Twelve Inspiring Stories From LGBT Entrepreneurs

5 min read
Trending Now

In June, we're excited to celebrate the strength, grit and determination of successful, hard-working and awe-inspiring entrepreneurs who are part of the LGBT community. Through their companies — ranging from activism and retail to agencies and law firms — they are not only building successful brands, but also using their unique stories, struggles, and experiences to be activists. Through their commitment to supporting others who might be discriminated against due to sexual orientation or gender identity, they're making a difference in their communities and helping to breed a whole new generation of entrepreneurs. Here, they share their work in raising awareness and giving back, as well as their best advice for fellow LGBT entrepreneurs who want to raise both their hands and their voice.

Jamie Coker-Robertson and Debra Fowler

From History UnErased (HUE)

“With very little initial funding and a lot of passion, HUE has now become the only organization in America that focuses 100 percent on LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum and teacher-training for K-12 schools. HUE now has partnerships with the Library of Congress, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, Rainbow Heritage Network and ONE Archives Foundation at USC Libraries, among others and has recently welcomed Carmen Carrera as the organization's national spokesperson."

"Trust your instincts, and embrace the idea that you are the CEO of your business. Your honesty and visibility can bolster your business — never be afraid of being 100 percent authentic. Always stay true to your mission in all that you do, in every decision you make, and in every presentation of your business. Understand that entrepreneurship is equally thrilling, frustrating, exhausting and life-affirming, all at the same time."

Jamie Coker-Robertson

Kyle Moshrefi

From Kipper Clothiers

Kyle Moshrefi

Kipper Clothiers was founded in 2013, following the repeal of Proposition 8, out of the need to bring menswear to women and the LGBT community. Being the first hired employee at Everlane really helped me get a sense of what it takes to start a business from the ground-up. I got to be part of a startup that was really just getting off the ground and it was both exciting and inspiring. We try to give back in every way and any time we can. From sponsoring the NCLR Gala, to giveaways and sponsorships for A-Camp and the like, we are always looking to give back to our community."

“Go out and do it. Be bold, be persistent, and learn everything you can about the industry. Most importantly, never be afraid to ask for help or advice. One of the smartest things I have ever done is to ask for help when I needed it. There is no shame in it and the lessons learned are totally worth it. I haven't found any discrimination in being an LGBT female entrepreneur, and maybe I am lucky in that sense, so let it empower you."

Catherine Goldberg

From BrainBuzz

Catherine Goldberg

I started my own company, BrainBuzz, back in 2014 because I'm the type of person who thinks job titles and office hours are arbitrary and wearing pants makes me claustrophobic. My company has gone through phases, but now in Los Angeles, we're focused on creating neurologically-compelling marketing content for the cannabis industry, like writing about products and trends for High Times magazine. I had to build the life I wanted and now I'm excited about working every day. Life is too short to carry out someone else's dream."

“You're different and I can guarantee no one sees the world like you, so embrace that and stop caring how other people see you. Also, always practice mindfulness and dedicate 10 minutes of your day to meditation. It will physically change your brain, and everything else will fall into place. Success is a combination of authenticity, genuine curiosity, and gratitude. Figure out how to incorporate those things into your life and work and you'll kill it in business."

Nenna Joiner

From Feelmore Adult Gallery

Nenna Joiner

"I literally woke from a dream several years ago wanting to be in the Adult Industry. The very next day I went out and bought adult products to sell on street corners and parking lots and eventually began directing porn in pursuit of my goal. After I got over being made fun of, I started Feelmore. Feelmore Adult Gallery opened six years ago, and its true uniqueness is found in not only the traditional sex products we sell, but also in the vintage 'Handbooks' from the 1930's, erotic artwork from estate sales, and one-of-a kind finds. The people want to be validated regardless of their sexual identity or sexual interests. We actively partner to provide workshops on sexual inclusion. One note of pride is supporting our Trans Clients by not 'Deadnaming' them at the point of purchasing, which is critical to their personal empowerment."

“Create a business that will keep you up at night with dreams about how to make a service or product that empowers the communities that you are passionate about."

Francine E. Love

From Love Law Firm, PLLC

Francine E. Love

“I started my law firm because I wanted the freedom to practice law on my terms. I have created a firm that focuses on the entrepreneur and small business owner. These are the people who employ over half of the nation and who provide the products and services people rely on in their day-to-day lives. To be able to serve that market, and to do so not only by providing exceptional legal services but also by giving practical and business support, is very rewarding.

“In starting your business, you must have a unique selling proposition – what is it you bring to the world that no one else does? What is your why for being? If you don't have that, you don't have anything - even if you have the best product or service in the world. You must communicate to people why they should want to do business with you and not everyone else out there. And of course, find yourself an attorney who focuses on helping entrepreneurs and understands the issues you face daily."

Crys Shannon

From DOSE Apparel

“Dose was created to inspire and support a spiritual awakening within the hearts of all individuals by utilizing the fashion industry to connect with people through visual exposure. We believe the energetic balance of harmony is achieved by each person opening up to their divine feminine and masculine energies. Thus, we are focused on creating gender-neutral clothing to inspire this expression. For this reason, we have been loyally supported by the LGBTQ community, since we have a large inclusion of models that identify in this way. We realize true self-expression of the soul is the key to embracing the one-heart consciousness within each of us."

“I would recommend that any LGBTQ entrepreneur stay focused on their unique gifts and be in full expression of themselves while executing them, because in that pure joy, they will inspire others to do the same."

