About This Story Collection
During Small Business Week, small business owners across the country are speaking out about their support for LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections and confronting the arguments from anti-LGBTQ activists in the 'Masterpiece Cakeshop' case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Read their stories:
Ohio Bakers: 'What We Do Is Artistic, But It Isn't a Personal Statement'
Letha Pugh & Wendy Miller-Pugh • Columbus, OH
Letha and Wendy Pugh, the owners of bakery Bake Me Happy in Columbus, Ohio, understand that when it comes to owning and operating a business, you can be both artistically expressive and continue to serve the needs of all your customers.
“As small business owners, we have a responsibility to be inclusive when we provide service,” says Letha. “From a bar mitzvah to a christening — you name the event, we’ve made a cake for it. What we do is artistic, but it isn’t a personal statement. There’s a boundary between what your beliefs are and what you’re serving; our customers aren’t asking for our personal opinion. These are business transactions, and all along, their personal taste is guiding the designs and statement that is made.”
Together for 12 years and married in March 2017, and with daughter Avery, 7, Letha and Wendy are proud of the success of their bakery as well as their reputation for providing consistent, quality work, all the while being fully inclusive.
“For us, at the end of the day, the goal is to have served all of our customers with respect, regardless of their personal lives. Being open to everyone is a responsible business choice as well as the right thing to do.”
Mississippi Artist: 'Being Open to All Makes Sense For My Business’ Bottom Line.'
Catherine Chai • Ocean Springs, MS
Catherine Chai, an artist from Mississippi and the owner of Mermaid Art Magic, has been in love with the creative process since she was a young child.
“I liked to draw in elementary school more than I liked to study,” she says. “I’ve loved art all my life — I was born to do it.”
Running her own business and doing various projects on the side, Catherine says she has a goal of one day going back to school to become an art teacher, and perhaps own her own gallery. In the meantime, however, she knows the importance of being #OpentoAll; her identity as a Chinese bisexual woman has informed her philosophy in business and in life.
“As a small business owner, I serve everyone because I can’t imagine turning anyone away because of who they are. I rely on selling my art in order to earn my living, so being open to all is the right thing to do for me and my community, and it also makes sense for my business’ bottom line.”
Restaurant Owners in Kansas: 'Being a Business Owner is an Opportunity to Serve Our Community'
Carlos & Jaime Renteria • KS
For Carlos Renteria and his husband Jaime, creating a unique and fulfilling experience at their Wichita restaurant Los Compadres is their number one priority as business owners.
“Our heart goes into whatever we send out,” Carlos said. “I couldn’t begin to imagine saying to someone,’I won’t serve you because your beliefs don’t match mine.’ Being a business owner is an opportunity to serve our community — all of it —and there’s no reason to hurt someone or cause pain.”
Growing up in Wichita, Kansas as a Mexican immigrant who later came out as gay, Carlos explained that the area was very conservative during his formative years, as well as during his time in college. Following graduation, he moved to Dallas, where he met his future husband. While that city was more accepting, Carlos and Jaime decided to move back to Wichita in order to be closer to Carlos’ family.
Carlos and Jaime sincerely believe that all people deserve to be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love. They’ve been pleasantly surprised at the acceptance they’ve found in their community as well.
“When we were able to move to a new space three months ago, we were excited because we’d started much smaller. We met with the landlord and told him we were married, and he just said ‘I respect you, love is love.’ We’ve learned to not be afraid of embracing who we are, and our business has only grown because of it.”
Georgia Attorney: 'Non-Discrimination Laws Must Be For All'
Ruth Claiborne • Atlanta, GA
An attorney in Georgia, Ruth Claiborne understands that diversity and inclusion are key to her business’ success.
With a team that includes people from all walks of life, including different religious and ethnic backgrounds, Ruth looks to her personal religious and moral compasses to inform her belief about businesses being #OpenToAll.
“As a Christian trying to live and work faithfully, I understand the Gospel to mean God’s love is for all. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to welcome all. This includes the LGBTQ community, immigrants, refugees, the young, the old, the poor, and those of different religions. As an attorney and business-owner with team members from three major religions, I believe non-discrimination laws must be for all.”
Oklahoma Insurance Salesperson: 'We Can’t Pick and Choose Which Laws to Follow'
Bill Snipes • Oklahoma City, OK
As a business owner in Oklahoma, Bill Snipes takes pride in the work he and his family have done for over half a century, making lives easier and providing safety and security to people from all walks of life. At the center of the business, Loftus & Wetzel Corporation, are the core principles of fairness, equity, and honesty.
“My family has been in the insurance business for over 60 years here in Oklahoma City. We sell personal and business insurance, so we get to know the ins and outs of our clients’ lives. It never crossed my mind that an LGBTQ customer could be turned away from a business simply because of who they are. But when my daughter was planning her wedding with her future wife, I realized she could be denied service just because someone objects to marriage between same-sex couples.”
“Owning a business is hard work, but no matter how a person feels about gay or transgender people, it is important that businesses follow the law and treat customers fairly. We can’t pick and choose which laws to follow, and no one should be exempt from treating everyone fairly under the law. I’m proud to keep my business open to all and I’m hopeful the Supreme Court will rule on behalf of fairness for all.”
Arizona Wedding Planner: 'I Happily Accept and Serve the Diverse Clientele That Chooses to Work With Me'
Cicely Rocha-Miller • Phoenix, AZ
As a Christian business owner who runs a wedding and event planning company, Cicely Rocha-Miller says she initially was unaware of the potential discrimination that LGBTQ people face in the business community.
