In June, we're excited to celebrate the strength, grit and determination of successful, hard-working and awe-inspiring entrepreneurs who are part of the LGBT community. Through their companies — ranging from activism and retail to agencies and law firms — they are not only building successful brands, but also using their unique stories, struggles, and experiences to be activists. Through their commitment to supporting others who might be discriminated against due to sexual orientation or gender identity, they're making a difference in their communities and helping to breed a whole new generation of entrepreneurs. Here, they share their work in raising awareness and giving back, as well as their best advice for fellow LGBT entrepreneurs who want to raise both their hands and their voice.
Jamie Coker-Robertson and Debra Fowler
“With very little initial funding and a lot of passion, HUE has now become the only organization in America that focuses 100 percent on LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum and teacher-training for K-12 schools. HUE now has partnerships with the Library of Congress, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, Rainbow Heritage Network and ONE Archives Foundation at USC Libraries, among others and has recently welcomed Carmen Carrera as the organization's national spokesperson."
"Trust your instincts, and embrace the idea that you are the CEO of your business. Your honesty and visibility can bolster your business — never be afraid of being 100 percent authentic. Always stay true to your mission in all that you do, in every decision you make, and in every presentation of your business. Understand that entrepreneurship is equally thrilling, frustrating, exhausting and life-affirming, all at the same time."
From Kipper Clothiers
“Kipper Clothiers was founded in 2013, following the repeal of Proposition 8, out of the need to bring menswear to women and the LGBT community. Being the first hired employee at Everlane really helped me get a sense of what it takes to start a business from the ground-up. I got to be part of a startup that was really just getting off the ground and it was both exciting and inspiring. We try to give back in every way and any time we can. From sponsoring the NCLR Gala, to giveaways and sponsorships for A-Camp and the like, we are always looking to give back to our community."
“Go out and do it. Be bold, be persistent, and learn everything you can about the industry. Most importantly, never be afraid to ask for help or advice. One of the smartest things I have ever done is to ask for help when I needed it. There is no shame in it and the lessons learned are totally worth it. I haven't found any discrimination in being an LGBT female entrepreneur, and maybe I am lucky in that sense, so let it empower you."
“I started my own company, BrainBuzz, back in 2014 because I'm the type of person who thinks job titles and office hours are arbitrary and wearing pants makes me claustrophobic. My company has gone through phases, but now in Los Angeles, we're focused on creating neurologically-compelling marketing content for the cannabis industry, like writing about products and trends for High Times magazine. I had to build the life I wanted and now I'm excited about working every day. Life is too short to carry out someone else's dream."
“You're different and I can guarantee no one sees the world like you, so embrace that and stop caring how other people see you. Also, always practice mindfulness and dedicate 10 minutes of your day to meditation. It will physically change your brain, and everything else will fall into place. Success is a combination of authenticity, genuine curiosity, and gratitude. Figure out how to incorporate those things into your life and work and you'll kill it in business."
"I literally woke from a dream several years ago wanting to be in the Adult Industry. The very next day I went out and bought adult products to sell on street corners and parking lots and eventually began directing porn in pursuit of my goal. After I got over being made fun of, I started Feelmore. Feelmore Adult Gallery opened six years ago, and its true uniqueness is found in not only the traditional sex products we sell, but also in the vintage 'Handbooks' from the 1930's, erotic artwork from estate sales, and one-of-a kind finds. The people want to be validated regardless of their sexual identity or sexual interests. We actively partner to provide workshops on sexual inclusion. One note of pride is supporting our Trans Clients by not 'Deadnaming' them at the point of purchasing, which is critical to their personal empowerment."
“Create a business that will keep you up at night with dreams about how to make a service or product that empowers the communities that you are passionate about."
Francine E. Love
From Love Law Firm, PLLC
Francine E. Love
“I started my law firm because I wanted the freedom to practice law on my terms. I have created a firm that focuses on the entrepreneur and small business owner. These are the people who employ over half of the nation and who provide the products and services people rely on in their day-to-day lives. To be able to serve that market, and to do so not only by providing exceptional legal services but also by giving practical and business support, is very rewarding.
“In starting your business, you must have a unique selling proposition – what is it you bring to the world that no one else does? What is your why for being? If you don't have that, you don't have anything - even if you have the best product or service in the world. You must communicate to people why they should want to do business with you and not everyone else out there. And of course, find yourself an attorney who focuses on helping entrepreneurs and understands the issues you face daily."
From DOSE Apparel
“Dose was created to inspire and support a spiritual awakening within the hearts of all individuals by utilizing the fashion industry to connect with people through visual exposure. We believe the energetic balance of harmony is achieved by each person opening up to their divine feminine and masculine energies. Thus, we are focused on creating gender-neutral clothing to inspire this expression. For this reason, we have been loyally supported by the LGBTQ community, since we have a large inclusion of models that identify in this way. We realize true self-expression of the soul is the key to embracing the one-heart consciousness within each of us."
“I would recommend that any LGBTQ entrepreneur stay focused on their unique gifts and be in full expression of themselves while executing them, because in that pure joy, they will inspire others to do the same."
