Small Business Leaders Defend LGBTQ Non-Discrimination & Equal Treatment for All

11 Stories from 7 States

About This Story Collection

Across the country, small business leaders are speaking out about the need for LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination law. An upcoming Supreme Court case has shined the spotlight now more than ever on the need to treat all customers equally and with respect – and small business owners know that businesses open to the public must be open to everyone.

A Creative Business in Colorado Springs Makes Everyone Welcome

Tracy duCharme • Colorado

Tracy duCharme owns Color Me Mine in Colorado Springs, a studio where people can come and express their creativity by painting ceramics. Tracy and her team will then fire the creations in order to preserve the designs and provide a lasting product that reflects the individuality of each customer. It’s a family business that frequently hosts parties, including bridal showers.

“Not just as a business owner, but as a citizen it just seems crazy to me that you’d want advertise that you discriminate,” says Tracy. “And watching what happened in other states it wasn’t good for business or the local economy. This is my main concern. Keeping a business vibrant means advertising that you’re including accepting all customers no matter  what. It’s both personal and bottom line business sense.”

Tracy expressed hope that fellow small business owners could be convinced to treat everyone fairly, even ones who aren’t sure how they feel: “I think if I’m talking to another business I would just try to persuade them that it’s bad for their bottom line to discriminate against anyone. I don’t think you’re gonna change someone’s mind about their religious feelings, but you might be able to persuade them with an economic argument just for their business.” However, Tracy adds, “I don’t understand how I could afford to alienate one customer let alone an entire group of people.”

Tracy knows what it means to work in a creative field, and nonetheless treat everyone with dignity and respect: “I’ve heard that argument about cake bakers. ‘This is art and it’s so personal,’ and so he shouldn’t be asked to be an artist for something that’s anathema to how he feels.” Tracy knows why that argument just does not hold up saying, “If that’s the case don’t say you’re open for business. Just work in a shed somewhere. If you’re open for business you’re open to the public.”

Straight Christian Baker in Jackson, MS Rejects Idea of "Bakery Exception" from Non-Discrimination Law

Mitchell Moore • Mississippi

For Mitchell Moore, the owner and pastry chef at Campbell’s Bakery in Jackson, Mississippi, it’s been hard to see such fierce public discussion about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. After all, as a baker himself, he knows that it’s his responsibility to serve everyone equally and not discriminate against someone because of who they are.

In a reflection he authored for The Clarion-Ledger and republished in Believe Out Loud, Mitchell wrote, “My bakery is very much part of the fabric of the neighborhood, and I recognize that my baked goods should be enjoyed by every walk of life. That’s why I was saddened to learn about Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado turning away a couple because they are gay. It doesn’t matter whether or not they approve of gay people, or whether or not I do.”

He continued, “As business owners serving the public, we don’t have a right to deny people service just because of who they are.”

Read the full profile in The Clarion-Ledger.

Puget Sound Artisan Says Turning Away Customers is “Really Crazy”

Kristine Walberg • Washington

Kristine Walberg of EE Practical Creations is an ally who runs a small, one-woman business out of her home on Bainbridge Island, in Washington State. Kristy focuses on bespoke stitchwork, such as bridalwear, handmade jewelry, intricate embroidery and costumes. She comes from a multicultural family and feels strongly that everyone should be treated equally.

Kristy cites her faith as playing a big role in her values: “Since I do a lot of marriage related stuff, I’ve done stuff for many religious ceremonies, same-sex couples doing religious ceremonies, straight couples doing secular ceremonies, etc.” Kristy says her goal when hired to do a job is to “give them something that’s really high quality and makes them happy. That’s my only concern.”

Kristy does not mince words when talking about discrimination: “The idea of picking and choosing my customers based on race or preference or anything, is really crazy to me.”

Kristy gets serious when she thinks of people in her life who are LGBTQ.

“When people have tried to struggle with various different things, to be petty and nasty in a business setting just seems so wrong,” Kristy says. “If we’re not on this earth to be nice to each other, I don’t know why we are.”

Kristy beautifully sums up her view of the unique role of business in our society: “That’s my definition of being successful. I want to make a living, I want my creature comforts. but if I’m decent to others that’s my definition of a success.”

Kristy’s work is highly creative and personal. That does not change the fact that she is adamantly open to all who seek her skilled hand:

“If you get a rep for being someone who’s gonna pick and choose and people don’t know if they’re gonna be able to be served or get your product, it doesn’t help your business’ profitability. If I were to reject somebody just because of who they were, I would no longer have a business–and rightly so. You’re in business to serve the public. That’s just how it is.