“When I first started my business, I was a little naive to the discrimination that same-sex couples experience. That really changed after I joined the Phoenix Gay Chamber of Commerce. I formed relationships with people in the LGBT community and came to understand how heartbreaking it was for same-sex couples to not be able to enjoy all the same rights and protections as everyone else. Once I saw this, I knew I needed to do more.”
Now, as a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community, Cicely finds her area of expertise a hot topic of conversation with the Masterpiece case currently awaiting decision from the Supreme Court, concerning a cake baker refusing service to a same sex couple for their wedding by claiming a religious exemption.
“Wedding planners like me are finding ourselves at the center of a national conversation about the importance of keeping businesses open to all. My Christian faith is important to me, and I happily accept and serve the diverse clientele that chooses to work with me because they respect my product and want their event to be special and memorable. My personal faith would never prevent me from creating special events for any of my clients.”
Florida Attorney: 'Discrimination Against LGBTQ People Is All Too Common'
Claudia Humphrey • Doral, FL
An attorney with a private practice in Florida, Claudia Humphrey takes the issue of nondiscrimination personally, as she herself identifies as LGBTQ.
“This is something personal to me as a lesbian and an employment attorney. My main practice is defending LGBTQ people who have experienced harassment or discrimination at work. Discrimination against LGBTQ people is all too common.”
Claudia is proud to stand with over 1200 other small businesses as part of the Small Businesses Against LGBTQ Discrimination coalition, and is firm in believing that operating a business means that everyone who comes to seek a good or service should be accommodated.
“I believe that if you make the choice to enter the public sphere as a small business owner, you should provide goods and services to any person regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity. We’re all entitled to our personal beliefs, but that doesn’t give any of us the right to discriminate against others.”
Gasket and Sealing Industry Leader in Ohio: 'LGBT Protections Are Good for the Community'
Randy Webb • Lakewood, OH
“I’d never considered myself an LGBTQ ally – but when your youngest daughter tells you she’s a lesbian, your feelings, your opinions and your focus begin to shift,” says Randy Webb, who lives in Lakewood, OH and is president of Beacon Gaskets and Seals Co., his family’s business. “After about six weeks of praying and worrying, I found the answers I’d been looking for.”
Now, Randy is a strong supporter of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, in Ohio and nationwide. He is a proud supporter of the Ohio Fairness Act through Ohio Business Competes, a nonpartisan coalition of businesses committed to achieving nondiscrimination policies at the state level in order to attract the best talent and grow Ohio’s economy.
“Right now, my daughter and thousands of other LGBTQ people living in Ohio can be denied services because of who they are and who they love,” he said. “It’s this shocking reality that has also inspired me to speak out regarding a major Supreme Court case that could determine the direction we head as a country. Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission could have a lasting impact on whether my daughter is treated fairly under the law or considered a lesser citizen.”
Mississippi Craft Store Owner: 'Love is the Law. There’s No Price Point for That'
CeCe Garrett • Hattiesburg, MS
Ask CeCe Garrett why her craft shop, SewNerdyGifts, carries a selection of Pride items geared toward the LGBTQ community and allies, she is quick and unflinching in her answer.
“It’s important that my brand reflects my life and what’s in my soul. Your brand is the soul of your business. I’ve always had LGBTQ items in the shop, and I’ve always been an activist.”
CeCe and her husband Larry live in Hattiesburg, MS, where he runs a nondenominational open and affirming ministry, and she operates her online storefront. After spending time in Ohio and seeing cruelty that LGBTQ people faced in their local Methodist faith community, CeCe and Larry packed up and moved to Mississippi, where they were determined to provide a safe and welcoming faith community for everyone.
It was this imperative that led CeCe to continue adding pride and LGBTQ-supportive items to her shop, which has been online since 2014 with the tagline: “Uncommon Gifts With a Common Thread of Love.” While she is not LGBTQ herself, she advocates a personal philosophy of inclusion and acceptance.
“As a Christian business owner, I am aware that having pro-LGBTQ items in my shop limits me and might have people questioning my faith, but love is the law…it’s how I live personally and how I live as a businessperson and entrepreneur. There’s no price point for that.”
Colorado Photographer: 'Engaging in An Act of Commerce With Any Client In No Way Means That You Are Endorsing Their Beliefs'
Danny & Nina de Zayas • Denver, CO
Danny and Nina Zayas own a photography company in Denver called From the Hip Photo, and weddings are a huge cornerstone of their business: they’ve photographed hundreds over the years across cultural, national, and religious spectrums.
The couple know that when it comes to working on a wedding, they aren’t necessarily endorsing anything about the celebration or the couple getting married – they are providing a service and being paid to do a job.
“What’s called for in our line of work is an attitude of respect, reverence, and tolerance. Different members of our clientele are going to hold different beliefs, and our own views never inhibit our ability to do work on their behalf. It’s pretty much immaterial.”
Both Danny and Nina believe that when someone decides to open a business, they don’t get to pick and choose which members of the public you serve. Regarding the issue of artistic expression and commerce, Danny comments:
“Engaging in an act of commerce with any client in no way means that you are endorsing the beliefs of that client. Our economy would grind to a halt if every time a business owner sold a hot dog or coffee to someone, it meant the owner was endorsing a whole litany of thoughts and values.”
Editor’s Note: Read a full profile of Danny de Zayas and his company here.
Grief Recovery Specialist in Arizona: 'The Love of Christ Compels Me to Love Everyone'
Gina Pollard • Phoenix, AZ
A certified grief recovery specialist in Phoenix, Gina Pollard knows the importance of opening her practice to anyone in need, including LGBTQ people.
While she is not LGBTQ herself, she says she would never turn someone away because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, the heart of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“As a Christian, the love of Christ compels me to love everyone,” she said. “Loving my neighbor as myself means accepting one another as we are, with dignity and respect, building each other up, and caring for each other. Period.”