uh, what do you think the most important thing humanity can be tackling right now is?

Michael (01:03:43):

Where we live the earth that we inhabit the future of this planet, the future of our, uh, you know, food security and land that we are losing because of the actions that we are tanking when it comes to, uh, the climate and when it comes to, you know, the whole global infrastructure, really with emissions, all of that. And it's kind of hard to even put that into words, honestly, cuz it's really so encompassing of so many things. But I think focusing on sustainability, both from a perspective of the climate, um, and from food security, my partner is devoting his career to sustainable causes from a food security perspective and, and from a land use, um, and, and climate. Um, and I think that's just so intrinsic to our future, uh, as a population. So I think that that is something that I'm, I'm, I'm deeply committed to

Mike (01:04:30):

When you're ready to retire or, you know, pass the torch for worthy mentoring or go on to the next career. What would you like to have done? What, what would success look like for you through this journey?

Michael (01:04:42):

I started this as a nonprofit, you know, every single person comes up to you as a nonprofit. Why aren't you a for-profit like you could, you could do more, be more, become more. My answer to them is the mission of this is the most important making profits isn't wouldn't end up happening when you're focusing on your stakeholders and you're making a buck is you're gonna lose sight of the fact that the focus of this entirely is on improving people's lives. And as a nonprofit, that's the only thing we're focused on. How do I improve lives? And, and, and how do I make sure that what we're producing as a, as a mobile app and, and as an nonprofit is having the best impact on the most vulnerable and, and the most struggling within our community. And so to that, I think, again, I would love for this to be synonymous with coming out, you know, high school guidance counselors telling their students like, Hey, by the way, we've got a genuine partnership with this. Non-profit it's global, it's, you know, both hyper localized, but hyper global. And you can find someone to, to talk through these issues and they are committed. They're, it's safe, it's secure. Um, and you don't have to out yourself, you know, it's like better, better connecting our community through this, through this app. And then that's, that's really all I want.

Mike (01:05:55):

So anybody listening to this, you know, if they wanna make a contribution, if they wanna become a partner, uh, sign up as a mentor or a mentee, uh, how do they do those things?

Michael (01:06:04):

If you wanna reach out to me, my email is Michael worthy,, worthy Um, that's our website, uh, on the website, you know, there's, uh, an option to donate. It's at the top right hand corner. You can get involved, you can ping me and, and let me know if you have ideas of communities that I can get involved with, if you yourself wanna volunteer, if you have some friends or, or other professionals who you think we could lean on from any perspective in the startup world and don't limit yourself, if you think I need help in X, Y, Z area, I probably do need help in XYZ area. So reach out to me, I'm really, really looking forward to growing a network and community of professionals in their own industry who can help me make this the BI biggest success possible. Um, so reach out to me if you' questions, you've got ideas, you have things you think I should be focusing on more heavily I'm, I'm always, always listening and always here and then to download the app worthy mentoring and, uh, iOS and Android app stores. It's just in the USA right now. Um, again, looking to expand and we'll update everyone from that perspective, but once you download the app on your app store, it guides you through being a mentor through a mentee, and then you, uh, start your, your mentorship, start your journey.

Mike (01:07:14):

Awesome. Well, Michael, thanks so much for the time.

Michael (01:07:17):

Well, thank you very, very much for the opportunity. Yeah, this

Mike (01:07:19):

Is great. Thank you. That's our show for this week, as always, there's more information in the show notes, please check them out at And thanks for listening for our next episode, we're sticking with a startup theme and speaking with Caroline Spears, the founder and executive director of climate cabinet, climate cabinet tackles a very specific and yet massively influential problem. They identify leaders working in pretty much exclusively local politics. They arm them with resources, funding, education, and the most current talking points that empower them to combat climate change. Effectively. We typically hear about climate policy at the national or international level, but with more than 500,000 local politicians and officials across the country, the county city and energy board level is really where environmental policy is set and enforced much of it by people who most of us will never meet or hear about in the news. Join us next time to learn about climate cabinet and why this niche in the social sector is so important until next time cause and purposes of production of on behalf of myself, Michael and our entire team. Thank you for listening and look forward to speaking with you again soon.

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Michael Edmonson is the co-founder and CEO of Worthy Mentoring, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that connects mentors and mentees in the LGBTQ+ Community through a mobile iOS and Android App. The Worthy Mentoring App offers a safe platform for our community to seek personal guidance, professional advice, support, and friendship.

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Cause & Purpose Podcast is home to Cause & Purpose, a podcast about leaders in the social impact sector. Hear their stories, successes, failures, and lessons-learned from lives spent in the trenches, tackling the world’s most important challenges.

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