6 LGBTQ+ Social Enterprises that are Breaking Barriers and Empowering Equality

Let's take a look at the inspiring stories, economic impact and challenges faced by several LGBTQ-led organizations that are reshaping industries and driving social progress in the U.S. and beyond.
June 25, 2024
LGBTQ+ Social Enterprises That Are Breaking Barriers

Imagine a world where every entrepreneur has an equal shot at success, regardless of whom they love.

How far would innovation soar if discrimination wasn’t a barrier?

That’s why it’s so refreshing to hear that LGBTQ+ business and nonprofit leaders are emerging as powerful catalysts for change, driving not only economic growth but also social progress. Their ventures, marked by innovation and resilience, are reshaping industries and communities alike, challenging the status quo and carving out a path for future generations.

From cutting-edge tech startups to groundbreaking nonprofits, these trailblazers are rewriting the rules of social entrepreneurship.

Keep reading to discover how their fearless leadership and unwavering commitment to inclusion are making a lasting impact on our society.

A new era of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurship

Recent studies underscore the formidable impact of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs on the U.S. economy.

According to the latest report by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, LGBT-owned businesses now contribute over $1.7 trillion annually to the economy, with certified LGBTE companies creating more than 33,000 jobs.

This economic force is complemented by the unique perspectives and experiences that LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs bring to the business world.

Ashante Taylorcox, the executive director of a survivor-led, Black-led, and LGBTQ-led nonprofit organization, aptly captured the spirit of this movement in an interview with Invoice2go: “We can try to reshape systems, or we can create our own. Only we can change how we are supported in the economic space.”

For many, entrepreneurship offers a sanctuary from traditional workplaces marred by discrimination, providing a platform to innovate and support their communities.

“It seems politically correct to say that whom one happens to love is not relevant in business, but our research shows otherwise.” — Waverly Deutsch

Navigating challenges

Despite their significant contributions, LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs face a myriad of challenges.

A study by StartOut, an organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, highlights that LGBTQ+ founders receive only 0.5% of venture capital funding, a stark contrast to their heterosexual counterparts. This funding gap underscores the systemic biases that persist within the investment community, often leaving LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs underfunded and undervalued.

Moreover, legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals remain inconsistent across the United States.

The Human Rights Campaign’s 2023 State Equality Index reports that in 23 states, there are no comprehensive non-discrimination laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ+ people in employment.

This precarious legal landscape forces many LGBTQ-led organizations to navigate a complex web of potential prejudices and uncertainties.

StartOut also found that only 3% of lesbian-owned businesses generate revenues exceeding $5 million, compared to 12% of gay male-owned businesses.

These figures highlight the intersectional challenges faced by LGBTQ+-led organizations, particularly those that are led by women and people of color.

The University of Chicago’s Waverly Deutsch emphasized the importance of supportive environments in this interview when she said: “It seems politically correct to say that whom one happens to love is not relevant in business, but our research shows otherwise. LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs specifically choose diversity-friendly states to start their companies, raise less capital than their straight counterparts, and have to balance the risk of homophobia and discrimination with creating authentic relationships with investors, customers and partners.”

Spotlight on social enterprises

Despite these adversities, several LGBTQ+ social enterprises are making indelible marks across various sectors:

1. Drag Society

Celebrating the art of drag, this subscription service curated by drag icons delivers a glamorous experience directly to subscribers. Each box includes exclusive merchandise and beauty products handpicked by top drag performers, fostering a broader appreciation and understanding of drag culture. Drag Society not only celebrates creativity and self-expression but also champions the visibility and acceptance of drag artists within mainstream culture.

2. Rainbow Railroad

In response to global persecution, this nonprofit helps LGBTQ+ people escape violence and relocate to safer countries, emphasizing the right to live freely and authentically. Since its inception, Rainbow Railroad has assisted more than 1,600 people in finding refuge from state-sponsored persecution and extreme violence. Their work highlights the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ+ rights worldwide and the need for continued advocacy and support.

3. The Queer Gym

Founded in Oakland, this gym is the first LGBTQ+ fitness center in the nation, prioritizing a safe space for fitness without fear of judgment or discrimination. The Queer Gym offers specialized classes, personal training, and a supportive community that encourages members to achieve their fitness goals while celebrating their identities. This pioneering approach to fitness promotes both physical health and mental well-being within the LGBTQ+ community.

4. TransTech Social Enterprises

This innovative organization, started by actress and activist Angelica Ross, provides vocational training and job placement services for transgender individuals. By offering workshops in technology, design and entrepreneurship, TransTech empowers its members with the skills needed to secure employment and build sustainable careers. Ross’s vision has created a vital support network for trans people, fostering economic independence and resilience.

5. Coco and Breezy Eyewear

Founded by dynamic twin designers Coco and Breezy, this brand not only offers cutting-edge eyewear but also champions diversity in the fashion industry. Known for their bold designs and celebrity clientele, Coco and Breezy have built a brand that celebrates individuality and inclusivity. Their eyewear collections challenge traditional fashion norms and inspire self-expression, making a significant impact on both the industry and their customers.

6. StartOut

A professional network dedicated to LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, StartOut supports its members through mentorship, networking opportunities, and access to funding. By connecting LGBTQ+ founders with experienced mentors and investors, StartOut helps break down barriers and fosters economic empowerment within the community. The organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion ensures that LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs have the resources and support they need to succeed.

Key Takeaway

This new narrative of LGBTQ+ social entrepreneurship should be viewed as one of resilience, creativity and unparalleled courage.

From the bustling streets of downtown Los Angeles to the tech hubs of San Francisco, these organizations are not only participating in the economy—they’re revolutionizing it.

As they break barriers and set new benchmarks, their journeys inspire a more inclusive, equitable and vibrant society for all.

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