February is LGBTQ+ History Month. An incredibly important awareness month, yet sometimes overlooked in businesses, particularly if there’s a lack of LGBTQ+ representation in the company.
To celebrate this month, we’ve spoken to some queer business owners on what it’s like running a queer-owned business, what LGBTQ+ History Month means to them, and what advice they’d give non-queer business owners on supporting queer employees and celebrating this important month all year round.
Founder and CEO of lingerie brand Zoah, specialising in supporting the needs of trans women and people who tuck, Dani St James says she feels “empowered at the moment” because “queer-owned brands are getting the recognition…they deserve”. However, of course it comes with challenges. She explains that the main issues she’s faced are that the underwear requires “extra explanation and sample testing to make sure the products they create meet [their] needs”. They provide much needed resources and knowledge to their community, promoting comfort and inclusivity.
Founder of Queer and Black-owned, female-only strength and conditioning space StrongHer, Sam Prynn feels that LGBTQ+ businesses can be more open-minded and welcoming to the community. She says that she hasn’t experienced homophobia at work, which she believes is because “StrongHer’s mission is ‘fitness, where every WOMAN’ fits in. That include trans women and non-binary folks too.”
Moreover, artist and owner of small store Sofftpunk, Hash, says “community is strong nowadays and there’s existing and accessible spaces online…for budding artists and business owners to get started in.” However, they add that their main issues are funding and marketing. “It’s difficult to make up the funds for a project and the algorithms can work against you, meaning it’s very easy for work to get lost.”
Dami Fawehinmi, founder of Black and queer-owned media company Navii Media, expresses the challenges she’s faced as a Black, queer and non-binary business owner. “[It] can be exhausting having to constantly explain why what you set up is specifically created for a marginalised community.” She says that they’ve experienced racism, transphobia, homophobia and more due to what they do, explaining that some people don’t like that it’s exclusively for Black, POC, and/or LGBTQ+ people, as they aren’t part of these communities. “They complain, rather than using their privilege to support marginalised communities.” Fawehinmi’s passion behind Navii Media is more important to her, though: “I set my goal…to create what I didn’t have as a child, representation and safe spaces for my intersecting identities.”
LGBTQ+ History Month is an annual celebration, but it often fails to receive the recognition it deserves. As queer business owners, they highlight how important it is to remember queer people who worked hard in the past to make life easier for queer people today. St James addresses trans people in particular by explaining that the world wasn’t made for them and they can only live how they do now due to “the work and struggle of those that tread the path before us.”
Hash recognises this too, expressing their “gratitude for the people who have made this path easier for me to walk”. They acknowledge that in the past people didn’t always have the freedom to embrace their queerness: “it’s unreal that now I can even make a living by turning openly towards my own community rather than being forced into assimilation.” This has made them realise that as a generation we have a responsibility: “it’s our job to make sure we create a better future – as our elders have done for us.” Fawehinmi agrees: “There is still SO much work to be done so that we can live and not just have to survive… so that the generations after us can just enjoy and love their existences.”
“Speak up; share the resources, and share the message!”, St James advises non-queer business owners. She elaborates by saying “if you hear someone being misgendered or other language that could be harmful, speak up.”
Prynn addresses the problem of ignorance by emphasising the importance of being open-minded. “Ask questions, speak to the community (we’re friendly) …We would love to tell you more about who we are and what we stand for as a community.”
Both Hash and Fawehinmi highlight the importance of taking action. “Put your money where you mouth is”, says Hash. “Invest in queer business owners and give them support within the wider community.”
Fawehinmi agrees that taking action is absolutely necessary to create change. “We need people that are like us, we need companies and businesses to hire LGBTQIA+ people throughout their businesses”. This doesn’t mean just hiring them for a tick-box activity, but really wanting to support LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. “We need to…know…we can come into work and talk about our lives…without prejudice, and if there is discrimination, we need to know it’ll be taken seriously.” She emphasises the importance of non-queer businesses creating an environment that helps and supports their employees all year round.
For further information and support please find some useful resources and helplines below.