Before he moved to DC in the late 2010s, Michael Edmonson was just a kid from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, struggling to find a way to come out in a conservative community.
But it wasn’t just a matter of coming out to his friends and family. At the time, he had never been on a date before nor spoken to a doctor about LGBTQ health and wellness. He had various other questions about how he would constantly need to out himself as an adult in the world.
“For so many of us, coming out is not a singular moment, it is a daily moment,” Edmonson, the founder of tech-based nonprofit Worthy Mentoring, told Technical.ly. “In new environments, new friend groups, new neighborhoods, new relationships, everything. You’re constantly coming out in new ways, and growing into what your identity means.”
Edmonson said that after he came out, he got flooded with messages from others who had questions about the coming-out process. That’s when he realized that despite the process being constant and ongoing, the community was lacking a more dedicated platform for its members to answer questions about being an LGBTQ adult — whether those questions were more relevant to health, career advice, housing or other topics. At the time, the main options were dating apps, which had an obvious romantic angle, or social media, which often required people to out themselves before they could get a question answered.
That’s why he launched Worthy Mentoring, which aims to help LGBTQ adults with coming out, in 2020. Through its app, users can register as a mentee and get matched with a vetted mentor who can answer questions related to coming out. Mentees can input information that helps them get matched with a mentor who had a similar coming-out journey, and the platform allows for filtering by gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and age range. Users can even get as specific as connecting to someone who’s, for instance, a fellow athlete or military servicemember. The app is currently available to both iOS and Android users.
To protect mentees, since they might not be in a safe environment to come out, the app allows them to be anonymous while using it. Edmonson noted that the goal is not to find dates or romance, or even friendship (although that can be an option). It’s instead about finding a space to answer questions without the constant need to come out.
According to the latest Gallup poll, about 7.1% of adults in the US identify with the LGBTQ community. For Edmonson, that means there are millions of other people to find common ground with when coming out, so no one should have to do it alone.
“The reality is, there is someone like you who has struggled through what you’re struggling with,” Edmonson said. “We should allow those individuals to have the opportunity, the voice, the platform to support you because so many of us want to give back.”
To help keep the app secure, all app mentors undergo a verification process and background check after applying. They also need to answer a few questions about their interest in the app, like why they’re signing up to be a mentor and what drove them to join Worthy Mentoring’s community. So far, Worthy Mentoring hosts about 450 active users and has matched a little over 250 mentors with anonymous mentees.
For some, the app can be a space to make a new friend and lifelong mentor that they can speak with regularly. Others can use it to answer a specific question or two about health, wellness or medication if they cannot turn to anyone else.
Either way, Edmonson hopes that Worthy Mentoring can become synonymous with coming out over the next few years, and he’s working to signal boost the app. The organization just completed an accelerator program with Fast Forward, which helps tech nonprofits grow and scale sustainably. It also hosts events to bring more individuals to the platform.
Edmonson, the organization’s current lone full-time employee, hopes to hire more staff later this year. But as he grows Worthy Mentoring, he intends to keep it operating as a nonprofit instead of turning it into a for-profit tech startup. This status lets him focus on the mission, which he never wants to lose sight of.
“Our focus is finding you someone that allows you to come out and live in your authenticity and be happy with who you are and love what you are and accept who you are,” Edmonson said.-30-