Mossier’s mission is to empower and enable LGBT individuals around the world to become independent members of society who can contribute to both their households and their communities. Their economic approach to aid and LGBT rights is unique in itself, but Mossier’s overall goals aim even higher. Their aspirations go beyond basic rights and aid to facilitate holistic well being for LGBT individuals, both domestically and abroad. Furthermore, Mossier wants to position Minnesota as a global leader on the path to international LGBT well-being.
What is well-being?
I sat down with Mossier directors Nick Alm and Charlie Rounds to get a better understanding of what their conception of LGBT well-being really is. “What well-being means,” Charlie began, “is really the whole self. Not just human rights, but economic well-being.” Of course, “You can’t have well-being if you don’t have rights, if you don’t have access to education,” he explained; well-being encompasses all of the facets that allow an individual not just to survive, but to live a healthy life and to thrive.
A farming state in Midwestern America might not seem like the most ideally situated jumping off point for the global movement for LGBT rights. But Nick and Charlie have a whole host of reasons that explain why their vision for Minnesota as a leader in the LGBT movement makes perfect sense.
First, Minnesota has a little-known history as a leader in LGBT rights in the United States. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT rights advocacy group in the United States, was founded by Minnesota’s Steve Endean in 1980. Michael McConnell and Jack Baker, two Minnesota natives, were the first ever gay couple to be married, and they brought their case to court right here in Minnesota. In 1975, as a result of the visibility Baker brought to the gay rights movement as student body president at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis was the first city to create anti-discrimination protections for trans folks, followed less than two decades later by the same protections across the entire state of Minnesota.
And, of course, there’s this organization’s own founder, Kevin Mossier. Also a former UMN student, Kevin created a company, called RSVP Vacations, that helped gay travelers find safe, welcoming locations for travel. “Kevin’s really the one that took it to scale,” Charlie explained. He took what had been a quiet, under-the-radar enterprise that served mostly upper class gay men, and launched it into a full-blown, multi-billion dollar industry. “He didn’t take a group of twenty,” Charlie said, “he took a group of 700.” In addition to being significantly larger than previous gay travel groups, the tours Kevin booked were openly and visibly gay, another pioneering element of his work.
Mossier wants to use Minnesota’s history as a trailblazer in LGBT rights as a jumping off point, using Kevin Mossier’s momentum to bring the LGBT movement to a new level the world over.
“Kevin risked everything because he saw this niche,” Charlie said. “If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from Kevin Mossier, it’s that we have to take risks. If it doesn’t exist, you create it. We’ve got the people, right now, that are willing to shatter the mold.”
“We just feel we can do this here,” Charlie maintained. The UN asserts that tourism and agriculture are two key industries that can bring developing nations closer to the Millennium Development goals, “and Minnesota is a leader in those industries. We can leverage the success in these industries to support these LGBT entrepreneurs” in Kenya, Uganda, and the Dominican Republic.
How do we get there?
The industries Charlie is referring to are Minnesota-based Fortune 500 companies like Mosaic, CHS, and Ecolab. As part of their innovative approach to international aid, Mossier wants to create a triangular coalition of institutions to support human rights initiatives. Corporations and Fortune 500s are one leg of the triangle, providing financial resources and managerial expertise that will drive the economic aspect of the aid.
Higher education, stocked with professors and researchers leading the charge in human rights nationally, is another leg. The University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Program is a leading institution for human rights law and policy in the United States after launching one of the nation’s only graduate level human rights programs in 2016.
The third leg of the triangle is the nonprofit sector, in which Minnesota also rises high above other states. Internationally active nonprofits like the Center for Victims of Torture and the American Refugee Committee are based in Minnesota, and have gradually incorporated LGBT rights as a central tenet of their work.
In the middle of this triangle, said Charlie, is Mossier.
“Traditionally those sectors don’t collaborate,” he explained, “but we can see all these resources and we’ll be the first organization to actually connect them in a meaningful way. We are the risk takers.” Mossier wants to collaborate with these institutions, integrating their resources with Mossier’s enterprise-centered approach to facilitate comprehensive prosperity for LGBT folks.
Most unique about Mossier, and most important, is what the organization does with the money it receives. Traditionally, “only 7-10% of the vast majority of aid that funnels out of the US actually goes to the people on the ground,” Charlie said. “We have to reverse that model. For all of the projects that we fund at Mossier, over 90% goes directly to the organization on the ground.” Mossier’s directors insist that it’s a central facet of Mossier’s aid model. “We just won’t do it any other way. If we can’t keep that model going, I don’t want to be here.”
Finally, Mossier counts on Minnesota’s status as a state with one of the highest rates of both civic engagement and philanthropy. That generosity and compassion is what drives all rights and progress in Minnesota, and it’s what drives Mossier’s ambition to achieve landmark advances in global LGBT wellbeing. When it comes to making the world a better place, Charlie asserts, Minnesota has “something in the water — in the 10,000 lakes.”