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As tired as it might seem, there’s a benefit to big brands participating in Pride Month, even if all they do is cast their logos in rainbow colors and curate shiny T-shirt collections.
Their actions increase visibility for the LGBTQ community and continue to normalize their existence to the rest of the world, explained Kristin Comefero, an associate professor of communication specializing in LGBTQ representation in mainstream marketing. And visibility is more important than ever: Even though more than 50 years have passed since the Stonewall uprising, the pandemic has shown there’s still much more work to do.
Further, when we engage with those big brands during the month of June, we’re able to encourage them to reserve space for LGBTQ people in their catalogs and on their shelves. And because our relationship with them is transactional, we can motivate them to strengthen organizational and policy commitments to LGBTQ workers, too, Comefero said.
Pride Month also offers a special opportunity to highlight smaller LGBTQ-owned retailers that partner with and directly give back to the LGBTQ community. For instance, Flipstik, one of the brands we highlight below, is donating 50% of its profits to Williams & Associates, a nonprofit in St. Louis, Missouri, that addresses minority health disparities in the LGBTQ community. Increased exposure for these brands can mean new allies, not just new customers, said Helen Russell, a co-founder of Equator Coffees.
We spoke to Comefero, Russell and six other LGBTQ business owners and experts in the field to learn more about the successes and challenges that LGBTQ-owned brands and businesses have faced in the past year. Below, we dive into some of those realities, as well as some of our favorite products from these brands.
Notable products from LGBTQ-owned businesses in 2022
The following are six standout items from LGBTQ-owned businesses we think you should know about, from a pair of gold earrings to a lavender syrup.
Al, Automic Gold’s non-binary founder and designer, started making their own jewelry because they “couldn’t find fine jewelry that wasn’t too feminine or masculine that I could fit or afford.” Al said all of the brand’s jewelry is genderless and size-inclusive — it’s made in-house from locally sourced reclaimed materials. Automic Gold sells bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings, as well as charms and body jewelry.
Automic Gold’s Small Seamless Huggies have a click closure and are available to purchase as a pair or individually. You can choose between yellow, white or rose gold.
Danny Taing, founder and CEO of Bokksu, which partners with centuries-old snack-makers across Japan to bring customers authentic food, said he started his company when he couldn’t find his favorite local Japanese snacks in the United States. “As an Asian-American with deep roots in both identities, I saw a big opportunity to bridge both Asian and American cultures and share Japanese culture with the world,” he said.
As a gay Asian man, Taing said that running his company “sometimes feels very daunting because many investors and partners don’t immediately relate to me and Bokksu.” However, he noted “being gay has also helped me find tightly-knit peers and support,” and that over time, he’s made friends and created a network with business owners of shared backgrounds.
Bokksu’s Monthly Subscription Box comes with Japanese snacks, candies and a tea pairing curated around a cultural theme — as well as a related magazine.
Helen Russell and her partner Brooke McDonnell are the co-founders of Equator Coffees, which they’ve run together for 26 years. According to Russell, Equator Coffees has been successful due to its supportive community, but she often finds herself worrying about homophobic legislation. “We are marginalized or overlooked by business communities, and are discriminated against,” Russell said. “I'm a huge fan of LGBTQ+ chamber of commerce and business groups … Diversity in businesses is good for communities and our economy.”
Equator Coffees sells bags of its blends, espressos, cold coffees and instant coffee, as well as brewing equipment, grinders, filters, mugs and more. The brand’s Equator Blend has a chocolatey, nutty and spicy flavor. It’s a medium-dark roast and can be purchased as a 12-ounce, 2-pound or 5-pound bag.
Flipstik is a Black-owned, LGBTQ-owned business — its owner, Akeem Shannon, said he faces similar challenges as many minority-owned business owners: a “lack of access to funding, discrimination and insecurity in being a minority-owned business.” For Shannon, Pride Month is about being proud to have made his work a business at all and to make inclusive products that extend to people from every community — and give back to those who helped him and the company get to where they are today.
