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What Does It Mean To Be A Queer Business?

What Does It Mean To Be A Queer Business?

In honour of Pride 2021, our growing lil team reflected on the work and worth of being an openly queer business. We decided to use our reflections to write A QUEER BIZ MANIFESTO. Below you will find both our manifesto, and the reflections that lead to the creation of it.

Written by

Team Diaspora Co.

The following quote by Audre Lorde provided much of the context for our writing process, and helped us center our Black queer and trans elders who led the way before us: 


“The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to the exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need - the principal horror of such a system is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal and fulfillment. Such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love.” - Audre Lorde (1978), The Uses of the Erotic. 

OUR QUEER BUSINESS MANIFESTO v.1.0

 

  1. As we’ve learned from our Black trans and queer elders, queerness is rooted in liberation, while business is capitalism itself. We operate within, and are acutely aware of the tension that arises from pairing these two words together.
  2. Being queer isn’t about your preferences or your sexuality, rather your willingness to defy what is seen as “normal” and embrace the possibilities of wild, magical, and radical ways of being. 
  3. We choose to be rooted in equity, empathy, and transparency.
  4. Business is inherently transactional, and we both benefit greatly from those transactions, and suffer from the entitlement they can generate. Mutual respect and healthy boundaries help us reprioritize relationships over transactions.
  5. Our business is a daily and intentional gathering of people. It means we take the time to connect and care about everyone on the team as full people, with honesty, trust, mutual learning, and love. 
  6. Professionalism is rooted in white supremacy. We prioritize our own and collective comfort, we interact with care, and somehow, we still get shit done. 
  7. OUR EMAILS WILL ALWAYS HAVE EMOJIS, SMILEY FACES AND EXCLAMATION MARKS!!! :) 
  8. Nobody (not the CEO, not the customer, not your parent) is always right. We will fail and make mistakes everyday; embracing those mistakes is how we learn new ways of doing. 
  9. THIS IS NOT A PHASE. We’ll always be rooted in points 1-9 BUT we maintain the full creative license to grow and evolve. 
  10. We want the future to make us redundant. For the future to be so queer that this manifesto only serves as an archive of a different, transitional time. 

Team Reflections

EVE (they/them), Office Manager:

Being a part of a queer business for me is being a part of a group of individuals who are consistently open to recognizing their power, privilege, role within the community and ability to redirect the systems they are a part of. Queerness and business are like oil and water, one is rooted in anti-capitalism while one is capitalism itself. They cannot mix, however they can exist next to each other in the same space. Capitalism is designed to isolate and minimize anything that falls outside of the norm. Queerness says GOODBYE and F*CK OFF to the norm. Being a part of a company that goes against the grain at every turn makes me feel safe. It makes me feel supported and, dare I say, it makes me feel “normal”. 

A queer business is simply a space within the current racist, transphobic, and white supremicist system that allows those who fall outside of the norm to *actually* come to work as their whole selves. I no longer feel drained, I no longer feel small, I no longer feel like the odd one out at my place of work. Being a part of a queer business, better yet, being a part of Diaspora Co. is the first time I have ever felt truly seen in a work setting. We need to lose the idea that a business needs to be lead or operated by majority queer people to be queer. In this case, being queer isn’t about your preference or your sexuality, rather your willingness to defy what is seen as “normal” and embrace the alternatives; the whimsical, brilliant, and completely absurd alternatives. 

NAMITA (she/her), Wholesale Manager:

“Queer" to me is a way of being, of doing, of thinking, of seeing, questioning and of loving. Queerness is a way of thinking that centers community and care, that encourages me to dream about and work towards life-affirming and expansive futures for queer people. Being a queer business means doing things differently than the average exploitative business by being accountable to our farmers, the environment, our customers, and each other. It means we are rooted in community and we are connected to everyone and everything that contributes to our success, from the soil and the farmers to the stores and the jars on your kitchen counter. It means embracing our mistakes and learning new ways of doing because we envision a radical restructuring in how spices and food are grown and distributed throughout the world.  It means we take the time to connect and care about everyone on the team as full people, with honesty, trust, mutual learning and love.

