LGBTQ business owners in Topeka share their stories about inclusion

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For Shelby Herring, a small business owner, it’s important to create an open and welcoming environment for everyone.

Herring is co-owner of The Eleven Hundred, a wedding and event venue in East Topeka. She is also a member of the LGBTQ community and knows that other places don’t always offer the same secure space.

“We know there are some businesses that don’t support the community,” Herring said. “I know that as a member of the LGBTQ community and as the owner of a wedding venue, it’s important to make sure everyone is included and accepted.”

With June being Pride Month, Topeka Capital-Journal highlights some LGBTQ-owned businesses in the Topeka region. And Herring is one of the few local business owners who have agreed to share their stories.

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Interviewees said their identity shapes their business practices in a certain way and their presence as entrepreneurs increases LGBTQ representation within Topeka’s small business community.

Such portrayal is a big deal, said local lawyer Nicole Revenaugh, who has been openly gay since she was a teenager and is now a partner at Irigonegaray, Turney & Revenaugh LLP.

“If we are talking in a school or attending an alumni reunion and interacting with other young people who are questioning their identity or who have arrived at an identity that is LGBT, instead of limiting what they think they are their options, they see us and they see that we can become the same professionals that any other person can become, ”said Revenaugh. “I feel like I was the recipient of this inspiration.

“When I was younger and saw a gay lawyer talk about something, it was fascinating, and it was the opposite of limiting.”

What is pride and why is it important?

According to Library of Congress, Pride Month commemorates “the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have had on history locally, nationally and internationally”.

Pride is a more than 50-year-old tradition that began after the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, in which a police raid on a New York gay bar resulted in multi-day civil unrest outside the Stonewall. Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The uprising is seen as a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ civil rights, and the inn has since been named a national historic monument.

According to Our leadershipAccording to the state’s LGBTQ + Business Climate Index for 2021, Kansas ranked 24th out of 50 for its commitment to providing a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ people. This ranking represents a notable improvement, as Kansas jumped nine slots between 2020 and 2021.

Although the celebration of pride and the diversity associated with it has become more prevalent among members of the general public over the years, many members of the LGBTQ community may still be wary of publicly sharing details of their identities.

Shelby Herring, right, sits with her business partner on the rainbow-colored stairs of their event location, The Eleven Hundred.

For Herring, this hesitation sometimes manifests itself in his interactions with potential clients.

“Sometimes it’s a little scary,” Herring said, “because you don’t know what types of couples are coming into your room and who you’re going to have. And often they want to ask you about your own relationship. , and you need to make that call – is that a safe space to talk about my own girlfriend and our life? ”

Wife duo Chelsea and Jacques Smith, who co-own Studio 62 in Topeka’s NOTO arts and entertainment district, said they felt the same hesitation when they considered displaying a rainbow pride flag. -sky outside their business.

“For the most part I feel really comfortable here at NOTO,” Chelsea said. “But for a while, I was a little afraid to bring out our pride flag. It was a feeling even before, when we had a business (in Barrington Village).”

That feeling has calmed down, she said, and they proudly display the flag when they host Studio 62 events, such as drag shows.

“Now we just put him up there,” Chelsea said. “We are here.”

Business owners seek to create non-judgmental zones

While everyone is welcome to the art bar, many Studio 62 events are geared toward members of the LGBTQ community, the Smiths said.

“We did a Pride painting for two days,” Chelsea said, of an event recently hosted by Studio 62. “They could come and do some really cool rainbow paintings in different designs.”

They also host events like drag shows, open mic nights, quiz nights, wine tastings, and murder mystery nights.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a welcoming community space where everyone, whether coming for the art or the bar, feels free from any judgment or prejudice.

“We have all kinds of people coming here,” Chelsea said. “I want this to be a safe place for everyone, it’s just fun and heartwarming.”

Ken Liddle, co-owner of The Enchanted Willow at 2209 SW Gage Blvd., takes a similar business approach.

Ken Liddle, co-owner of The Enchanted Willow, showcases his unique collections of products Tuesday afternoon.

Liddle, who is bisexual, became part owner of The Enchanted Willow in 2013, after moving to Topeka. And he quickly helped the store improve its operations.

Before moving to Topeka, Liddle served in the Air Force; worked for Walmart, where he was handpicked for a business training course; and later obtained a degree in accounting and business management.

He put all that experience to good use at The Enchanted Willow, which offers natural healing products, herbal remedies, crystals and more.

“I looked at how they did business,” Liddle said, “and they were following typical metaphysical supply store prices, the business strategy of buying from the wholesaler, the wholesaler gives you a suggested retail price, you mark the product at or slightly above that price. “

But Liddle knew it wasn’t sustainable.

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“I looked at Topeka’s demographics,” he said. “I looked at the disposable income in Topeka because that’s all we get; it’s basically people’s disposable income. And I applied some of what I learned in college. “

Now, when he buys in bulk, he passes those savings on to his customers. And this practice transformed The Enchanted Willow’s profits.

“We opened the doors in June 2015 at this location,” said Liddle. “We ended 2015 in the red. We ended 2016 in the red; 2017, we were in the dark; 2018, we were in the dark. … It is steadily increasing. “

Besides the store’s business model, however, there is another philosophy that guides Liddle and The Enchanted Willow. He said one of the store’s goals is to make people’s lives more complete – and that includes everyone.

Liddle, who practices the modern pagan religion of Wicca, said a guiding principle of the religion is that “all acts of love and pleasure are sacred.”

“There is no gender in this statement,” he said. “The statement says that all acts of love and pleasure are sacred. An act of love can be as simple as seeing a stranger walking down the street on a hot day like today, with me having a bottle of ice water in the fridge and me taking and saying, “Hey, you look like you can use this.” This can be an act of love. “

And that perspective also guides his business practice.

Revenaugh, of Irigonegaray, Turney & Revenaugh, said his identity – and that of fellow lawyer Bo Turney – somewhat shapes the way their firm conducts business.

Local LGBTQ + business owners, from right, Shelby Herring, Nicole Revenaugh, Chelsea Smith and Ken Liddle pose for an Abbey Road inspired photo Thursday afternoon in NOTO.

“We are perhaps the only majority LGBT-owned law firm in the state,” Revenaugh said. “From our perspective, this creates this truly unique opportunity. It helped us connect with community members, potential customers.

She said some people seek out the firm because of its diversity, as clients may feel more comfortable speaking to lawyers who understand their situation.

“Not only do we have the legal expertise to help you with your issue,” Revenaugh said, “but some of us have in fact personally dealt with the same issue or issue or challenge. That’s the uniqueness that we can. bring in as LGBT lawyers. “

Revenaugh said there’s a disarmament that takes place when a client, or client, feels secure in a certain business context – and providing that sense of security is not unique to the law.

“We can skip the game,” Revenaugh said, “where they, as a member of the gay community, have to be wondering if I can tell my lawyer? Can I tell this person? Or is it uncomfortable? Or will they not want to serve me?

“Because no one wants to be rejected.”

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