But to Kristy and so many other business owners, this is about so much more than the bottom line: “I’d be happy to make things for a Jewish,  Buddhist or Muslim couple. It doesn’t mean I’m becoming that. It means I’m providing the service I went into business to provide.”

Olympia Tattoo Artist Says it’s Important to Serve Everyone

Leslie Gray • Washington

Leslie Gray is a retired tattoo artist from Olympia, Washington, who is transgender and Native American. Born in 1955, she struggled growing up in Texas as a gender nonconforming individual, and did not come out as trans until into her 50s.

As someone who works in an expressive field, she still feels that she must serve all members of the public, regardless of who they are or if she shares their beliefs: “Being open for business means being open to the public. All of the public, not just those you pick and choose.”

Leslie has heard about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case along with others that attempt to define a conflict between freedom of religion and the principle of non-discrimination.     

“There’s been a lot of press about cakes being an artistic expression and about too much involvement in same-sex marriages,” notes Leslie, only to draw this distinction: “It’s a product. It’s not participation. It’s making a thing for sale and once you make it and put it the box, you’re done. That’s as far as your participation goes.

Leslie allows there can be nuance in how to address different customers’ needs and wants in a creative field:  “There’s a really fine line between what’s proper to refuse and what’s not.  People need to learn to respect people for who they are.” However, Leslie points out that there are indeed times when it is proper to say “No” to a customer.

“This was one of the issues I came across dealing with the public, taking anyone and everyone,” says Leslie. “Sometimes I’d get people who wanted blatantly racist work done. White power or something. I would refuse that. I had a guy one time that wanted me to tattoo a Wehrmacht jacket on him. I wouldn’t do it. Gang-related work, drug-related…That type of thing is ideology rather than religion. It’s better to refuse than having a reputation for doing that kinda thing.

To Leslie there is a clear difference between being open to all customers on an equal basis and having to cater hateful views. Leslie has been discriminated against herself, and has at times had trouble finding work after transitioning, despite her years of experience. She knows what real discrimination is, and how to run a business in a fair way. In her words, “I have to respect whatever people choose to believe. I always did the best I could for everyone I could.”

Colorado Photographer Outlines Difference Between Art and Commerce in LGBTQ Discrimination Case

Danny & Nina de Zayas • Colorado

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.

Kentucky Attorney Advocates For Change In The Courtroom

Shannon Fauver • Kentucky

Just a few years ago, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for people to show up at Fauver Law Office in Louisville, Kentucky and admit that they had driven across the entire state just to meet with and hire Shannon Fauver, an attorney who has been practicing law for 13 years. They drove so far, they would explain, because they were turned away by other attorneys, who refused to represent them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Every time, Shannon would apologize on behalf of the other attorneys, and inside, her heart would break a bit. No one should struggle to find adequate legal representation because of anti-LGBTQ beliefs, she thought. “I liked to let folks know that we treat everyone the same in my office, no matter what.”

The discussion around the Masterpiece Cakeshop case reminds Shannon of a story that catapulted her state into the public eye two years ago, when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis claimed that her religion justified her choice to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the Supreme Court ruling weeks earlier in favor of the freedom to marry.

“If the Court rules that the baker in Masterpiece has a right to discriminate based on religion, then anyone can use their religion as a basis to discriminate against anyone,” Shannon said. “Religion is never an excuse for discrimination.”

Shannon is involved in several cases concerning LGBTQ equality, following her involvement in the U.S. Supreme Court case that brought the freedom to marry nationwide. Several of her clients are LGBTQ people who have experienced employment discrimination. She also represents clients with wildly different backgrounds, including different ideological beliefs. Whether someone is conservative, liberal, or apolitical altogether, Shannon knows that when she provides a service to someone – serving as their attorney – she is not endorsing their beliefs or their identity in any way.

“I do the best to represent anyone who wants to hire me,” Shannon said. “I represent people no matter their political bent, and even if I don’t agree with their political views. If you pay me, I do my job. That’s how business works.”

“It’s just bad business to discriminate,” she said. “If you discriminate against people, you risk losing your business. And just morally, you should treat people the same, no matter who they are.”

Editor’s Note: Read a full profile of Shannon Fauver and her practice here.

Kansas City Clown Wants To Make His Audiences Smile, No Matter Who They Are

Dennis Porter • Missouri

Dennis Porter is a clown and live entertainment provider from Kansas City, MO who is gay and regularly uses creativity in his work, serving a variety of audiences. Dennis often goes by the whimsical title of Dennis Porter, CSM, standing for “Certified Smile Maker.” Using humor he tries to bring a smile to all his customers, no matter what age or background. He’s been in business for sixteen years, with acts that can include magic, balloon twisting, murder mysteries, game show nights, and more. “‘Fun for the whole family’” is my motto,” says the “smile maker.”