Alaina Young

From Q Square

“Q Squared was founded in 2011 by me and my mom, Nancy Young Mosny, with the mission to inspire people to live elegantly every day. We wanted to create beautiful tableware that was luxurious, yet durable and practical for every day use. Using only 100 percent high-quality melamine, we developed dinnerware and serveware that looked and felt like porcelain and ceramic, but was virtually unbreakable. As the designer, I'm constantly pushing myself to seek different kinds of inspiration and create designs and patterns that connect with people. I'm always so thrilled to hear when customers are excited about our new dinnerware collections and humbled that they chose to have Q Squared in their homes."

“Be true to yourself and do not dim your shine under any circumstances. Hone your instincts and listen to them. If you believe in something, stand for it and don't back down. We all have more strength than I think we give ourselves credit for."

Jill Tracy


“BSTRO is a digital marketing and branding agency with offices in San Francisco, Vancouver, and New York. Since starting the agency in 2004, BSTRO has become a market-leading digital agency known for developing engaging campaigns that create deeper connections between people and brands with a client roster that includes global consumer brands, leading health and educational institutions, and innovative non-profit, arts and cultural organizations. BSTRO has been a strong supporter, sponsor, and provider of marketing services for many community causes since we started the agency. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation, AIDS/LifeCycle, Positive Pedalers, Health Initiative for Men, BC Centre for Disease Control, Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Frameline, Options for Sexual Health, Horizon's Foundation, and Qmunity and Out in Schools."

“Do what you do really well, so others can confidently give you their business or support. When you see others in your community doing what they do well, show up and support them generously. At the same time, be generous about sharing your authentic self, your story, and your unique life experience. We all have to put ourselves out there, as business people and as examples for our community. Living authentically, showing up, and supporting each other can't be underestimated. Whether that be providing a referral, making a donation, sending a kind tweet, or sharing our life experiences, giving without expectation has always served me well. It makes me feel like I'm paying back some of the women who have gone before me and made my road a bit easier to travel."

Puja Singh

From Sweetist

Puja Singh

Sweetist is an e-commerce bakery marketplace. We partner with some great bakeries in New York and have a deep knowledge of the NY-baking industry. Recently we have expanded our reach to Brooklyn and Queens. I am a co-founder of Sweetist and have had a career change from hospitality general management to the tech world. I got married to my wife and moved to NY to be with her and felt that it opened up the opportunity for a new challenge.

“Anything is possible! Talking to people about what you are doing is key: always be talking to your peers and people you are serving about their pain points and focus on solving these - this means listening to your audience. I have found that most people have a point of view and do not hold back when telling you what you should be doing, however it seems like everyone wants to give advice. Be selective about what advice to take - often your gut instinct is what counts. Another important thing is to get rid of your ego; ego can get in the way of productivity, efficiency and running your business if you let it. Lastly - get help when you are overwhelmed. You think you can do it all alone. That is not true – get an intern or a partner. It can get lonely if you don't and there will always be someone to keep you honest."

Hannah Lavon

From Pals Socks

With a background as a designer and art director, I initially created mittens called 'Vs' that came mismatched, so your hands could battle it out. After realizing the mitten sales period was so tiny, I decided to morph the concept into socks. However after a year and a half, I wanted to create something that spoke to kids in a positive way and rebranded toward the end of 2015. Now we are called Pals, and create socks that don't match, because it's fun to be friends with someone different. We inspire kids to make all kinds of different friends and be open to new experiences. The world would be a much nicer place to live when we are nicer and more open to different ideas! Our tag is to #defeatthenorm.

“If you are passionate and have a good product, eventually you will succeed! Work hard, do your research, tweak your product and respond to the market. But this is true for everyone starting a business!"

Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan

From: Stribling & Associates

“Stribling & Associates, Ltd. is a premier residential real estate firm with over 300 agents throughout three locations in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn. As one of the most renowned brokerages in New York, Stribling uses its respected expertise in the current market to provide individualized services to both buyers and sellers. I am on the board of GLESN, a national anti-discrimination education group that advocates for LGBT students of all ages. I, along with several of my agents, are involved with NAGLREP, The National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals, a mission-driven 501 non-profit organization that is part-business and part-advocacy."

“Stand up and be counted because you matter. You will likely face discrimination because you are a woman, or because you are gay, or because you are both. But you are not alone. There are so many wonderful advocacy groups that are there to support you. You are not one, but you are one of many. I have experienced discrimination along the way, and I've used these experiences to make me stronger, better, and more successful."

Dawn Hancock

From Firebelly

Dawn Hancock

“I started Firebelly in 1999 with a simple mission: Good Design for Good Reason™. Since then, we've been diligent about hiring passionate people, seeking out fearless allies and taking on projects with the potential to change the world. While I've kept the design studio intentionally small, I have kept on hustling to expand Firebelly's reach and impact. Over the years, I have founded a community-based nonprofit, an education incubator, a 10-day design bootcamp, and Typeforce, a curated showcase of typographic all-stars. Named one of Fast Company's 11 Most Generous Designers, I've never stopped focusing on people and their potential to create a better world together, one good idea at a time. We have multiple clients whose focus is in the LGBTQ community. We believe that by helping them achieve their mission with solid research, on-point strategy and beautiful design, we are part of the greater activism.

A specific probono project that comes to mind is the campaign we did for the TransLife Center at Chicago House bringing a voice to the most marginalized group in the LGBTQ community – trans women of color. Our campaign was meant to be a call to action in the hopes of changing people's assumptions."

“It's easy to get caught up in the daily grind and forget that as a business owner we have unique powers and responsibilities. We have the power to choose who we hire, who we work with, and who we use as suppliers and vendors. It's important to make sure that the people you surround yourself with and support financially are people who will support you."

This article was originally published June 7, 2019.

5 min read

Lessons Learned and the Power of Turning 50

Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.

I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.

I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.

Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.

My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.

I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.

When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.

So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.

Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.

And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.

This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.

I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.

I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.