When we include diverse perspectives, we make better decisions. And in business, creating a welcoming space for everyone to participate can improve employee engagement and overall performance.
According to the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), the LGBTQ+ business community includes 1.4 million business owners. Imagine the possibilities if all our local businesses fully harnessed the power of this community, benefiting both entrepreneurs and our economy. Considering the profound impact entrepreneurship holds over our economy, the more accessible we make business resources the more approachable we can make owning or starting a venture for people of all backgrounds.
Jesus “Jesse” Baltazar is a highly accomplished office manager and event coordinator within the Sandra Day O’Connor Law School and is a founder of The Queer Center, a nonprofit focused on connection and communication. When Jesse first arrived in the Valley of the Sun more than six years ago, he was working with queer-serving businesses and noticed a fundamental lack of community and networking within the local ecosystem. The Queer Center emerged from his determination to address this concern, marking the start of his social entrepreneurship journey alongside a small but dedicated network of individuals striving to make a significant impact.
The Queer Center spans the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and connects people to resources, opportunities, and one another. In the communities it serves, the center aims to use technology and a mix of site-specific artistic and educational events to gather resources, generate opportunities, and foster connections and community. In 2022, The Queer Center merged with Trans Spectrum of Arizona (TSAZ), which hosts peer support meetings for Trans Feminine, Trans Masculine, Gender Expansive, and Significant Others, Family, Friends, and Allies (also known as SOFFA).
Jesus ‘Jesse’ Baltazar Founder/President/CEO of the Queer Center
Designed with community in mind, The Queer Center partners with other local organizations and small businesses to increase its overall impact. As a means of uplifting the local LGBTQ+ community, they now partner with the following organizations:
- Valleywise, supporting healthcare for our Trans Community
- Your Health and Wellness, supporting medical services to our Queer Community
- Ripple Phoenix, providing education and testing on HIV and Prep resources
- Lambda Phoenix Center, serving LGBTQ+ people in recovery,
- Abbey of the Wayward Spirit, providing everyday necessities to people experiencing homelessness
- Team Friendly Arizona, standing up to HIV stigma.
We asked Jesse and one of their community partners, Mark Knoblauch from Your Health and Wellness, to share a bit about their stories.
Mark Knoblauch, FNP-BC from Your Health and Wellness
What inspired you to “just start” your work?
Jesse: “The need for a LGBTQ+ Center in this city.”
Mark: “I felt like there was a need to address some of the disparities that I personally experienced as well as the need to provide a space where patients felt like they could trust their provider, tell them everything in a safe, non-judgmental, stigma free, pleasure positive environment.”
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Jesse: “It means that we are able to create an opportunity to service all of our communities.”
Mark: “In healthcare it’s a little different. I don’t want to be successful as a result of a person’s illness or injury. My success is based on the health, happiness, and impact that we can have on the patient’s overall person. Finding ways to get patients what we think they need without the typical barriers to care, being innovative in our approach to doing it, and removing the burden of care from the patient are our goals.”
What were some of the resources that helped you along your entrepreneurial journey?
Jesse: “Finding like-minded individuals and people who have begun this journey in other cities and states.”
Mark: “My patients, honestly. They trust us and we are on the journey together. Trans patients’ name change process is a great example. I had a group of 4 or 5 parents of trans youth who walked through and tried different steps and processes to produce the path of least resistance for the process. The process they produced #1 – works, #2 – isn’t the process that necessarily is public or accessible. So, it was boots on the ground doing the work.”Mark Knoblauch, FNP-BC from Your Health and Wellness
As a social enterprise, what were some of the key milestones or turning points for your business?
Jesse: “The need to better Gay and Trans communities. To hear from parents of those in our community that want to better understand, help and learn what they can do for their children going through gender dysphoria and wanting to keep their families together. Finally, our organization has provided more than 200 binders to our FTM clients and to see the tremendous impact it has on their lives.”
Mark: “We want to be able to offer services to a wider variety of patients, reach vulnerable populations and remove stigma from care. We want the fact that patients are LGBTQI+ to not be a thought in the patient’s mind when they are seeking care.”
What is your vision for your nonprofit in terms of scale, sustainability and social impact?
Jesse: “My vision is to have a center that encompasses all. With collaborations with many wonderful resources, organizations as well as social clubs to enrich the lives of our communities. To continue to grow with the changing needs and wants of our community. To listen and find solutions to better the community. As for scale, that will be determined by our community. The Queer Center belongs to the community. Changing lives for the better is always the best impact any organization can have.”
Mark: “I don’t have a vision as an end point, since I now, after doing this work for a year, think that the possibilities for scale, and social impact are limitless.”
What advice would you give other LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who are just beginning their entrepreneurial journey?
Jesse: “Have a passion for what you believe in and do it for the right reasons. Listen to your community, what you think is not always what is needed. Surround yourself with mindlike people, and don’t be afraid to fail. You can only learn from it.”
Mark: “My advice for other LGBTQ entrepreneurs would be to follow your passion, don’t be afraid to ask for help and if you believe in something it’ll happen.”
As we celebrate Pride month, keep in mind that any heritage month is not limited to just one month per year, but rather a movement that lasts year-round. As a way to continue to build a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem, we challenge you to seek out and support more minority-owned businesses, whether small or big, LGBTQ+, Black, Latinx, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Indigenous People. According to data from the StarOut Index, “If everyone had equal access to funding and resources, there would be 10 times more LGBTQ entrepreneurs in the U.S.” Your support can help expand the number of minority entrepreneurs, provide access to community role models for future generations and prove that choosing love benefits all of us.