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Striving for inclusiveness: Arizona’s continued mission to protect our LGBTQ+ community

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Striving for inclusiveness: Arizona’s continued mission to protect our LGBTQ+ community

Feb 20, 2024 | 12:48 pm ET
By Gabe Hagen
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Striving for inclusiveness: Arizona’s continued mission to protect our LGBTQ+ community
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Photo by Devon Christopher Adams (modified) | Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Before founding Brick Road Coffee, I longed to see a space in my community that serves as a haven for overlooked individuals. With that in mind, I took a leap of faith and invested in my dream of owning a local coffee shop. Since its foundation, Brick Road Coffee has remained centered around love, acceptance, and, of course great coffee.

However, soon after my leap into entrepreneurship, I was daunted by the many critical business decisions an aspiring business owner must quickly navigate. Luckily, I soon discovered an ecosystem of community support and low-cost digital tools online to provide the guidance that I was in search of. With each new answer uncovered on the web, I became more empowered to pursue my entrepreneurial dream.

Both the wealth of information and community support available online are equally paramount for marginalized communities working to establish their own business. LGBTQ+ entrepreneurship is often coupled with unique hurdles such as internal doubts intensified by external threats of both physical and verbal violence. 

Those unique hurdles were ever-present when Brick Road Coffee received our first bomb threat in February of 2023 while hosting a room full of LGBTQ+ people, families and children. Following the incident, we were proud to see some of our community members and fellow Americans rally in support of our coffee shop online, and as they visited us in Tempe. 

But to ensure the safety of Arizona’s LGBTQ+ community, Arizona’s elected leaders must prioritize our safety in a manner equitable to the safety and protection they strive to provide every person in our state. 

That’s why it’s so disappointing to see that the culture of malicious disinformation has continued, both as a tool to target our community and cause further harm.

Arizona’s extreme GOP elected officials have continued to spread harmful misinformation — on our community, our election system, the tech industry and more. This is dangerous, especially as we head into another fierce presidential election year. 

With the memory of Pizzagate still lingering and the bomb threat my business received, it is high time for elected leaders to understand that their words, fear-mongering and misinformation can have physical consequences as we witness LGBTQ+ people and businesses targeted online and within our cities. 

As America’s political discourse continues to take shape in 2024, elected officials hurling endless politicized attacks at vulnerable communities, tech and other sectors must understand the impacts of such attacks. If they are not careful, this could lead to limitations that cripple businesses like mine by limiting our ability to quickly call upon support networks. 

I shudder to think of how Brick Road Coffee could have overcome the terror we felt last February without the wealth of community support and information available online. 

Right before December’s holiday break, I was humbled to visit Arizona’s Attorney General’s Office, speaking with Kris Mayes’ administration about Arizona’s LGBTQ+ community and the policies that uniquely impact us. In our conversation with her team, it was clear that they understood the severity of our concerns. Arizona’s marginalized communities lean on our digital ecosystem of information and individuals with similar experiences to find support to navigate small business ownership, as well as life’s hurdles.

While it may be alarming to see Arizona’s GOP play with misinformation and hate speech in our state as threats of political violence have become commonplace in our nation’s discourse, we can all play a role in taking the temperature down on each of these issues.