A lot happened this past year; some great things and some bad. This year, we decided to produce fewer episodes of our TV show, Powered By Rainbows (PBR). It was a difficult decision but one we had to make because we simply didn't have the time or budget to produce 221 episodes as we did in 2022.
This year started on a high because, on December 25, 2022, I proposed to my long-time boyfriend, Michael. Luckily, he said yes so I was going into this year as happy as I could ever be. For everything that would happen later in the year, I was lucky I had him to be the rock that held me strong.
In January of this year, we had our first challenge. For those that don't know, behind Powered By Rainbows is a production company I founded called Matt Haslam Productions. That company, MHP, films videos for clients of all sizes. A client in January of this year, who will remain nameless but one that gets all of its funding from the Pennsylvania government, hired us to film 7 concerts for them.
The first of those happened in January and shortly after arriving, I realized this was going to be the most difficult job I ever did. The venues and my incredible team worked hard together to ensure the cast, our crews, and the audience members were safe but the client didn't care if anyone got hurt. At times, they encouraged people to get hurt and openly broke many federal and state laws put in place to protect people's safety at events. It was by far the hardest we have ever worked to keep people safe because, for the first time, we had a client fighting us instead of helping with that effort.
Shortly after, in February, I got a job working for an insurance company (aside from my part-time jobs working for PBR and MHP). It was my job to write contracts so insurance stores (like mom-and-pop insurance salesmen in your downtown areas) could sell insurance from that company's services. But it quickly turned into a nightmare. The job itself was easy and writing contracts is something I love doing. My fiance worked upstairs in the same building as an adjustor so it was a dream job where we could have lunch together every day.
What made it so difficult was the sexual harassment in my department. I'd walk into the restroom at work and have a man ask me to stick around in there so he could have some fun with me, even though he knew my fiance worked upstairs and I told him repeatedly I wasn't interested in anything but my fiance. My coworkers would discuss how many partners they were with last night, how much their cat's anus was bleeding, and my manager would encourage us to look up naked pictures of supermodels. And just in case that company's HR department ever reads this, I still held onto the evidence to prove it all.
All of it was reported to that company's HR department who proceeded to retrain my entire department 11 times in 7 months on how not to sexually harass your coworkers. None of those coworkers have been fired or reprimanded beyond "retraining". But near the end of my 7 months with them, I was offered a demotion with a $3.00 per hour pay cut if I wanted to get away from them...which, according to our lawyers, is somehow technically legal.
In April 2023, we filmed the final event for that big client I mentioned a moment ago. After all the hard work we put in and all the people who were excited to get a copy of the video, the organization which hired us informed me they did not secure the legal rights to film or record any of the events. In the end, we filmed 7 events, edited the videos, and no one will ever see any of them.
Luckily, things started to turn around in June. We started the month traveling to Berwick Pride 2023 in Berwick, PA. We met dozens of fantastic people there and got to share our LGBTQ education and resources with an area that many times, purposely leaves out LGBTQ affirmation from their classrooms and legislation.
A few weeks later, we took our booth to the Schuylkill County Fairgrounds for the Schuylkill PrideFest 2023. Fans from across the Northeastern coast of the United States joined us to celebrate Pride and meet our team. It amazes us every time to hear how long people travel to meet us in person and we are always eternally grateful for this.
In early July, I celebrated my birthday, and a week later, on July 8, 2023, I got married to my soulmate, Michael. We had some help from our friend, Pastor Sharon Stokes who officiated our ceremony. I know our wedding wasn't huge and we didn't dress up but in fairness, it was the hottest day of the year and we were still surrounded by our close family members and friends. We themed our wedding after "The Office" TV Show and you can watch the entire ceremony linked above. It was the best day of my life, hands down.
Just 2 weeks later, we were back on the road and bringing our PBR education space to Bangor, PA Pride. This is another area that is underserved with LGBTQ education so we were proud to bring some of our accredited books, classes, and our channel to this community.
The very next week, my husband and I were off to Princeton, NJ to celebrate our honeymoon. I still can't believe I got to marry a man so genuinely kind, funny, and beautiful as Michael. That week in Princeton, we found tons of great shops, made friends with some giraffes, and ended our week in a gayborhood called New Hope, PA where we found a nice chocolate shop and walked down a street covered in rainbow flags.
In August, we investigated buildings for ghosts who told us to "LEAVE!" and started two new YouTube channels. One called "Haunted Husbands" for our ghost tours and explorations. The other is called "Dabbing Giraffe" for our pet Jimmy the Giraffe as he explores and dabs every city he visits.
