Coming out stories with a twist: Chip Arndt, who won The Amazing Race TV show as a gay married couple, tells it all---including his first time and later building four companies and raising over $2M+ for HIV/AIDS, political candidates and nonprofits...
By Chip Arndt | Contact
Chip is a Yale graduate and Harvard MBA, who worked at Morgan Stanley investment bank before embarking on an entrepreneurial career.
Through Arndt Strategies, Chip is co-founder and EVP at Merchant Advantage, a Miami-based e-commerce software company, and serves on the Board of Directors and is Strategic Advisor of Flimp, a Boston-based rich media, video e-mail company. Chip also help found three other successful companies through Arndt Strategies.
Chip is President of Miami Dade’s Freedom Democrats, raises monies for political candidates, is a founding Board Member of Gay American Heroes, was Grand Marshall for AIDS Walk 2007 in Washington, DC, and raises money each year for 9 HIV/AIDS organizations in Florida, Washington DC, and New York City via www.myspace.com/chiparndt
Chip Arndt: Preppy Kid...to Wall Street...to The Amazing Race Winner...to Activist and Donor
"Working for Morgan Stanley took me around the world, but it was ‘The Amazing Race' that enabled me to better see what my role in it was. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, ‘Life's most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?'"
---Chip Arndt, Safe Schools South Florida Youth Conference, Miami, 2006
CONNECTICUT...THE TEEN YEARS...IT BEGINS? OR MAYBE NOT
Yes, my nickname is Chip, I grew up on a non-working farm, with houses every ¼ mile away, in Lyme, Connecticut, contracting the disease named for it twice. The only boy in the family of four children, I was expected to be a perfect child and to carry on its Republican, New England family name.
I dated a lot of girls and loved hanging out with my sport buddies. In hindsight, the camaraderie with other boys was probably more significant than I realized and the dating was destructive. I moved easily through relationships, not really caring about anybody and ultimately losing touch with myself and hurting the girls I was dating. I had no answers, only questions, and I felt that there was no one to turn to - I began to hate myself. I immersed myself in playing golf and other sports, which kept me partially happy with who I was.
There was no Internet and I did not even know really what gay meant. Then one day in a small local store when I was 16, I was instantly swept away by a picture of Christopher Atkins on the cover of Playgirl magazine. I couldn't buy it; everyone knew each other in a small town, including the lady at the counter. I had no clue what to do but that I had to have it. Seeing a LIFE magazine, I hid the Playgirl inside and paid for only one, taxed with a lot of guilt.
I drove to the nearest, side country road and immersed myself in the pictures and from that moment I knew I was different. I hid the magazine in my room, looking at it constantly but not knowing what to do with the feelings it aroused beyond the obvious.
THE FIRST TIME
A year later, when I was 17 and a senior in high school, I had driven to Boston with a friend from El Salvador to show him the sites. We were on the subway and I felt this "energy" behind me. I never turned around but sensed someone was staring a hole through me. We got off the subway and I told my friend in broken Spanish: "Wait here, I have to find directions."
With some sudden instinct I never knew existed, I glanced back at the handsome man who'd been watching me, smiled a small smile, and nodded my head a bit as I walked toward a nearby staircase. He followed and when we reached the bottom of the stairs, like Ennis and Jack's first rendezvous, he pushed me hard up against the wall underneath and kissed me. I was simultaneously turned on and terrified. He said, "I have to see you again." "I live with my parents, give me your number," I blurted, and he scribbled a number on my hand. I raced up the stairs back to my friend but the vision of the man's beautiful face hung before me the rest of the day.
A week later, I finally found the nerve to call him. I learned his name was Sean, he was 23, and a dancer with the Boston Ballet. We agreed to meet back in the city. He rented a hotel room where our clothes came off in seconds and I was intimate with a man for the first time. Sean was gentle and sweet but within an hour I had freaked out about what we were doing. I dressed quickly and ran out of the room and back to the car. I threw his number out the window as the thoughts pounded in my head the entire two-hour drive home that my life was over and that no one could ever find out about my true feelings. I soon burned my precious copy of Playgirl in the woods and buried myself in the closet for the rest of high school, an extra year at London's Harrow, and my first three years of college.
WHAT AND WHO GAVE ME STRENGTH TO BE ME
While I Yale, I met a woman from Northern Italy named Samantha and we soon became everyone's perfect couple. I'd also met some people, straight and gay, that befriended me and talked to me about being who you are versus some artificial self expected by others. But it took meeting a wonderful man at the end of my senior year and an affair with him to learn not just to accept myself but love myself, and that giving Samantha the engagement ring I'd bought would be a mistake.
It was the night of the Rodney King riots in LA, and we discovered New York's West Village wasn't immune as we walked past broken shop windows and an overturned car ablaze on Bleecker Street. The tumultuousness of that day in our history was mirrored a bit inside me for different reasons, but I was able to finally say, "Samantha, I'm gay." Her response was great and accepting, and my fear of losing my family's love and support was unfounded, too. Their response was pretty much the same when I told them soon after Samantha. My father never turned me away but it took him ten years to say "gay" around me and be comfortable meeting my gay friends. (See happy ending below.)
WALL STREET... HARVARD... AND MARRIAGE!