Far from serving as a barrier to equality, faith provides a doorway to understanding with Dennis.

“Equality furthers my bottom line in the fact that I’ve performed at many organizations,” he states. “I am spiritual. I was actually raised Southern Baptist. Religion has nothing to do with it. I perform at Baptist churches, then the next day I’ll go to the synagogue down the street. I just want the person I’m performing for to be smiling or happy.’

Though Dennis has found business with all kinds of diverse clients, he says he cannot be certain he has not ever faced discrimination himself, saying, “I frankly don’t know if someone hasn’t hired me for one reason or another.”

What’s remarkable about some of the cases currently being litigated is the brazenness of the discrimination, with businesses actually citing sexual orientation or gender identity as reasons to turn a customer away or fire an employee. However an important aspect of non-discrimination laws is the message they send, that just because you can sometimes get away with discrimination, does not mean you should.  

Dennis believes in the golden rule, in good times and bad: “If my neighbor is about to be run over by a lawnmower, I don’t care how he voted.”

“Overall, it’s a part of realizing even to the world, we’re all in this together,” says Dennis. “We all need to be working together. Anything you put out there that blocks that is going to make the world a worse place to be.”

North Carolina Video House Tells Stories of All Kinds

Elena Rue • North Carolina

Elena Rue from Carrboro, NC runs a video production house called StoryMineMedia and serves a variety of clients and causes. Running a small, two-person operation, Elena and her business partner, Katherine, started the business five years ago. “ We do projects from soup to nuts,” says Elena, “from story strategy, to the shoot to the editing process.”

In her line of work, empathy for others is not only helpful, it’s required in order to creatively tell stories: “I feel that everybody has the right to be treated equally,” Elena says. “As a storyteller I feel it’s really important… once you understand someone’s story you understand them on a human level.”

Her brother is gay, which inspired her to make a video about HB2, the discriminatory law that attempts to provide a “license to discriminate in North Carolina.

No one deserves to be treated any differently for their lifestyle or how much money they have or what they look like, or whatever. Especially in the workplace it needs to be as even of a playing field as we can make it.”

South Carolina Retailer Says LGBTQ Customers are “Not a Special Case”

Lakisha Frazier • South Carolina

Lakisha Frazier from Beaufort, SC, runs a retail and apparel company called Carlin and Devika.

“I’m a heterosexual woman,” says Lakisha. “However, I firmly believe that all people, no matter what, no matter who they’re attracted to, we are all God’s children and we have a purpose of living on this earth.”

Like many small business owners we spoke with, Lakisha does not understand why anyone would discriminate, regardless of their faith.  

“We should treat everyone equally,” she says. “They are here to give you your business, to help your business grow when they buy a product or service. I think it’s important to let people know. They’re the ones promoting the business, giving you business, telling people about your business.”

“Who cares?” she asks. “All we are about is catering to them, catering to their needs, and hoping they cast a positive message on.”

Lakisha says that growing up she had been taught that being gay is a sin, but her attitudes began to change when she found out her cousin is gay.  

“We need to be erasing these borders and forget these rules and these ridiculous ideas about how retail should treat LGBTQ people,” asserts Lakisha. “Like they’re some special case. They are not a special case. They just wanna be treated equally–just like anyone else. Members of the LGBTQ community should not have any kind of special treatment. Because they aren’t some ‘other people.’ That’s what I think.”

Lakisha concludes, “They should have the right to make a life for themselves like everyone else.”

Mississippi Architect: Why Discrimination is Bad For Business

Jeff Seabold • Mississippi

Seabold Architecture, founded by Jeff Seabold in 2009 in Jackson, Mississippi, operates by a very simple motto: “ We believe the best design solutions are born out of a collaborative process.” Jeff adheres to this model every day, and works with a variety of clients from different backgrounds and family configurations.

“I’ve designed houses for two men, two women, a man and a woman, a single woman, a single man,” Jeff explains. “We design a house for anyone based on what they need. Every family has a personal dynamic that’s different.”

B0088P 0314

Recently, Jeff has been disturbed by happenings around the country and his very own state of Mississippi that seek to discriminate against LGBTQ people. To Jeff, this is completely unacceptable and goes against everything he stands for.

