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This Queer Recovery

What do LGBTQ2+ businesses contribute to Canada? How many are there and what do they do? What challenges do they face? 

Nobody knew, until Canada’s LGBT+ Chambers of Commerce (CGLCC) conducted the first ever survey of the queer entrepreneurship  landscape in 2019.

The survey found that Canada’s 28,000 LGBTQ2+ owned businesses generate more than $22 billion in economic activity and employ around  435,000 Canadians. 

Yet, they face unique and significant challenges, and according to the chief-operating officer of the CGLCC, Dale McDermont (he/him), were hit “not just differently but harder” by the pandemic.

When COVID-19 hit Canada, many queer business owners found little to no targeted support for LGBTQ2+ businesses, primarily as a result of their size .  Most LGBTQ2+ enterprises fall into the micro category, which are businesses that have less than four waged people working within or less than $40, 000 in non deferrable expenses. 

This results in a disproportionate impact on their businesses, including a significant number of closures. 

Who is Looking Out for Queer Canadian Businesses?

The CGLCC’s survey, done in partnership with Deloitte and soon to be released, found that one in four respondents said their LGBTQ2+ ownership resulted in loss of business due to their identity; one in three indicated that on at least one occasion they hid that they are LGBTQ2+ owned to protect themselves against potential losses. 

Nine months into the pandemic, and for the first time ever, Canada’s 2021 budget declared LGBTQ2+ businesses as one of the diverse communities that will benefit from the $100 million targeted for the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Fund. Previously diverse communities included Indigenous, Black, and women-owned businesses. 

This was good news for the CGLCC, which was founded in 2003 and has the data that demonstrates that LGBTQ2+ businesses are a “really sizable part of the economy.” 

McDermont says they can “highlight the struggles and advocate for the community” as Canada prepares for its post-pandemic recovery, but the targeted funds are crucial. Often minority groups “fall through the cracks” with general funding, but the CGLCC is striving to ensure that this much needed finance is delivered to the LGBTQ2+ community “as quickly as possible.”

The funds to assist LGBTQ2+ businesses have been allocated, although details of how it will be distributed and to whom have yet to be released. 

For queer businesses who were struggling with funding and support even before the pandemic, this has meant getting creative with how they do business.   

When Small is Too Small

Kaela Malozewski (left) and her fiancée, Steph La Posta. Photo via Common People’s Instagram

Before the pandemic hit, Common People  was not only a general store featuring crafts by small makers, but a “community space where folks could gather for workshops, fundraisers, and events.” hosted every month, co-owner Kaela Malozewski (she/her) told LiisBeth. Malozewski and her fiancée, Steph La Posta (she/her), launched their Toronto-based store in late 2017. 

Malozewski said they consider themselves a micro business, though the government sees them as a small business — and this compounded the challenges they faced during the pandemic.

Malozewski and La Posta received less than $600 in rent support from the Ontario Government and did not qualify for any other supports due to the discrepancy between micro and small businesses. For instance, they did not meet certain criteria  —such as having a payroll of over $50,000 a year. Even at their busiest, they had only one employee in addition to themselves. 

“Community is Everything” poster via Common People’s website. For sale online.

Kaela said the whole process trying to get support was “disappointing and very frustrating” and they “felt like [they] weren’t being acknowledged or heard” by the government that was meant to be helping them. In December 2020, Common People closed their brick-and-mortar shop in Parkdale and moved online, where they will remain for the foreseeable future. 

Though the co-owners and fiancées say the pandemic has been exhausting, the community they built pre-pandemic has supported them “from the start with their encouragement, purchases, and messages of love and support.”

Pandemic Sex Play

Kira Gregory (she/her) founded Toronto-based Shop Fleure just before the pandemic hit and was also unable to qualify for any relief grants. 

The queer-friendly online space sells luxury lifestyle products and intimate sex toys to help individuals “explore their inner sensualities and embrace their true selves by way of pleasure.” 

Gregory says she would have “[loved] to see more support specifically for LGBTQ2+ small businesses such as programs or grants that specifically apply to this community.” Though the pandemic has kept Shop Fleure “in the shadows” due to advertisers filtering or hiding anything that “remotely covers topics of sexual health, pleasure, or sex work” and many small businesses  —including Shop Fleure — struggle to get started due to this inability to post advertisements. 