My husband and I also left that insurance company on the same day for better positions at other organizations. My husband is no longer held back from promotions and where I am, I can happily report that no sexual harassment occurs. It's strange how easy it is to work when you're not being harassed every single day.
In October, PBR took our education booth to Bloomsburg Pride in Bloomsburg, PA. Even though it was pouring down rain all morning and the ground was just pure mud, many of our fans still made the trip to come see us. Some of you even got hotels the night before because you traveled so far to get there. My husband, myself, and our team want you to know how grateful we are for all your support, especially on days like that when it rains and it's freezing cold outside.
That same month, our online store got shut down by a church in Southern USA. Dozens of members of their church tried defrauding our website with $0.01 donations each. All of them continued to do chargebacks with their credit cards thinking it would hurt our LGBTQ education or our business. Sure, our website provider at the time (Square) shut us down for a week while we figured things out but we never paid any fees for the chargebacks (because they were fraudulent) which is how the church wanted to hurt us. Luckily, we already had contacts at the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and we reported everything to their Cyber Crimes division which investigated the transactions and later filed criminal charges against every single church member and the pastor who led the effort.
But after the website was back up and running, Square (our provider at the time) chose to up our rates by 200+%. So, we looked for a new provider and found Shopify. They were vastly overpriced but they allowed us to integrate with YouTube where our audience mostly lives. After two weeks of spending 10 hours per day on the phone with them, with their technical support blaming Google and giving us bad advice, we ended our free trial and immediately moved our entire website for a 2nd time in 2 weeks to Wix where our websites all live now. It was 3 weeks of insane work every day to get it done but we finally have a stable platform that protects us from potential fraud, protects our customers, and we have a contract for 4 years so nothing can change on us spontaneously again.
Two weeks later, we took a trip to see family in Erie, PA, and on the way, we stopped at the Kinzua Bridge State Park. This bridge was operational for a long time, carrying coal and passengers across the valley but fell over thanks to an F1 tornado in 2003.
We then explored the lakeside in Erie, PA where the whole town was shut down for the winter months. But we were there to visit our family members so stores and visitor centers being closed wasn't a super big problem.
On Thanksgiving, we premiered a new documentary centered on the story of our pet giraffe, Jimmy. It was called "Get Dabbed!: The True Story of Jimmy the Giraffe". It introduced our main audience on PBR to our 7th YouTube channel, made for the Dabbing Giraffe.
I have to say, making videos for this channel is so much more fun than I ever imagined it to be. For a long time now, YouTube has been punishing us every time we post a video to our main, PBR channel with a loss of recommendations to new viewers and unsubscribing people without their knowledge for the next week. But with the Dabbing Giraffe, Haunted Husbands, and Pennsylvania Dashcam (all 3 of which are new this year), I can finally be happy creating videos again without the fear of YouTube punishing us.
That brings us to December. As I'm publishing this, we'll be visiting family and spending the holidays in New York State. One year ago, I was proposing to my soulmate along the edges of the Finger Lakes. Today, I get to spend Christmas and ring in the new year with my husband, forever by my side.
We've traveled thousands of miles this year for work, for vacations, and to meet all of our amazing fans. We've been through a LOT this year from figuring out how to provide safe productions even with a client fighting that effort, to working in an environment that isn't professional at a company we no longer work for, to building our online platform even though YouTube is hurting any creator right now that isn't feeding it 1-minute videos so they can compete with TikTok.
But we have a few things that hold us together. Whenever I felt down or lost this year, I had my husband. That's likely the biggest reason I pushed for us to get married so soon after getting engaged because I watched how supportive he was of me no matter what. He had me right by his side in the hard times too. But when we both felt down, we had our amazing audience online here at PBR.
I'm happy to report that Powered By Rainbows provided LGBTQ education this year in 147 countries (some of which ban LGBTQ education in their schools or everyday life), 75 languages, for people of all genders on the spectrum, and all sexual orientations. We are incredibly proud to have shipped our first international orders this year to Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia.
2023 sure had its challenges but overall, it was pretty good for us. I don't even consider the bad things to be terrible. At this point, every challenge we face is something we end up learning from. And it's because of these challenges that will make 2024 even better because we won't make the same mistakes and we've learned how to do things better next time.
I know this article was more personal than normal but I hope it gets you to reflect on your year as well. Look at the good and the bad. I hope that by seeing how much bad we dealt with this year, it helps you realize you're not alone in dealing with terrible situations...and you're not the only one maybe focusing on them. Near the end of the year, I kept looking at all the sh*tty things until my husband sat me down and reminded me of all the good this year too.
With all that said and with this likely being our final article of 2023, I wanted to say: much love and rainbows, have a gay day everyone, and bi for now.