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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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Our Voices

A Feminist Entrepreneur’s To Do List

Image of protestors with sign that reads Capitalism depends on unpaid care work. No more Work for Free.
Image by Dante Busquets | Shutterstock

With the new year and a vaccine on the horizon, many entrepreneurs are crawling from the wreckage known as 2020, dusting off, and thinking, what next?

In the past, mainstream entrepreneurship has focused on opportunity and extraction: find a market gap or problem, figure out how to exploit it, and then work to extract as much wealth and power for yourself and investors as possible. Meanwhile, social entrepreneurs sought to find the harm caused by Big C Capitalist pursuits; figure out how to fix the mess; then set to work abiding by capitalist light rules.

Neither one of these models make sense for the ground that has shifted beneath our feet this past year and for what’s coming next. The very purpose of entrepreneurship, attendant policies, and the way we do business must undergo a profound revolution.

So, in addition to all the things we normally think about—launching,  pivoting, downsizing, upsizing, going digital, managing growth (some enterprises are thriving!), getting through the next lockdown, making payroll—there is this to consider: how to build a truly accountable enterprise that models an inclusive, restorative, and generative future versus perpetuating the rapacious systems, standing behind decorative diversity mission statements and operating with the fear-based mindset of the now.

Of course, no one knows the answer to that big question, but here are some things to kickstart the process of getting there:

  1. Stop perpetuating systemic oppression: Take a hard look at your culture, policies, pay scales, processes and practices. Centre the word ‘care,’ and start rooting out anything that enables oppression—whether racism, anti-black racism, white supremacy, colonialism. Let’s turn the page on the way we lead, communicate, operate, and design products and services.
  2. Advance critical consciousness: Do action work. Participate in and encourage difficult, uncomfortable conversations that lead to personal growth, political awareness, and systems thinking mindsets for staff, customers and suppliers. Everyone, not just the founder, must evolve and reckon with internalized oppression as well as external. We learn best in community with others. Seek out expertise and communities that facilitate growth and help sustain them in return.
  3. Take stock of whose work and ideas you amplify: What stories do you tell on your company blog? Whose ideas do you advance on social media? What art do you hang on your workspace walls? Looking at who and what you focus on can also tell you who and what you’re not supporting—and should.
  4. Re-write your procurement policy: Make a commitment to sign up to WEP and direct 30 per cent or more of your procurement spend to enterprises owned by women, BIPOC, trans or gender-expansive folk. These directories can help you find the services or products you need:  Black, Women’s or LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, The Native Women’s Association, Immigrant Women in Business, Feminist Founders, WEKH Ask and Give app, WeConnect and Femmbought—to name just a few. Follow our stories about services offered by feminist founders on www.liisbeth.com and in our newsletter. We have profiled over 183 feminist identified, progressive enterprises that are all looking for customers and a shot at new generative collaborations.
  5. Get Political and connect with other aligned social movements: Social change is collective work—not hero work. And the best and freshest thinking today is generated by BIPOC, women-led, grassroots, activist groups, not large, corporatized institutions. Engage with BLMCda, BLM USA, the LEAP, DIEM25, Pace e Bene, Salmon Nation, and other generative movements that embrace social justice, feminism, and environmentalism. Sign up for their newsletters. Donate. Invite their speakers to talk to your stakeholder group. Invite an activist to sit on your advisory or fiduciary board.  Answer their calls to action. It has to be a give and take.
  6. Diversify your media spend and attention: Spend at least 50 per cent of your annual media budget on indie outlets to diversify your listening power. Consider indie outlets such as rabble.ca, APTN (Indigenous) Yes Magazine, Herizons, Peeps Magazine and, of course, LiisBeth.com
  7. Ask who’s in the room? Who’s not? And consider why? Over 54 per cent of all businesses in Canada have one to four employees (considered micro companies by StatsCan) often including the founder and co-founder.  This presents an obvious challenge when it comes to advancing inclusion: your company may just be a close-knit founding team of three cis-het white women with no plan or money to hire. And that’s OK. But there are countless ways micro companies like this can engage with the 30 per cent of the Canadian population that is BIPOC identified. Make that engagement a priority as it will inform and strengthen your work. Need advice? Join the Feminist Enterprise Commons community (FEC).
  8. Trailblaze like a trailblazer: Like Bloom + Brilliance, a women-owned website and branding company, be transparent about your intersectional feminist values on your business website. Integrate the use of pronouns in your staff directory and website. Radically change your bylaws to strengthen accountability. Consider implementing a barter pay system in addition to trading in cash (because a lot of folks will have a lot less of it next year).

As brutal as the year was, 2020 delivered a gift: it has unveiled what needs fixing in ways that not even mainstream folks can continue to ignore.  We cannot turn away from it or all the suffering will have been for nothing, all the pain and carnage will continue. I suggest we heed the words of Audre Lorde: It is time for us all to be “deliberate and afraid of nothing.”

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