In the final installment of our “Beyond Park East” series, the focus is on dollars and cents in the LGBT community.
Lee Kafeety, the owner of the Cactus Flower Café on 12th Avenue in Pensacola, has been overseeing construction of a bar area in the restaurant. The San Francisco native says as an openly-gay business owner, locating in East Hill, called by some “The Gayborhood,” was something of a no-brainer.
“Yes it was, but not specifically about the LGBT community,” said Kafeety. “More about that I had owned a video store here for several years and I was really aware of the demographic and the openness of the people in East Hill. Just a more liberal, open community.”
Kafeety founded Cactus Flower in 2001, and the chain has grown to six restaurants; five in the Pensacola area and one in Dothan, Alabama. The main obstacles for her and her partner Joanie in setting up shop, she says, had nothing to do with sexual orientation.
“Actually, I had more issues just being a woman, [and] not being a gay woman,” Kafeety said. “It was just being female and dealing with so many men down at the city. Sometimes I had to have my architect make calls for me so that I could get things done.”
Kafeety adds that the nuts and bolts of establishing a business, regardless of size and product, are uniform, and absent of gender and/or lifestyle.
“Licensing, building the restaurant was exactly the same regardless,” said Kafeety. “Opening the restaurant was the same, dealing with my customers and the marketing are the same.”
Data on LGBT-run businesses are scarce, to say the least. The Census Bureau doesn’t list gender identity or sexual orientation on its individual, household or business surveys. And, there are no federal or state classifications for LGBT businesses, as there are for racial and ethnic minority-owned firms.
“LGBT businesses in the United States represent $1.7 trillion dollars added to the U.S. [Gross Domestic Product] every year,” said Jonathan Lovitz, a senior vice president with the Washington-based National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
“To put that in perspective, if all LGBT businesses in America were their own country, we’d be the tenth largest economy in the world; a brand-new number that we’ve never had before,” Lovitz said. “All we’ve ever known previously was our economic buying power, which alone was $917 billion.”
Thanks to the NGLCC’s affiliation with various local and regional chambers, it calculates that among the Florida Panhandle’s 1.37 million population, there are an estimated 8,000+ LGBT business owners.
“Truly if you build it, they will come,” said Lovitz. “So that’s why we work with city, state, and local government, as well as major corporations who are headquartered in places like Pensacola. To create more economic opportunity for LGBT people to get ahead.”
“I’m a huge supporter of the LGBT community, and with that comes equal rights to everything,” says Justine Gudmundson-McCain, owner of Blue Jay’s Bakery in Pensacola.
Now working out of her home, plans are to move into a store at One Palafox Place in downtown Pensacola this fall. Gudmundson-McCain caters both gay and straight weddings and other events.
“In my mind it is silly to turn anybody away,” Gudmundson-McCain says. “Anybody can be a potential client or customer, and that could help your bottom line.”
As are other business owners, Gudmundson-McCain is awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the case involving a Denver bakery, which cited religious beliefs in refusing to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. That runs contrary to Colorado’s civil rights law. Arguments in the case are scheduled for October.
There’s also much work left to be done in other areas of gay and lesbian discrimination.
“It’s still perfectly legal to fire somebody because they’re gay in much of this country, in Florida, and in Pensacola,” says Louis Cooper, President of Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida. The courts and elections have a vital role, but Cooper believes winning hearts and minds of the American public is also key.
“We do want laws that protect LGBT people from being discriminated against; but the more important thing, the more meaningful thing, is to convince the employer that he has no reason to fear or discriminate against LGBTs,” said Cooper.
For many businesses, Memorial Day weekend at Park East is comparable to “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving when virtually everyone hits the stores.
In a similar report we did a few years ago we said out of all the colors in the Rainbow Flag, the businesses’ favorite was green.
That has not changed.