Lives, livelihoods and progress
24th June 2020
Author: Kathryn Pierce
Kathryn Pierce is Founder of Somewhere, a new LGBTQ+ social enterprise, co-authoring LGBTQI+ Entrepreneurs: It’s Everybody’s Business about the unique experiences of rainbow businesses and business owners in the UK (including the effect of COVID-19), due to be published by Emerald in Spring 2022. She is also Co-Editor of Somewhere: For Us, a forthcoming LGBTQ+ magazine for Scotland and the Scottish queer diaspora.
Pride Month and our Black, Latinx and Asian family
Like much of the COVID-19-affected world, this year’s Pride Month is like no other before it. The ongoing devastation of the coronavirus to lives and livelihoods has revealed the global systemic inequalities in the starkest of ways; and by bearing witness to the brutal murder of George Floyd, the uprising of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement has shocked our world into reckoning through a huge roar of truth to power.
As many LGBTQ+ organisations across the world look to embrace the BLM protests and actions into their focus for Pride Month, 2020 rings especially loud with echoes of the Stonewall uprising of 1969 in New York, where the actions of black and latinx trans people including Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P Johnson forged the Gay Liberation Movement into what we know now as the Pride movement. How they did this was through the courage to defy the system and to celebrate their difference, putting it front and centre in the world’s consciousness.
Discrimination and privilege
In pre-COVID times, the minority stress associated with being a member of a minority community, such as an LGBTQ+ person or a person of colour, and/or a person from an intersectional community, was already considerable; though arguably throughout the last decade there has been a genuine will to dismantle some of society’s systemic barriers and unconscious biases, with varied success in practice.
The fear now is that COVID-19 not only disproportionately affects minority ethnic communities, but it also poses a deep and long-lasting threat to LGBTQ+ social wellbeing and to the progress we’ve made. This is because, as organisations shrink and strip down to their component heteronormative parts, there is a risk of cocooning in privilege, shedding a progressive outlook and focusing on simple survival. Through the filter of COVID-19, will diversity and inclusion move off the agenda temporarily or at least for the medium term? Will EDI revert back to the bad old days, viewed as a desirable extra, an add-on, a non-essential? If so, that decision, inherently from a place of privilege and power, has potentially devastating consequences for minority communities, enterprises and their economic survival.
The added risk of doing it alone
As the OECD announced this week that the UK could bear the biggest financial impact of COVID-19 amongst wealthier nations, it’s worth noting that the field of minority entrepreneurship is already very tough in less testing times. Routes to investment and access to innovation is an obvious example – where being an entrepreneur from a minority community instantly closes doors - remembering that all women are still considered ‘a minority’ despite being 51% of the population. Consider this - who is going to “risk” supporting a non-mainstream organisation in a time of unprecedented global economic shock? This perception of risk may well be magnified throughout the slow climb to recovery, putting minority entrepreneurship into a place of genuine precarity. If the US LGBTQ+ population is anything to go by, recent figures from the Human Rights Commission suggest that 40% of LGBTQ+ people work in the industries most affected by COVID-19 – food, hospitals, schools, colleges and retail – so it’s clear that the layers of disadvantage multiply further.
Visibility is still a massive issue. There is very little of it in the UK LGBTQ+ enterprise community and the work my organisation is doing is to create new ways to encourage more “out” entrepreneurship and to focus on enterprise as self-determination, and a vehicle for an authentic life. The likelihood of this may diminish post-COVID, and I sincerely hope that rainbow-owned businesses don’t feel forced into “playing it safe” and remaining closeted until the storm finally passes. I believe the fear of that risk will prolong the storm and keep our corporate closet alive, and, worse still, thriving.
The role of agile business and community support
But all is not lost. Living as an LGBTQ+ person usually means needing to adapt and think on your feet, sometimes purely to survive – and that applies to our businesses too, especially in our much-loved visible LGBTQ+ spaces in our cities and urban areas. Our response here at Somewhere is to create a place for us – through lasting and systemic change, made possible through culture and enterprise projects and partnerships. Our agile, disruptive and research-led organisation has a built-in mechanism for the community to self-sustain outside the existing exclusionary paradigm – through the creation of dedicated funds in support of LGBTQ+ arts and culture projects and LGBTQ+ enterprise and research.
So, while COVID-19 may have temporarily shut the doors to our favourite places and community-focused businesses, this year’s Pride Month is making sure it hasn’t shut people’s eyes to the need to continue to push for greater visibility and equality. As our communities rally online and we slowly begin to emerge from COVID-19 lockdown, our new world will emerge. It will up to us to claim our space and our voice with pride, even more loudly than before.
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