Tony Biel: Channeling Hurt into Help with Gay For Good

Tony Biel in front of a wall with rainbow decorations.

“Good things can come to those who turn lemons into lemonade,” says Tony Biel (BIS ‘97), recipient of a 2021 College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Alumni of Notable Achievement Award. Thus, when faced with a frustrating opposition to gay rights, Biel channeled the LGBTQ+ community’s hurt into help by founding a nationwide volunteer network.

In 2008, same-sex marriage was banned in California, reversing the state judicial ruling that had legalized it earlier that year. The anger and heartbreak resulting from the loss of Proposition 8 inspired Biel, who lives in West Hollywood, to sit down and ask: “What can we really do? How can we build bridges between the LGBTQ+ community and the larger community as a whole?” He wanted to ignite connections and change minds while serving people in need.

This goal resulted in the formation of Gay For Good. What started as a small organization in Los Angeles quickly spread to other cities by word of mouth and social media. “We had friends that found out about it, in San Francisco and San Diego and Boston and Chicago, who quickly were like, we want this in our city, too,” explains Biel.

Gay For Good currently has 19 chapters located across the nation. In all corners of the United States, members have contributed to more than 1,600 service projects with an estimated time value of $2.1 million. Hundreds of LGBTQ+ and ally volunteers come together each month to promote diversity, inclusion, and community service in their cities.

Though Biel’s vision for a better world now manifests itself nationwide, it started smaller. During his time at the U of M, Biel held various leadership roles, such as CLA senator and president of his fraternity. “I really got involved early on doing a lot of community work,” he says. Perhaps most notably, Biel started a Jail ‘n Bail fundraiser in partnership with the Minneapolis Police Department. Since 1994, they have raised almost half a million dollars for the Minnesota Special Olympics.

“[These experiences] taught me at an early age [that] if you scratch someone's back, they'll scratch yours,” Biel notes. “I think it's similar to what we're doing with Gay For Good right now. I feel like by creating these partnerships with other community organizations, they get to know us [and] we get to know them.”

Looking back on his time in CLA, Biel is grateful for the various opportunities and programs that were available. “I have a Bachelor of Individualized Studies [degree], so I combined three majors—marketing, sociology, and European Studies—which I thought was a really cool way of creating what I wanted,” he explains. Biel’s career in advertising and media has benefited greatly from this flexible, individualized program.

His advice for current University students? “Get involved. If there's not [a club or program] that's exactly what you're looking for, create it yourself.” By exploring and creating opportunities, it’s much easier to find your path to success.

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