After reading “The Alchemist,” Shannon began looking to the world around him for a clue about where his life was headed. That sign came in the form of his uncle, a NASA engineer, who Shannon ended up speaking to about a reusable adhesive that NASA researched in the 1980s. This conversation sparked the idea of Flipstik (and Flipstik 2.0), a paper-thin accessory that you attach to the back of your phone to stick your phone to various surfaces and watch TV or record videos. You can also use it as a kickstand for your phone when it’s sitting horizontally.
Ghost Democracy was founded by Rex Chou to offer direct-to-consumer clean skincare products that remove the retailer profit markups. “It's more important than ever to demonstrate that inclusivity to the consumer. Representation matters and is so impactful,” said Chou, who worked in various big beauty corporations for the past decade before starting his own company.
Free from silicones, oils and fragrances, the Cocoon Replenishing Ceramide Rich Cream from Ghost Democracy works to deeply moisturize and replenish the skin and its texture. It is non-greasy and quick-absorbing, according to the brand. Ghost Democracy says the cream is good for all skin types and recommends applying it to clean skin every morning and night.
When Laura and Kelly Moffat, self-described tomboys, were searching for clothes for their wedding, they realized “how difficult it is to find alternative options to a wedding dress.” This reinforced decisions they’d both had to make throughout their lives. Laura Moffat, who also serves as the brand’s director of marketing, said growing up, she and her wife were “often forced to make the choice between poorly-fitting menswear and super feminine womenswear.”
After speaking to women, transgender men and non-binary folks, she found that many felt like their clothes didn’t allow them to fully be themselves. Moffat and her wife quit their jobs to start the clothing company Kirrin Finch, which “aims to fill the gap for gender-defying fashion by creating menswear-inspired apparel designed to fit a range of bodies.”
Kirrin Finch's Brewster Short-Sleeve Shirt is available in sizes 0 to 24. It’s 100% cotton and features a collar as well as a nine button front.
When Emily Lawson, the founder of Pink House Alchemy, was working at a farmers market, she bought lavender from the booth across from her and began making lavender syrup for her lattes and lemonades. “As a woman-owned business, you’re already on the outside of the ‘handshake’ boys club model of doing business,” she said. “The added layer of being a member of the LGBTQ+ community reduces that access considerably.”
LGBTQ-owned brands: Clothing, beauty and more
Since there’s limited information out there on LGBTQ-owned businesses, we reached out to all the brands and asked them to confirm that at least 51 percent of the company is owned by someone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community, per the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).
Comefero told me that, in addition to the brands highlighted on this list — of which there are still not enough — shoppers can also turn to the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index to find the extent to which brands “support queer artists, authors, drag performers” and donate to queer advocacy organizations like the Audre Lorde Project, Lambda Legal and The Trevor Project.
LGBTQ-owned fashion and apparel brands
- Automic Gold
- Gay Pride Apparel
- Kirrin Finch
- Private Policy
- Simple Gay Apparel
- Souk Bohemian
- Tomboy X
- WunderPop Shop
LGBTQ-owned beauty brands
LGBTQ-owned home and kitchenware brands
LGBTQ-owned food and drink brands
LGBTQ-owned accessory brands
What is an LGBTQ-owned business?
The NGLCC defines an LGBTQ-owned business as being at least 51 percent owned, operated, managed and controlled by a person or person who identify as part of the LGBT community (including non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals). The nonprofit serves as the third-party certifying body for Certified LGBT Business Enterprises (LGBTBEs), which provides networking opportunities, mentorship, leadership training and scholarship programs to LGBTQ business owners who meet the above criteria. The process is extensive yet concise:
- You first build your profile on the website and submit supporting documents
- A visitor from the NGLCC will verify the information you provided during a site visit
- The organization’s National Certification Committee reviews your application and, if eligible, provides a certification
There are currently around 1,678 certified LGBTBEs — a national database that can only be accessed by certified LGBTQ businesses through the NGLCC. However, the nonprofit’s 54 U.S. affiliate chambers (and 15 international chambers) each have regional directories that include both certified and LGBTQ- and ally-owned businesses. Many of NGLCC’s government partners, like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, list LGBTBEs in their respective city/state databases.