From Q Square
“Q Squared was founded in 2011 by me and my mom, Nancy Young Mosny, with the mission to inspire people to live elegantly every day. We wanted to create beautiful tableware that was luxurious, yet durable and practical for every day use. Using only 100 percent high-quality melamine, we developed dinnerware and serveware that looked and felt like porcelain and ceramic, but was virtually unbreakable. As the designer, I'm constantly pushing myself to seek different kinds of inspiration and create designs and patterns that connect with people. I'm always so thrilled to hear when customers are excited about our new dinnerware collections and humbled that they chose to have Q Squared in their homes."
“Be true to yourself and do not dim your shine under any circumstances. Hone your instincts and listen to them. If you believe in something, stand for it and don't back down. We all have more strength than I think we give ourselves credit for."
“BSTRO is a digital marketing and branding agency with offices in San Francisco, Vancouver, and New York. Since starting the agency in 2004, BSTRO has become a market-leading digital agency known for developing engaging campaigns that create deeper connections between people and brands with a client roster that includes global consumer brands, leading health and educational institutions, and innovative non-profit, arts and cultural organizations. BSTRO has been a strong supporter, sponsor, and provider of marketing services for many community causes since we started the agency. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation, AIDS/LifeCycle, Positive Pedalers, Health Initiative for Men, BC Centre for Disease Control, Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Frameline, Options for Sexual Health, Horizon's Foundation, and Qmunity and Out in Schools."
“Do what you do really well, so others can confidently give you their business or support. When you see others in your community doing what they do well, show up and support them generously. At the same time, be generous about sharing your authentic self, your story, and your unique life experience. We all have to put ourselves out there, as business people and as examples for our community. Living authentically, showing up, and supporting each other can't be underestimated. Whether that be providing a referral, making a donation, sending a kind tweet, or sharing our life experiences, giving without expectation has always served me well. It makes me feel like I'm paying back some of the women who have gone before me and made my road a bit easier to travel."
Sweetist is an e-commerce bakery marketplace. We partner with some great bakeries in New York and have a deep knowledge of the NY-baking industry. Recently we have expanded our reach to Brooklyn and Queens. I am a co-founder of Sweetist and have had a career change from hospitality general management to the tech world. I got married to my wife and moved to NY to be with her and felt that it opened up the opportunity for a new challenge.
“Anything is possible! Talking to people about what you are doing is key: always be talking to your peers and people you are serving about their pain points and focus on solving these - this means listening to your audience. I have found that most people have a point of view and do not hold back when telling you what you should be doing, however it seems like everyone wants to give advice. Be selective about what advice to take - often your gut instinct is what counts. Another important thing is to get rid of your ego; ego can get in the way of productivity, efficiency and running your business if you let it. Lastly - get help when you are overwhelmed. You think you can do it all alone. That is not true – get an intern or a partner. It can get lonely if you don't and there will always be someone to keep you honest."
From Pals Socks
“With a background as a designer and art director, I initially created mittens called 'Vs' that came mismatched, so your hands could battle it out. After realizing the mitten sales period was so tiny, I decided to morph the concept into socks. However after a year and a half, I wanted to create something that spoke to kids in a positive way and rebranded toward the end of 2015. Now we are called Pals, and create socks that don't match, because it's fun to be friends with someone different. We inspire kids to make all kinds of different friends and be open to new experiences. The world would be a much nicer place to live when we are nicer and more open to different ideas! Our tag is to #defeatthenorm.
“If you are passionate and have a good product, eventually you will succeed! Work hard, do your research, tweak your product and respond to the market. But this is true for everyone starting a business!"
Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan
From: Stribling & Associates
“Stribling & Associates, Ltd. is a premier residential real estate firm with over 300 agents throughout three locations in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn. As one of the most renowned brokerages in New York, Stribling uses its respected expertise in the current market to provide individualized services to both buyers and sellers. I am on the board of GLESN, a national anti-discrimination education group that advocates for LGBT students of all ages. I, along with several of my agents, are involved with NAGLREP, The National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals, a mission-driven 501 non-profit organization that is part-business and part-advocacy."
“Stand up and be counted because you matter. You will likely face discrimination because you are a woman, or because you are gay, or because you are both. But you are not alone. There are so many wonderful advocacy groups that are there to support you. You are not one, but you are one of many. I have experienced discrimination along the way, and I've used these experiences to make me stronger, better, and more successful."
“I started Firebelly in 1999 with a simple mission: Good Design for Good Reason™. Since then, we've been diligent about hiring passionate people, seeking out fearless allies and taking on projects with the potential to change the world. While I've kept the design studio intentionally small, I have kept on hustling to expand Firebelly's reach and impact. Over the years, I have founded a community-based nonprofit, an education incubator, a 10-day design bootcamp, and Typeforce, a curated showcase of typographic all-stars. Named one of Fast Company's 11 Most Generous Designers, I've never stopped focusing on people and their potential to create a better world together, one good idea at a time. We have multiple clients whose focus is in the LGBTQ community. We believe that by helping them achieve their mission with solid research, on-point strategy and beautiful design, we are part of the greater activism.
A specific probono project that comes to mind is the campaign we did for the TransLife Center at Chicago House bringing a voice to the most marginalized group in the LGBTQ community – trans women of color. Our campaign was meant to be a call to action in the hopes of changing people's assumptions."
“It's easy to get caught up in the daily grind and forget that as a business owner we have unique powers and responsibilities. We have the power to choose who we hire, who we work with, and who we use as suppliers and vendors. It's important to make sure that the people you surround yourself with and support financially are people who will support you."
This article was originally published June 7, 2019.
WRITTEN BYLindsay Tigar