Self-care became a much-discussed topic as the world stayed in their homes, so Gregory found the plus side to her industry was that “the world of self-love and pleasure has been in the spotlight during lockdown,” even though, as the owner of a self-love business, Gregory struggled. Without a large team, the work fell into her lap, and it took a toll on her mental health. 

Where the government and media platforms disappointed her, however, Gregory’s community provided tremendous support, which has been heartwarming and better than anticipated. 

For now, Gregory said she is taking it one day at a time, remaining hopeful, and taking rests and breaks when needed.

A Queer Village, Online

Pax Santos, founder of QT Mag. Photo provided.

McDermont told LiisBeth that “unique challenges require unique solutions.”

Pax Santos (she/her) started a non-profit business during the pandemic when she felt the void of queer spaces and missed the connection she found there. 

Disappearing queer spaces have been a growing concern among the community and many LGBTQ2+ people found themselves uniquely isolated. 

Santos founded QT, the Queer Toronto Literary Magazine, to elevate and celebrate queer voices in Canada and recreate the physical community spaces that had wilted during lockdown online. 

Queer bars, cafes, restaurants, sports leagues, and cultural activities take on an oversize importance in the queer community as places to find and meet friends, form family, nurture voices and identity. 

When Pax looked for government support to launch her non-profit, she said there was nothing. 

Yet, QT found its digital footing to create the sense of a shared space when a physical one was not possible and grew to a nine-person volunteer team and a thriving community readership. 

Since QT is a fledgling business, they rely on volunteers and donations; while memberships are $20, QT believes “finances should never be a barrier to community engagement” and offers a no-questions-asked sliding scale. 

The priority is community.

Community for Recovery

As Canada moves into the recovery stage, queer businesses continue to struggle. While financial support from the government has been announced, it’s unclear how the support will be distributed and to whom. It’s also unclear if the support will continue and for how long. 

The CGLCC’s message during this time is clear: to encourage the government to move forward supporting LGBTQ2+ businesses, and in particular micro businesses, like Common People and Shop Fleure, as well as startup ventures which launched in response to the distinctive challenges of the pandemic. 

With targeted recovery support, the LGBTQ economy has at least a fair shot of making a comeback at the same pace as the rest of the economy, especially with the strength of the community behind them.

McDermont says that LGBTQ2+ businesses are a safe space where queer people often find safety and support in their community, and it is through these shared experiences that LGBTQ2+ businesses will overcome the challenges of the pandemic and reach the potential they dream to achieve.

“As we look at diverse communities, entrepreneurship and creating businesses, what we need to focus on is supporting entrepreneurship in diverse communities and overcoming these unique challenges are the stories we need to hear.”

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Allied Arts & Media

A Bridge to the Past: Flashes of Activism from rabble.ca

“Everything On (The) Line: 20 Years of Social Movement Stories from rabble.ca." Photo via rabble.ca's website.

I don’t remember 9/11. 

Maybe that’s because I was a Canadian toddler, rather than American, or was just too young — but opening to the first story in Everything On (The) Line: 20 Years of Social Movement Stories from rabble.ca I am transported back by the moving words of Monia Mazigh and Barâa Arar, mother and daughter of Maher Arar, a Syrian-Canadian who was arrested on September 26, 2002. 

This transportive ability — to travel back in time and to live something you have a different memory of — is the primary accomplishment of rabble.ca’s  compilation of stories from the last twenty years. 

rabble.ca is an independent, nonprofit  award winning left wing media outlet with 1M unique readers annually worldwide, based in Vancouver (original territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations). They aim to extend and amplify the work of social movements and front-line activists in Canada.  

Everything On (The) Line is a collection of stories, but also the fossilized voices of journalists and activists during high-intensity moments in Canadian politics. Editors S. Reuss and Christina Turner have unearthed articles from rabble’s archives which capture the concerns and opinions of the activists, feminists, and fighters before us —concerns that still exist today. 