LGBTQ-owned businesses in 2022
There are an estimated 1.4 million LGBTQ-run companies in the U.S., accounting for $1.7 trillion a year in revenue, according to the NGLCC. To illustrate the global spread of LGBTQ-owned businesses, you can look at Everywhere Is Queer, which Charlie Sprinkman created to show more than 500 LGBTQ-owned businesses across the planet.
While there are some government programs aimed to help minority- and women-owned enterprises and entrepreneurs, LGBTQ-owned businesses aren’t offered the same resources. Bob Witeck, president of Witeck Communications — the first certified LGBTQ business in the U.S. by the NGLCC — said federal data collection, inclusion and protection of rights for LGBTQ business owners and employees is an important issue since opportunities and inclusion may vary by state. “LGBTQ people are defined in their families and their lives by arcane rules state by state,” he said, adding that the owners of LGBTQ businesses may be facing “anxiety and difficulty with things like credit and credit lines, lending, borrowing” due to unequal access.
Justin Nelson, NGLCC’s president and co-founder, previously told NBC OUT that for LGBTQ-owned businesses to succeed, they must have fair access to capital and credit, which federal data collection would support.
LGBTQ-owned businesses by the numbers
Data on LGBTQ-owned businesses in the U.S. is scarce. The NGLCC told us they’re working with multiple federal agencies — including the Department of Commerce and the SBA — to rectify this federal data gap. The most recent report illustrating LGBTQ business data is NGLCC’s America’s LGBT Economy, released in early 2017. It’s also the first-ever snapshot of the economic and social impact of LGBTQ business owners and entrepreneurs in the U.S. It studied the then-909 certified LGBTBEs, finding:
- LGBTBEs have an average revenue of $2.4 million per year
- Most LGBTQ enterprises have been in business for at least 12 years — above the national average
- NGLCC-certified employers created a total of 33,000 jobs
- LGBTBEs contributed over $1.15 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015
“An updated study of certified LGBTBEs will be conducted this fall and released in 2023,” said Jonathan Lovitz, NGLCC’s special advisor for public policy and communications. “We’ve more than doubled the number of certified LGBT businesses since the last study.”
Federal agencies like the SBA, the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics previously confirmed to us that they don’t have data on LGBTQ-owned businesses and aren’t actively collecting it, though they’re working with various statistical agencies on how to measure gender identity and sexual orientation on their surveys. (The Bureau has added new questions about sexual orientation to their surveys in recent years, and they collect information about same-sex householdes in their demographic surveys, but that isn’t a comprehensive measure of the LGBTQ population.)
As the SBA noted in an email, LGBTQ isn’t tracked as a demographic the same way that AAPI- or Black-owned businesses are. America’s LGBTQ business owners “create tens of thousands of new jobs in every industry sector — and yet, even the most basic information about the health and success of our LGBT entrepreneurs is not yet collected by the federal government,” said Nelson.
The SBA told Select their Network for LGBTQ Businesses focuses on “assistance for the LGBTQ community through training, contracting and networking with organizations that [provide] support with counseling and mentoring.”
This includes joining the local NGLCC affiliate chambers that have a strategic alliance with the LGBTQ business community, including (but not limited to):
- Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Seattle Business Association
- La Cámara de Comercio LGBTTQ de Puerto Rico
- Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce
- Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
- Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce
According to the NGLCC, local membership to these chambers can help promote and grow LGBTQ businesses by forming a strong local network, complete with active directories to make it easier to find certified LGBTQ-owned businesses.
In May 2022, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order to establish a state-backed program to certify LGBTQ-owned businesses — following California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. The order means that LGBTQ-owned businesses and LGBTQ-identifying business owners will expand access to public and private contracting opportunities and allow those businesses to advertise as LGBTQ-owned.
In 2021, more than 400 businesses — including Apple and Facebook — signed their support for the Equality Act, which would change existing civil rights law to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identification — the bill continues to await a Senate vote and it’s unclear when it will be voted on.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected the LGBTQ community, which already faces higher rates of discrimination in housing and employment. While 80% of LGBTQ small business owners are expected to make a full recovery in 2022, Small Business Administration (SBA) has shared resources for those who are struggling, including their network for LGBTQ-owned businesses, which oversees outreach to LGBTQ businesses and provides services and resources to LGBTQ entrepreneurs.