If you don’t take care of your body, it dies. The same thing happens to your community.
Communities are held together by commonality and protection of values against larger groups, but they are further empowered by business ownership and supporting businesses in your community. While discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, race, gender expression and identity are a few of the obstacles that are not easily overcome, concerted community effort and standards help queer businesses survive, if not thrive.
When you support queer businesses, you stand in solidarity with those who risk standing up to corporate producers on your behalf, you encourage small business growth and livelihood opportunities for your community, and you play a role in helping your community thrive.
Solidarity with Mavericks
By actively creating a business—especially in our social and political climate—queer business owners risk it all by daring to leave the relative safety of established employment. The risk is even more high stakes when we consider ethnicity and gender factors into who gets the business loans they apply for. (Hint: Being white, cis and “straight acting” helps a ton.) At any rate, these brave maverick heroes put their creativity and ambition to the test in the real world and we should support them.
When I lived in Atlanta as a younger man, I lived in Midtown (also known as the gay ghetto). There were several queer small businesses concentrated in the area, and I tried to go to the ones I knew were owned by queer folks. I had ignored them at first—we’re all equal so I should go to any place, right!?—but I eventually realized that the reason there was such a strong sense of community and safety was because of the presence of the business owners making a stand to carve out space.
Growth and Cohesion
It’s one thing to run a Mom&Mom’s shop that engages favorably with the community. But when that Mom&Mom’s grows to become a Mom&Mom&Us’s, it’s a sign of strong community support. Also, when businesses grow and expand, so does the need for capable and hardworking staff. That’s when members of the community benefit in another way.
When I was a junior in college, I was sponsored for a paid internship at the Atlanta Voice by members of the community. The Atlanta Voice had a small staff and my contribution helped lessen the workload on them. It also allowed me to gain journalism experience in my community and go to places I never would have. The sponsors were a great couple I had become friends with because we both supported the same queer bookstore some years earlier.
Perspective: The summer where I couldn’t find a single paid internship or paying job, I found a place to learn immensely valuable skills and get paid simultaneously because people invested their time and energy back into the community.
We Came to Thrive
When you support queer businesses, you help the community thrive. This in turn does a number of things: It creates employment opportunities and allows us to set the example for awesome workplaces that understand our concerns, it raises the quality of life for the people in the community who get to know the money they’ve spent is going to someone who is just as invested in your community, and it turns the heads of corporations who only speak the language of money and tells them we are important and if they want our continued business they’ll have to get on board.
As I mentioned earlier, I lived in Midtown. There were several businesses owned by hetero people and also several chains. Two in particular had vastly different business practices: One made an effort to be a part of the community and encouraged its employees (queer and not) to make meaningful connections. The other allowed its employees to be homophobic under the guise of free speech and did the bare minimum in the way of accommodation. Guess which business closed after two months.
When to Not Support Queer Business
In the beginning of this text, I waxed poetic about the nature of community and the beauty of supporting our folks. I stand by that. But I also stand by the idea that business owners need to be responsible and held accountable. If a business owner is prejudiced, exploitative, or otherwise shady, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do business with them.
I was once in a café and overheard a couple talking about the discriminatory practices employed by the owner of the very restaurant we were in. Apparently he was fifty shades of anti-nonwhite when it came to hiring. I Yelped the place and found some comments that mirrored what I heard the couple saying. As I was in college and in my RAH-RAH! activist phase, I texted my date before his arrival and asked him to meet me at the restaurant next door instead. It was not queer owned, but we had a great experience anyway. (For the purposes of full disclosure, the bad restaurant has since come under new management and now hires all stripes of women and men.)
It’s necessary to support our communities for our own prosperity, but also to show people in wider society that we will not put up with being second and third class citizens. It’s also necessary to demand standards from the businesses in our communities. Where I lived, there were very few businesses owned by queer people of color (I typically supported them online if I could find them), but damned if I was going to support a queer business owner that was racist or xenophobic.
At any rate, spread the word about supporting queer businesses!