LGBTQ businesses survive, but not without community support
ORLANDO, Florida – Starting a business is a challenge, intimidating for many, let alone those who face additional hurdles just because of who they are.
“Our LGBTQ community is fierce, strong,” said Blue Star, “Supporting in terms of business, that’s for sure. Because it’s tough.”
What would you like to know
- LGBTQ companies have established a Pride Chamber in Orlando
- Advocates say businesses run by LGBTQ owners face problems getting funding
- They urge people to consider patronizing LGBTQ-owned businesses
Eight months ago, in the midst of the pandemic, Star took over the Church Street space that housed Orlando City Soccer Club’s themed restaurant, Lions Pride.
She opened HAOS on Church across from the historic train station, hanging pride flags alongside gas street lights.
HAOS inside is more than a restaurant and bar, but a space for artists and a haven for the LGBTQ community.
As drinks splash and food spurts out of the kitchen, acrobats swing on hoops in the air and burlesque dancers sparkle and synchronize on the small stage.
“Dress how you want, be who you want with. Just be you,” she said. “We have to be united, to create these safe spaces so that people are not afraid.”
At 19, Star, then beauty pageant queen, had come out to her parents. It was a “struggle” because she didn’t feel accepted and they didn’t talk to each other for years, she said.
Then, as the woman took a stand on anti-gay law in Georgia, she felt rejected for the first time in her young life.
“I was like, ‘Oh, wow. People aren’t very nice,'” she said.
And although she was always accepted by working in the world of theater as a dancer, then later as a club promoter, once as an LGBTQ business owner – and as a woman – she did. encountered obstacles.
“Pushback in the community, I think it depends on the business I’m in,” she began. “Audio is a male dominated world and not very gay.”
“We’re talking about certain demographics of people who are typically left out of the conversation most of the time, anyway,” said Shea Cutliff. “You’re dealing with LGBT people, but there’s also a point of intersectionality where women don’t get funding to start businesses at as high a rate as men. “
Cutliff is a member of the board of directors of the One Orlando Alliance. She also sits on the advisory boards of the Gender Advancement Project, which aims to establish a trans chamber of commerce, and Divas and Dialogue, which connects the community with services ranging from hormone therapy to HIV care.
Cutliff said LGBTQ women, especially trans women, face additional barriers in business when it comes to funding and stigma.
But, the community as a whole needs to be supported in terms of financial support.
“A lot of LGBT businesses are underfunded… LGBT people looking for funding don’t necessarily feel comfortable saying they’re LGBT because they’re afraid of running out of funding,” he said. -she explains. “At the end of the day, they have to play a balancing act: ‘Are they fighting for their personal rights or the rights of their business? “”
Additionally, Cutliff said that when lawmakers pass discriminatory laws that leave LGBTQ business owners vulnerable, some ultimately decide to take over and take their businesses elsewhere where they feel more accepted.
“When we try to build the economy locally, that’s something we don’t want,” she said.
In order to promote the growth of LGBTQ businesses, Cutliff suggests patronizing LGBTQ-owned businesses. The Pride Chamber maintains a list of certified LGBT businesses.
Cutliff also said speaking out against discriminatory laws and public policies, which do not support the community as a whole, is paramount.
Star said she has only been successful with the support of other women, like the one who owns Orlando Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria.
“For six months, Pom paid my electricity bill. She thought to herself, ‘This is going to be something you are not going to think about,’ “Star said with tears in her eyes.” It’s women like that, LGBTQ or some ally or whatever. It’s the women. who support women.