After denying who I was for so long, I'd certainly come a long way in a short time. But, afraid of losing my career, I was not out on Wall Street for another three years. I lived a double life until I was transferred to Hong Kong. Three senior managers at Morgan Stanley there had no problem with knowing I was gay, in part because, frankly, we worked so hard that your personal life rarely came up. Eventually I took a chance and took Andy Towle, my then boyfriend, to an office holiday event. I introduced him as my partner and that was it. I continued at Morgan Stanley successfully until I decided to go to Harvard for an MBA where I became president of the business school LGBT group.
With the pride and joy that each step forward and further out brought me, I never envisioned in my wildest imagination that the once scared and lonely little boy from Lyme would one day stand before 150 family members and friends in the gardens of Nancy Reagan's favorite LA hotel and declare his love for another man for all to hear. Yes, within a few years, that relationship would come to an end, but, as the song goes, "they can't take that away from me," by which I mean the ultimate public expression of fully being me and the memory of my father saluting us with a champagne toast, and coming out on his own as a proud father of gay son, will be with me forever and inspires me to speak to other parents everyday to accept their children for who they are.
THE AMAZING RACE WINNERS AND BEYOND
As many of you know, while Reichen and I were still a couple, the earth moved unexpectedly for me again and I had the unique opportunity that I will treasure forever: to affirm the goodness of being yourself, of being gay, and the beauty of gay love to the millions around the world who watched "The Amazing Race." Winning the grand prize was great but it was nothing compared to the feeling I get when someone tells me how much it meant to them, which I still hear from all over nearly five years later.
Since the show, I've been fortunate to start four companies, become more involved in politics, and help raise some $2M+ for HIV/AIDS, gay youth organizations, political campaigns and organizations. I also helped found and sit on the board of the Gay American Heroes Foundation. We are dedicated to building a traveling exhibit to both memorialize those who have died in LGBT-related hate crimes and educate the public about how the smallest planted seed of tolerating homophobia can result in that deadly harvest.
It was not a path I envisioned as a young kid growing up in rural Connecticut, but a path I am honored to have traveled and to help to continue to pave so that LGBT people can one day enjoy the rights our Constitution promises us, and to help young people be who they are-gay, straight or whatever.
WHO AM I AND WHY I GIVE
I am part my Dad, who never gives up. Part my step-dad who taught me to honor friends and have integrity. Part my sister Sarah, who died of ovarian cancer in 2006, who taught me dignity, fight, and to love every moment of life. Part mentors at Morgan Stanley who gave me a chance to be me and represent them. Part my mom, whose love of life and people drives me to wake up everyday, and part someone who tries to tell the stories of other gay people that need to be heard.
Going to Yale changed my life. It helped me see that we are all a work in progress and that each of us has much to give back to our community. I have made many mistakes in life and look at them all as growing experiences. Or maybe it is just a good mental excuse for not letting those mistakes drag me down. LOL...Who knows?!?
I move forward and try to contribute in some small way to make things just a little bit better than I found them. It is because of the fortunate things that have happened in my life that I feel that it is my turn to participate in life and help out as I can as others have before me.
It is because of all of this that I give to organizations across the board that help protect and also help LGBT people gain their rights as full US citizens so that we all can live every day as we are with respect, dignity and without living in fear of being who you are.
Chip was born the youngest and only boy of four children, graduated from the prestigious, private Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, after which he won a fellowship for an extra year at the Harrow School, outside London. He then attended the University of Vermont, for a year, before transferring to Yale Unversity to finish his undergraduate degree. Chip was the first person in the history of UVM to transfer to an Ivy League University after her/his freshman year.
He played professional golf after graduating Yale,cum laude then worked at Morgan Stanley Investment bank for five years living in four different countries and rasing over $10 BN in structured financing, before entering Harvard University for an MBA in 1996. He was President of the Harvard Graduate School Leadership and Ethics Forum, Chairman and Founder of the Annual Harvard Business, Law, and Kennedy School of Government Debate, elected as a Senator to the student government, and was President of the Harvard Business School Gay and Lesbian Student Association. While at Harvard, Chip was awarded a jont Harvard Business School/John F. Kennedy School of Government fellowship and worked for then Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell (now Governor of Pennsylvania) in 1997. The following year Chip launched Arndt Strategies, LTD starting his entrepreneurial career.
He worked as an investment banker for Morgan Stanley in the US, Europe and Asia as well as in a variety of capacities in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, notably with Steve Tisch. As the former Public Relations and Marketing Manager for Care Resource, South Florida's oldest and largest HIV/AIDS services organization, he helped produce the 2005 AIDS Walk Miami, and spearheaded the 21st annual White Party, its week-long fund-raiser, which, at his initiative, emphasized a zero tolerance drugs policy for the first time.
Currently, he is Founder and Board of Director of The Hatch Partnership, a Palm Springs-based Green Business Incubator, Co-Founder and EVP at Merchant Advantage a Miami-based e-commerce software company, and serves on the Board of Directors and is Strategic Advisor of Flimp a Boston-based rich media, video e-mail company. He helped found two other companies, Almost Golf and Machine Talker, through his holding company Arndt Strategies. He is President of Miami Dade's Freedom Democrats, serves on the Board of Dierctors of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus and Gay American Heroes Foundation, was Grand Marshall for AIDS Walk 2007 in Washington, DC, and continues to raise money each year for Democratic politcal campaigns across the nation and HIV/AIDS for 8 organizations in Florida, Washington DC, and New York City through www.myspace.com/chiparndt
Chip was an Obama Delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2008 and appointed the first, openly gay male Florida Elector to the Electoral College; he cast his electoral vote for President-elect Obama and Vice-President-elect Biden on December 15, 2008.