3 LGBTQ Entrepreneurs Share How Being Out and Proud Fuels Their Business
The courage that comes with being queer is also an important ingredient in entrepreneurship.
Every time I send an email newsletter or beta test a new offer, it feels like I’m coming out of the closet again. It’s been over 15 years since I came out, but I can recall the vivid body response like it was yesterday: Pit in the stomach, clammy hands and a tidal wave of irrational mind trash.
I feel the fear and do it anyway. What I’ve realized over the years is that being gay is one of my most powerful weapons as an entrepreneur. It gives me the courage to confront fear, dream big and turn vision into reality. More importantly, putting our successes out there as queer people sets an example for the next generation that life gets better.
According to research aggregated by The Trevor Project, LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth, and 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt.
And when we review data from the Williams Institute at UCLA, the numbers show that queer people as a whole experience higher levels of unemployment, lack of insurance, food insecurity and annual incomes under $24,000. It’s a sharp contrast to the usual media depiction of queer life as glitzy, glamorous and without hardship.
Seeking different perspectives on resilience, I contacted three fellow LGBTQ entrepreneurs and asked them two questions:
- “How has being a part of the queer community shaped you as an entrepreneur?”
- “What are you working on next in your business?”
Here is what they had to say.
“My queerness influences how I think about business”
“Being queer has shaped my identity as an entrepreneur in many ways,” says McDaniel. “The hard truth is that, because of queer identity, I have very little family support and no monetary support other than what I bring in.
This fact has led me to be a bit 'scrappy' in my life, choosing to invest in and trust myself, because I had no other option and no backup plan. As an entrepreneur, there is value in being 'all-in' on your business. There were many times I might have given up if it had been easy to quit.
My queerness and the queer communities I’m a part of have also greatly influenced how I think about business, capitalism and the tensions of working in a helping field while also needing to build a financially and energetically sustainable business. My queerness connects my work to a strong why: Creating the world we want to live in, a world where we can all live freely as our most authentic selves.”
On the business side, McDaniel is celebrating a period of rapid growth.
“I just signed a new 10-year lease at my dream office building, tripling our physical space and giving us an event space. We went from 10 to 17 employees over the past 18 months. It’s life-giving as an entrepreneur to have a team you trust run most of the day to day operations of the business, and I am so grateful for them.
Having a team gives me the freedom to focus on the big vision for the practice and my work in my coaching program for transgender/non-binary individuals as well as my transgender inclusion and diversity work for corporations and professionals in the medical, mental health and wellness fields. It also has given me the space to work on my passion project: A non-fiction book, which is currently in the works.”
“I listened more to protect myself, and now that serves me as a leader”
Robert Hartwell is the founder of The Broadway Collective, an elite musical theatre training academy based in New York City that features both in-person intensives and online mentorship programs. The company provides curriculum-based musical theatre training, results driven college prep and career mentorship to serious musical theatre students ages 12-18. Hartwell’s story of purchasing a home built in 1820 by slaves created a viral feel-good moment in an otherwise-bleak 2020.
“There is a certain resilience that comes from being a part of the queer community," Hartwell says. "Growing up, I found myself doing more listening than talking to protect myself, which I think has served me as a leader. I remember seeing RuPaul on talk shows as a kid and thinking this person is fabulous, kind, and brave. I wanted to do the same.”
Hartwell notes that the pandemic forced him to innovate, and as restrictions subside the company is getting back to basics.
“We are currently working on how we can reduce complexity in our business. We added a lot during the pandemic to stay alive, but we’re excited to get back to our simple ingredients that bring us joy.
We are known for producing life changing events that are moving, inspirational, and rooted in 'doing the work.' If it doesn’t feel like fun and closer to connection, we aren’t doing it.”
“Feeling like an outsider has helped me serve others who feel like they don’t fit in”
Tyler J. McCall is a business and Instagram marketing strategist for online business owners and entrepreneurs. He draws from his 10 years of experience in nonprofit marketing and community organizing to help entrepreneurs use social media to tell stories, build relationships and convert followers to fans. In addition to his signature program The Follower To Fan Academy, McCall also hosts The Online Business Show podcast.
“Being a queer person who runs their own business is one of my greatest competitive advantages, because I’m able to bring my unique perspective, creativity, and experiences into my work," McCall says. "My queerness gives me a different lens through which I see the world, build community, cultivate relationships and understand the power dynamics at play in entrepreneurial settings.
Having the experience of being an 'outsider' for most of my life has allowed me to create a business that supports and serves others who haven’t always felt like they fit in. It makes the work I do that much more impactful and important.”
McCall notes that navigating the pandemic has influenced not only where he wants to go next in business, but also in life. “Right now I am in my Madonna re-invention era. As I’ve reached the other side of the pandemic, I’m evaluating so many components of my life, my work, and how I spend my day.
The most exciting thing is that I don’t know what I’m doing next. It’s a scary thing for me to admit, being a high-achieving Enneagram 3 who is used to finding my worth through my work. The next chapter of my business will be one that is more holistic and fully integrated with my life while allowing me to have more space and freedom to play, explore and live a life beyond my identity as an entrepreneur.”
For many queer people, thriving means tapping into creativity, resilience and resourcefulness. Here’s the good news: Those skills are also what it takes to become a world-class entrepreneur. Muster up some courage, step into the unknown, and you’ll soon find that being brave takes you exactly where you need to go in business.
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