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Our Voices

I Have a Seed

A Black woman wearing a red scarf entrepreneur gazing outside a window.
Althea Branton, Ontario-based startup entrepreneur.

Althea Branton (she/her/elle) is a skincare designer who lives, works and plays on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Ojibway/Chippewa and Haudenosaunee peoples.

Growing up,  Althea never considered herself to be beautiful or remotely attractive. Her concepts of beauty came from the pictures of white women in the magazines her mother would occasionally buy from the grocery store for their (air quotes) recipes.

Althea spent years wondering if she’d ever be beautiful. Somehow it never dawned on her that no amount of green smoothies, elimination diets, HIIT workouts, intermittent fasting or aligning her chakra centres with the Universe was going to turn her into a young, thin, white, cishet, neurotypical able-bodied, twenty-something female with no curves and blonde hair: the Eurocentric beauty standard. 

She was obsessed with skincare after buying a life-shattering pot of Dewberry lip balm from The Body Shop.   Yet on the flip side of her skincare obsession was a stark realization that most products aren’t made for her skin tone.  A myriad of Eurocentric skincare exists in the current market. However, there’s a dearth of skincare for people of the global majority.

Then came the whisper in her soul – to own her own business.  So she went to Laurentian University  – to study translation instead.

Many pots of lip balm later, Althea decided to finally listen to that whisper in her soul to begin creating her own natural products and studying cosmetic science and cosmetic formulation.

Her son is her why – why she’s starting fresh in the late summer of her life to finally move towards the true goals of her soul.   Althea decided to intentionally design and create skincare for people of the global majority.

Yet she never anticipated the sheer amount of unopened doors and barriers on the path to entrepreneurship.  Althea finally had had enough.  So she turned to words. Althea has transmuted her pain into art using words for the last quarter-century.

A few weeks ago, Althea Branton was interviewed by an intake manager at a startup incubator program.  Read or listen to what Branton has to say to the world after that interview. 


I HAVE A SEED

I have a seed.

An idea that came to me as a spark from the darkness that is out there past the light.

So far it’s an enterprise with limited resources.

But I’m only surviving –

not thriving (at least not yet). 

I’m living off scraps, crumbs, bits and pieces

putting life’s essentials carefully

from hand to mouth for myself

and my child. 

I feel horrible about it every single day.

I need HELP

I cry to a force greater than myself.

Why can’t I provide more?

Why don’t I have more?

Isn’t there enough for me?

Aren’t I enough for me?

Let me tell you about this seed.

It’s powerful. Mighty.

Unapologetic. Genius.

It’ll move people into a movement

bypassing the normative

Eurocentric ableist capitalist patriarchal norms

we so unequivocally accept as normal

every single day.

When it’s ready

my seed will bloom and blossom.

I know it’ll grow

providing for me and millions more.

Then come the experts

Wolves disguised as critics clad cleverly in exploited cashmere clothing.

“Should you really only market to Black & Brown people?”

“Aren’t there enough products for those people?”

“Do you have any experience in this sort of thing?”

“Why are your products genderfluid?”

“Isn’t that controversial?”

Heavy is my heart as I heave a mighty SIGH.

I keep having to prove why

Why my seed is worthy

Why my seed must get the things it needs

to grow super-high towards the skies

Why my seed deserves the right

For soil, water and sunlight 

elements provided freely

by the Earth to humankind.

My seed is worthy because it is a seed.

I deserve the elements because

I, too, am a seed.

Dearest garden-variety gatekeepers – please step aside. 

I’m done asking for permission

for my seed to grow.

I’m done pandering to people’s insecurities

I’m done doing the dance around biases that have nothing to do with me.

No one tells the crops to grow.

They just do, with the help of the Earth, Sun and more.

I’ll find the soil. I’ll get the water. 

I’ll even find the invaluable knowledge

As I put the rather ratchet-looking pot outside

because contrary to what most may believe,

the sun is freely available to us all.

Now, I’ll celebrate the winter season

Putting holiday essentials joyously

from hand to mouth for myself

and my child

knowing I will never yield to those who seek to hold me down

for fear I may rise above them one day.

I’ll rise all right.

Look up there – I’m rising right now. 

My very existence is resistance.

I’m here. I’m me, I’m hella amazing.

That seed tho’… stand aside and watch it grow.


Publisher’s Note: Want to support Althea’s startup journey?  Follower her on IG: @althea.branton

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Our Voices

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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