By: Kayla Isabelle, CEO, Startup Canada & Darrell Schuurman, CEO, CGLCC
Picture this. A game of monopoly has already been going on for three days and you are asked to join. In the past you haven’t been invited to many games, so you are thrilled at the opportunity – of course, you’ll join! But after a short amount of time you realize all of the properties have already been bought and sold, all of the resources have been handed out, and you’re starting from nothing. How can you win? You can’t.
Well, you can’t unless someone changes the rules, gives each new player a few extra turns or certain resources are removed from the initial players. This is the reality for LGBT+ and other marginalized entrepreneurs across Canada. While circumstances have improved over the years – and that should be celebrated – the disparity between the original and new players still exists.
LGBT+ entrepreneurs in Canada face significant barriers to success, even in 2022. While things have moved in the right direction, issues continue to persist. Historic discrimination against LGBT+ individuals is not something of the past, nor does it exist in silos from other axes of oppression and marginalization – the hurdles that many LGBT+ founders face today are as a result of ongoing systemic, and structrual inequalities. Like an unfair game of monopoly, many from the community – and the organizations who work to support them – have had to focus on surviving over thriving for far too long.
The clear gap in tailored and accessible tools, programs, and resources for LGBT+ entrepreneurs only exacerbates these barriers and, as a result, the continued inequity experienced by this community. Public and private sector players with the human and financial resources necessary to empower the research, development, implementation, and circulation of these vital resources need to step up – and urgently.
Our First Hand Experience
The CGLCC and Startup Canada recently experienced this gap first hand when attempting to curate an all encompassing resource guide for LGBT+ entrepreneurs at the start of Pride Month. Of 15+ support organizations reached out to, all saw value in the initiative yet only three were able to submit resources. There is a serious, illuminating problem in that 80 per cent of these organizations had no resources prepared to share, or those that did had next to no capacity to be involved. It needs to be clarified that these realities are in no way the fault of these specialized support entities. Despite extreme capacity barriers, understaffing, and underfunding, they work double time to stretch whatever resources they do have – financial and human – in order to make real, positive impacts for their communities. This underserved community of organizations, and those they represent, should be focusing on their mandates, not having to spend their valuable time and energy fighting for the need to be recognized as vital and worthy of external support.
Specialized LGBT+ support organizations, whether inside or outside of the scope of founder support, exist across the country and do incredible work advocating for LGBT+ individuals. These organizations and the people who make up their teams work tirelessly on their mission to support the LGBT+ community each day – unfortunately, these organizations are often playing on the same monopoly board as the community they serve.
Historically, Canada has portrayed itself as a friendly, accepting country. Sure, in many ways we are – we like to hold doors open for others and we say sorry… a lot. But for many underrepresented and marginalized communities – Indigenous Nations, visible minorities, people with disabilities – Canada is a place of mistrust and broken promises.
In the case of the LGBT+ community, this also rings true. Historical discrimination against this community includes, but certainly isn’t limited to:
- Until 1990 The World Health Organization (WHO) classified homosexuality as a mental health disorder.
- Until 1996 with the passing of Bill C-33, sexual orientation was not a prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
- Until 1992, it was illegal for 2SLGBTQ+ individuals to serve in the military.
- Until 2005 gay marriage was illegal in Canada. The Conservative government attempted to reverse this ruling again in 2006.
- Until 2017 gender identity and gender expression were not a prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
- Until 2019 WHO deemed transgender individuals as having a mental illness, coined “gender dysphoria”.
- Until 2021 Conversion Therapy was a legal practice in Canada.
Similar to the unfair monopoly game, these actions and inactions have resulted in significant disparities and disadvantages for LGBT+ individuals today, including massively disproportionate rates of youth homelessness, large income disparities, and higher likelihood of mental health challenges and food insecurity. Despite more of the population identifying as LGBT+, indicating a more inclusive and accepting societal sentiment, hate crimes against this community have also been on the rise – increasing 41 per cent from 2009 to 2019. While these are the realities this entire community faces, it is important to also recognize that these inequalities are often compounded for visible minorities, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups.
Systemic inequalities and baked-in structural discrimination does not create an equal playing field – for many LGBT+ founders, inaccess to resources, mentorship, and role-models plays a role in overal longterm chances of success. This, in turn, equally impacts the support organizations that exist to serve LGBT+ entrepreneurs. In a society which has actively devalued you as a human being and gate kept its institutions, it’s no wonder we are still playing catch up on the journey to true equality.
2SLGBTQ+ Entrepreneurship & Support
According to a Deloitte May 2021 study, commissioned by CGLCC, 62 per cent of respondents have chosen not to disclose their LGBT+ identity in official communications of their business. What’s more, 57 per cent of respondents have on at least once occasion consciously hid their LGBT+ ownership status, with another 12 per cent stating they had done this, but not consciously. And, unfortunately, these fears are not unfounded. According to CGLCC, more than a third of LGBT+ entrepreneurs have lost opportunities due to being a part of this community.
Interestingly, the study also found that most ventures surveyed are classified as small businesses and are not expected to scale as much or as quickly as other non-LGBT+ owned businesses. In fact, 37 per cent of respondents indicated they are unsure of the future of their company, so are avoiding hiring.
The same study indicated the top five problems LGBT+ founders face: funding, mentorship, discrimination aquiring suppliers and new customers, difficulty networking in their sector, and as mentioned above, growing their venture. By far the top pain point for this community was funding, with 70 per cent of respondents stating they have never encountered specialized funding programs for LGBT+ owned businesses, despite the definite need for such programs. In fact only 25 per cent were able to identify a single specialized funding program for this community and only 13 per cent successfully acquired funding. From this we understand there is both a lack of sufficient financial resources for LGBT+ owned ventures, as well as a general gap in knowledge of what is available across the startup ecosystem in Canada.
Real Action is Needed Now
The 100,000+ LGBT+ owned businesses across the country account for $22 billion in economic activity and employ over 435,000 Canadians. Throughout Canada’s startup landscape, it is clear that businesses owned by LGBT+ founders continuously push the limits – delivering incredible ideas, undisputable quality, and inspiring innovation. There is no lack of passion and dedication from LGBT+ entrepreneurship organizations and those they support, but debilitating capacity issues as a result of insufficient, short term funding are all too common. It is vital for the startup support ecosystem to come together and work to create real, tangible change for this community of founders and fight for true economic inclusion in Canada today.
We – CGLCC and Startup Canada – call on the big, well-resourced players across the ecosystem to recognize the gaps that exist, take them seriously, and collaborate with specialized support providers – enabling them with the support necessary to develop resources independently, and with their own expertise. Together, we can combat these inequalities through both human and financial resource reallocation. After all, it should not be the responsibility of the new, under-resourced players to roll the dice and even the playing field.
CGLCC, Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce, is a national non-profit organization representing Canada’s 100,000+ LGBTQ2+-owned businesses. Its goal is to create positive social change by economically empowering the LGBT+ community through entrepreneurship. CGLCC works to create a truly inclusive economy where all LGBT+ businesses and entrepreneurs have access and the opportunity to actively participate.
About Startup Canada
Startup Canada is the gateway to Canada’s entrepreneurial ecosystem that points you in the right direction, eliminates barriers, and champions your needs to private and public sector partners. We connect you with support organizations and peers across the country with industry expertise, regional knowledge, and funding to help you start and build successful businesses.