“Pull yourself up on the bootstraps.” This phrase has become a tenet of American society that is inextricably linked to our concept of individual success. The idea of booting unaided or improving the situation can be exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time.
Unfortunately, many members of the LGBTQ community – especially those who identify as transsexuals – can only become self-employed as a last resort.
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I find that deeply unsatisfactory. The great American dream is ultimately rooted in the idea that you and I should be able to create our own destinies through the possibilities America can offer. While entrepreneurship is certainly not a solution to many of the larger social ills facing our community, such as discrimination in the workplace, it can and should be an answer to addressing the systemic frameworks that promote underemployment and cyclical poverty.
For people without the skills or financial stability to realign their careers, successful entrepreneurship requires coordinated, deliberate support. Investing in LGBTQ entrepreneurs can accomplish two goals: reducing poverty and revitalizing the American economy.
The combination of targeted education and the use of existing accelerator programs and support to turn ideas into reality provides the opportunity to have a significant impact on individuals’ lives and communities.
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) currently offers several programs specifically designed for our community. However, many of us cannot take advantage of these opportunities due to the existing barriers to entry. The Biden government now has the opportunity to invest in the small businesses and queer and minority communities of our country that have historically been underserved and underserved by public and private industries alike.
Although LGBTQ people make up less than 5% of Americans, they are more likely to live in poverty than their non-LGBTQ counterparts. In fact, 22% of all LGBTQ people in America currently live in poverty, compared to 16% of their non-LGBTQ counterparts.
This is not for lack of hustle and bustle: I personally know six different queer people who have started micro-businesses to fund their transitions or to supplement incomes. A quick Instagram search or a pre-pandemic stroll through the Philly Trans Wellness Conference reveals a wide variety of LGBTQ micro and small business owners.
Entrepreneurship and building (or rebuilding) from scratch are the backbone of the queer community. We are far too used to finding or building our own support systems and families, and that ethos extends to our ability to take our place in this world.
I live in a small university town with around 7,000 inhabitants. Walking down Main Street, I pass the usual facilities: an alumni-owned swag shop that has probably been in operation longer than me, a bar named after the local college mascot, and the new one built school bookstore. There are also restaurants, offices, and even an independent game store, movie theater, and cafe. These small businesses employ family members, friends, and college students. They provide services that our community needs to thrive.
In 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses made up 99.9% of U.S. businesses. And in 2017, over 47% of the private workforce was employed in a company with fewer than 500 employees. As the pandemic drags on, minority business owners have reported fewer profits and financial aid than their non-minority counterparts. Two-thirds (66%) of all small business owners, nearly half of American employers, were not making a profit in 2020.
The Biden government is committed to empowering small businesses and reducing poverty as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery. Reducing LGBTQ poverty through entrepreneurship can support both goals.
Removing barriers to existing SBA programs or providing early stage funding alone is not enough to ensure access or long-term business success. People have to be able to afford to take risks. In order for low-income people to become entrepreneurs, meticulous attention to detail, close public-private cooperation, and fair support and funding programs are required.
At an extremely high level, a coordinated “zero-to-launch” entrepreneurship program should involve the Home Office, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Small Business Association. These agencies could then partner with organizations such as the Atlanta Tech Village Pre-Accelerator Program, Syracuse University’s Veteran and Military Families Institute, and Business Innovation Accelerators, all of whom are experts in entrepreneurship education. In the meantime, local and regional nonprofits will be vital in reaching out to potential entrepreneurs and running the program.
As a trans person who is the child of small business owners and teachers and is now (very happily) working in business innovation and investment, we should start with:
- Help people see their potential as entrepreneurs and the opportunity for small businesses
- Providing paid, competency-based training
- Low and risk-free financing options
- Financial safety nets replace lost and injected income as businesses work to become profitable
- Direct links to mentoring and pro bono or inexpensive legal, tax and other professional resources
- Institution of Interior, SBA, and VA Agency regulations include a change to include low-income LGBTQ founders in 8 (a) and similar small, disadvantaged business programs.
- Providing affordable, LGBTQ-affirmative health insurance options for the self-employed and their employees
Rebuilding our economy after COVID-19 is an opportunity to redefine American entrepreneurship and employment. Simultaneously investing in a community that has demonstrated entrepreneurship and potential, supports small businesses, and revitalized the American economy seems like a pretty good place to start.
Landon Marchant is a U.S. Air Force veteran, Williams College graduate, and global DEI analyst with ZX Ventures, the international investment and innovation division of Anheuser-Busch InBev. You grew up in rural Wisconsin and are the child of teachers and small business owners.