The articles speak from Indigenous rights to climate change; personal accounts of protests and violence; outrage and critique for the government. The collection focuses on the personal lives of Canadian citizens impacted by these threats, while also panning out to inspect the governments of the early 2000’s, tying traumas from the violent injustices occurring around the world together: uniting pain but also hope across two decades. 

The aim of the collection is not only to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Rabble, but to allow the past and present to converse; articles from 2001 in tandem with essays from 2020. 

It is an opportunity for readers to “reflect on the social movements that challenged capitalism, racism, settler colonialism, and patriarchy over the past two decades.” (5)

Readers hear the personal stories from Monia Mazigh and Barâa Arar, to personal accounts of when Black Lives Matter Toronto turned the Pride Parade into a protest. Words from protestors of the G8 Summit burn with anger still, 19 years later. 

In her piece “What Do We Want and Where Are We Headed?” Pamela Palmater expresses how “ultimately, we want to be free to govern ourselves as we choose; free to enjoy our identities, cultures, languages, and traditions; free to live the good life as we see fit.” (129) This desire for freedom and respect echoes throughout the twenty-four pieces in the book. 

Anger and fear and distrust bubble up within these essays. 

Amber Dean writes about attending Robert Pickton’s trial in 2007 for the murders of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Brenda Wolfe, and Georgina Papin — asking how colonization can be over when the violence persists?

Michael Stewart picks apart the Harper government’s inability to “cope with the tender, patient, ironclad solidarity of Indigenous people in Canada.” 

Murray Dobbin asked in 2009 how the government would face their denial and complacency in the face of crisis. 

All are systemic issues still present today; the final section with pieces from 2015-2020 carry ghostly echoes of the first section from 2001-2005. This disturbing parallel calls for transformative justice, addressed by Walters and Zellars in their 2020 essay on abolishing the police and collective care. They call this turbulent time an “[opportunity] for reflection and growth [which] must be central to our abolitionist imaginings” and to “have the courage to dream, try, fail, try again, and fail better.” (173) 

The collection also contains new essays from esteemed writers such as Nora Loreto. In her piece “Real Change Meets Radical Tactics” Loreto traces the resurgence of feminist action in recent years, raising the point that “for what remains of the mainstream feminist movement, the dominant frame is still firmly white. Whiteness obscures the fact that women do not experience systemic violence in the same way. It creates a tent so large that feminism becomes a matter of self-identity […] feminism has become slippery and toothless.” (145) This comment spoke to me as a reader, as a feminist, and as a member of LiisBeth, because whiteness is a barrier in the feminist organizations I see and participate in. 

LiisBeth’s masthead is primarily (some queer) white women; “Everything On (The) Line” was compiled by two white women; LiisBeth partners with rabble.ca’s, putting together a monthly roundup. A white, queer woman is writing this review, the last in a funnel of white voices. 

That being said, 35 per cent of LiisBeth’s contributors are women of colour and over 50 per cent of the articles written in the last year featured enterprises and projects founded or operated by women of colour, queer women and trans folk.  

When rabble.ca was founded, a UNECE study found 40 per cent of journalists in Canada were women, and 97 per cent of journalists across all media were white, according to a study done by Laval University in 2000. This statistic from Laval University, as well as the point that there was (and still is) no current study to compare this data to, was mentioned in a rabble.ca piece in 2016 by Joanna Chu titled “The face of Canadian Journalism is still white — and it’s time to push back.” 

The collection spurs questions and invites reflection not just on the state of our world, but also journalism — those who wrote before us and how future writers will curate, cultivate and uplift all voices. 

It’s an opportunity to see how far we have come, but also look at where we still need to go. 

Everything On (The) Line is not perfect, because history is not perfect. What we glean from these reverberations of rallying voices is that the next twenty years should be equally as action-packed, as fueled by the desire for change. We should read about and reach for change, as the voices of rabble.ca have. 

The fifth section of the collection is titled “Activism and Indie Media: Pasts and Futures”, where publisher Kim Elliot and Mathew Adams call rabble.ca a bridge for the social movement, and reflect on how the launch of rabble.ca in 2001 gave them the focus of “[amplifying] the voices of resistance struggles and movement-focused news.” 

Hopefully, Everything On (The) Line can be the bridge to the past that lays the foundation for the next twenty years of rabble.ca.

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