The past few years have not been easy, with the pandemic, rising racial tensions, and Supreme Court rulings that seem designed to take back some of the hard-won progress women and minority groups have made over the last few decades.
The LGBTQ+ community has been especially hard hit, with more than 500 pieces of anti-gay legislation introduced in states across the country attacking their identity and eroding their overall quality of life.
According to the State Attorney’s Office, in California between 2021 and 2022, there were over 391 reported hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation bias and 45 hate crimes motivated by anti-transgender or anti-gender non-conforming bias.
The latest such came on August 18 when a San Bernardino man allegedly shot and killed a store owner, 66-year-old Laura Ann Carleton, for flying the rainbow flag. The suspect was reportedly shot and killed by police later that same day.
“There have been times that an LGBT business is attacked for flying the rainbow flag or because they host drag shows. It can be terrifying,” says Fernando Lopez, executive director for San Diego LGBT Pride, adding the organization supports businesses that have been targeted by right-wing groups, often advising owners and employees who have been personally attacked.
Local law enforcement agencies in San Diego have also established liaisons with the LGBTQ+ community, explains Lopez, a welcome step in helping to ensure community members’ safety. “Having liaisons is very helpful since they know the culture of the community and help them with the law enforcement process when they need it,” Lopez said.
Still, despite the many challenges, there are examples of those who have risen above the hate, launching successful ventures that have added value to their cities and created good jobs.
At the heart of Barrio Logan is Libelula Books & Co. Co-owners Jesi Gutierrez and Araceli Hernandez opened the store during the pandemic as a way to connect with the community through books, language, and literacy.
“Our goal was not only to be a business but a community space where people come together and learn together,” Gutierrez said. “Sometimes bookstores are not celebrated or normalized in communities of color, so our biggest challenge is for people to come together to talk about language, share stories, books…”
The couple say they decided to open the store in a community where neighbors take care of each other and where the arts and storytelling are cherished. Still, Gutierrez is aware of the biases, hatred and violence directed toward the LGBT community and has used available resources to ensure the safety of staff and customers.
“In our first poetry events, the Brown Berets came in uniform to make sure everyone knew that they would be safe. We are aware of the violence and discrimination… and we work to ensure that our space is for us and our patrons,” Gutierrez said.
As an LGBT business that has brought value to a community of color, Gutierrez believes love will trump hate and those who want to spread fear will eventually be vanquished.
“I encourage our community to move forward with hope, and courage, and know that the community supports you. I believe that the groups that want to spread hate want us to believe they are bigger than they are. I refuse to be afraid and have that fear dictate what I do and do not do. My community has shown up time and time again to protect us,” Gutierrez said.
Women also continue to face harassment in the workplace and in their careers, though that has not stopped Andrea Ptacnik, owner of Cielo Blue Craft Beverages, which imports specialty craft spirits from Mexico, including the increasingly popular drink mezcal.
“In 2020-21 I wanted to expand my knowledge of mezcal and completed the four levels of the Agave Spirits Institute’s Agave Spirits Sommelier program,” said Ptacnik, who left her career in law to pursue this new path. “Through the program, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Oaxaca and went through the entire process of making mezcal from planting agaves to distillation and bottling. I also learned the science behind making a good mezcal, expanded my knowledge, appreciation, and pallet for agave spirits, and continue to learn every day.”
Still, Ptacnik says she has encountered racism and sexism along the way. “There have been times where I try to introduce myself and been verbally attacked,” she said. “There are people that attack you because… you are a woman, or because you are Mexican.”
Data show that 81% of women in California report experiencing sexual harassment at work, among the highest in the country. The numbers are even higher for members of the LGBTQ+ community, with four out of five says they experience some form of harassment in the workplace.
Ptacnik says she has heard worse stories from other women entrepreneurs, adding that people need to speak out more in order to bring about change. “We have to normalize talking about this subject and speaking out,” she stressed, “so that we can avoid this in the future.”