“In no way, shape, or form would I ever consider (nor do I think anyone should consider) telling people they’re living a certain way or the wrong way. That’s just silly to me. At the end of the day we’re all people. We’re all individuals.”

This led Jeff to join the amicus brief filed on behalf of thousands of small businesses across the country, describing himself as, “an architect on a small mission to help try and save the world.”

“I can’t change everything, but at the end of the day I’ve got principles,” asserts Jeff. “That’s not the world I want to live in or for my son to grow up in… Intolerance isn’t born; it’s taught.”

Editor’s Note: Read a full profile of Jeff Seabold and his company here.

Indiana Jewelers: Court Should Protect LGBTQ Rights

Rose-Marie & Bob Goodman • Indiana

Editor’s Note: This letter was published in the October 31 edition of The Indy Star. Read the original piece here.

For more than 40 years, we have owned and operated retail jewelry shops, first in Indianapolis, and for the last 17 years in Zionsville. Throughout that time, we have remained committed to treating everyone who walks through our doors with courtesy and respect. As business owners, we believe that our job is to serve everyone, regardless of their religion, skin color, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity. Treating others the way we want to be treated is good for business, and, more importantly, it is a cherished American value. That is why we are paying close attention to the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission that is before the U.S Supreme Court.

The Masterpiece case is centered on a Colorado baker’s refusal to serve a couple simply because of their sexual orientation. By discriminating against the couple, the baker directly violated a Colorado state law that prohibits public businesses from discriminating against people based on their faith, gender, race, nationality, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, due to the business owner’s personally held religious beliefs. This case could potentially have far-ranging consequences on nondiscrimination laws that protect every one of us. We have signed onto an amicus brief with other small businesses across the nation, asking the Court to uphold Colorado’s nondiscrimination laws.

As Hoosiers, we personally know the toll that discrimination can take. Two years ago, Indiana was embroiled in controversy when Gov. Mike Pence pushed through a religious exemption law. The law — known as RFRA — was written to allow public businesses to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, their families and visitors to the state.

While lawmakers were debating the legislation, businesses large and small from every corner of Indiana joined forces to oppose the measure. We warned the governor and lawmakers that the RFRA law would hurt our state’s reputation, and cost our economy millions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs. Sadly, our warnings went unheeded. In just the last couple of years, Indiana’s economy has in fact lost millions of dollars in new business, conventions, tourism and events, as well as thousands of well-paying jobs. According to Visit Indy, Indianapolis alone lost more than $60 million in conventions and events due to the religious exemption bill.

Other states that have advanced similar legislation have seen their economies take a hit as well. In 2016, North Carolina passed its own version anti-LGBT legislation, known as HB 2. Just two months after the unpopular measure was signed into law, the state lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue as respected national and international corporations withdrew or cancelled planned expansions and investments into the state. Those cancellations mean lost tax revenue and lost jobs.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are our neighbors, coworkers, family members and friends. These laws are written to allow businesses to deny LGBT people services, housing and employment, simply because of who they are. This is wrong, and the majority Americans agree.

Wedding Planner Believes Love is Love, Period.

Sabrina Cadini • California

As a wedding planner, Sabrina Cadini understands that she is responsible for making sure a couple’s big day is everything they’ve dreamed of, and that it goes off without a hitch. Having been in business since the 1990s, she’s seen hundreds of ceremonies, and to her, it all comes down to the work she does with her clientele – regardless of who they are or who they love.

©2017 Darin Fong Photography

“I really love working with same-sex couples,” she says. “They value my help and appreciate the assistance. I get to spend quite a long time with the couples, and I really enjoy the process – there can be stress, sure, but also an awful lot of fun.”

A Californian by way of Italy, Sabrina grew up in a strict religious environment. However, she says that hasn’t had any effect on her beliefs about who she works with.

“In Italy, it’s like 99.9 percent of people are Catholic,” she laughed. “But I’m very supportive of same-sex couples regardless of my religious views. To me, it’s about creating a life together, creating a family together. I have many colleagues who are gay and lesbian who have beautiful families, and that makes me so happy.”

©2017 Darin Fong Photography

Sabrina knows that her unique position allows her the opportunity to participate in people’s milestone moments, and for her, it’s all about love, pure and simple.

“Every individual should be treated fairly for who they are. My clients really value their celebration and make it very meaningful. For me, it’s about supporting them and making their day special. Sometimes people can take it for granted, but the same-sex couples I’ve worked with…for them it’s a huge deal.”

Visit Sabrina Cadini’s company, La Dolce Idea Weddings & Soirees, at

[fbcomments url=""]