by MJ Petroni, Causeit, Inc. Principal
What inspires Queer people to begin small businesses? While the allure of the American Dream, avoiding pressure to conform to hetero ideals within workplace environments, and the entrepreneurial ‘bug’ could be the reasons, perhaps some queers choose being in business for themselves to finally play by their own rules and to contribute to their own communities.
Small business is a phenomenon which provides powerful opportunities for personal growth and development, social change and, of course, profit. The small business owner must possess and cultivate vision, drive, planning and team-building skills. Small businesses accounted for 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs over the last decade, according to the Small Business Administration, which also indicated that the United States’ most innovative products, services and ideas are most likely to come from small business. Without effective management and direction, though, those ideas may never get to market.
Fortunately, queer people are in some ways ahead of the game. We have already dealt with many of the hurdles associated with small business management in other areas of our lives. Maintaining a sense of self-worth and faith in our vision (without agreement from our surroundings) is a skill many of us have already cultivated in the face of discrimination in schools, workplaces and mainstream society. Queer people often excel at finding powerful allies, fighting for personal and collective visions and creating effective, supportive communities—all talents essential for success in small business.
The same skills and comfort with risk that many Queer businesspeople have used to their advantage in the corporate world equip queers to transform what’s acceptable and celebrated in business. A small business allows a queer person to take the energy and effort they’ve been devoting to recognition and equality in the workplace and put it towards business itself. Performance—not their gender expression or sexual orientation—may now be the primary factor determining their success. While Queer business owners, especially transgendered people, still must manage the disclosure and presentation of their identity, the daily administration of their business no longer need be an energy-sapping battle.
Queer chambers of commerce and business associations play an important role in furthering queer businesses’ efforts. After a recent presentation by Aditi Dussault of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, I left confident that advocacy for Queer small business is more powerful than ever. Due in part to the efforts of chambers of commerce, larger companies like Intel, Wells Fargo and Apple are prioritizing the inclusion of Queer businesses in their supply chain while capital lenders, mainstream business associations and the media are recognizing the influence of queer business and the queer dollar. Queer chambers also serve to network and develop queer businesses to strengthen their collective power, providing a web of connections much like the ‘old-boy’ networks of yore.
We have never had as hospitable an environment to be out in small business, nor have we had as much collective expertise. Simultaneously, due to our ability to be open and out, queer small businesses have an unprecedented capacity to direct our efforts and economic resources into our community; we can attend to the important healing needed for equality and self-confidence—while causing our own success and livelihood.
MJ Petroni is an executive officer of the Portland Area Business Association (a Queer chamber of commerce), and founder of Causeit, Inc., which causes the success of minority businesses, social enterprises and organizations through coaching, planning and public relations. Investigate at www.causeit.org or call 877-71-CAUSE.
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Posted 22 August 2007.