But within these ideologies and intentions, queerness allows me to also recognize that “queer business” is an oxymoron. Businesses only exist because of capitalism and thus exploitation, violence, and a scarcity mindset. And as we’ve learned from our queer elders, specifically Black queer and trans visionaries and feminists, we know that queerness is rooted in anti-capitalism and beliefs of abundance. So really, the true sense of being a queer business is holding this dissonance and these conflicts while still doing our best to temporarily work within the systems as we aim to dismantle and abolish them. Although I do not believe we can abolish systems of oppression through reform or working “within", we work to provide support and hope in the meantime. Being a queer business means working towards this fruitful and affirming future.

SWASTI (she/her), Graphic Designer:

Being a part of a queer business means having the privilege to work alongside a thoughtful, welcoming, and resilient group of people. It means approaching our work with intention and care. And as someone who is not queer myself, it means listening and recognizing what I don’t know. 

Creatively, this team has helped me embrace the bold and the bright parts of our brand. It has created a space so special and so safe to try new things, fail, and then pick up and try again. It’s given me the opportunity to build a brand identity as unapologetic and thoughtful as our team’s queerness. On this team, you’re encouraged to bring your entire self and the impact of that is so present in the work that we do. In a lot of ways, it’s set me free to do my best work. 

Every day, I feel so lucky to work with a team that holds their queer identity and values so close to their heart and so close to their approach to this business. I know we’re creating something special here. 

WYNNE (she/her), Operations Manager:

I have been dwelling on the word pride itself -- being proud to be who you are, to be not ashamed. Reading back about Stonewall and the marches that followed, the shift has been from sequestered/secret/we won't bother you if you don't bother us to being out in the streets, daylight, loud. This has been a big shift over not that long of a period of time. In my lifetime, I have gone from being a kid in a small town where my moms who were the only queer people I knew, to very proudly working for a vocally queer business. This is huge for me, and says so much: we have come so, so far. We also have so, so far to go. I am so happy for how far we have come and so sad for all the shame/prejudice that has happened and continues to happen. To me, saying we are a queer business is the act of pride itself, and pride itself is huge.  

I love this line from the Lil' Deb's article: "A restaurant can be more than a business that serves food, it can have a dynamic personality and identity and belief system." Same with us - we sell spices but we have an identity, too, one that shifts and changes and grows, but allows us to check in with our values and create and uplift a community of people. We can provide resources and support other queer businesses and people. So much of business today is dehumanizing, sheltering humans from the responsibility of the company. We are bringing our identity to the front or our company.

DENA (she/her), E-Commerce Manager:

I think we’re still figuring that out. As a business led by a queer woman and made up of mostly queer folks, that certainly sets the tone for how we interact, which usually involves a lot of exclamation points, heart eyes, cute cat tiktoks, and astrology. For me, it just feels like such a safe supportive place, and one that feels very different from many of my past jobs. But regardless of whether everyone defines themselves as queer, we’ve made this what seems to me like a queer space. It’s collaborative, really thoughtful, and super on it - everyone really hustles and we learn from each other all the time. 

We are also constantly in dialogue about how best to live out our values as a business, from communicating transparently about the struggles we face (such as pre-order delays or lost shipments), to deciding the best way to donate to and support other queer, BIPOC organizations and businesses, or show up in moments of crisis. Diaspora Co. is doing its best to queer what it means to be a business amidst a capitalist, white-supremacist system, and to queer the spice trade, to do it differently, more creatively, and more equitably, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it.

POOJA (she/her), Development Intern:

As the newest member of the team, the foundation of my understanding of what it means to be a queer business comes from knowing Diaspora Co. as a customer. I was immediately attracted to Diaspora’s mission: its focus on equity and promise of delicious spices was an enticing proposition. What kept me around (and fanatically checking every social media post) was Sana’s openness and willingness to talk about the human parts of being a business. Over time, it increasingly appeared that much of that mission and openness was rooted in being a queer business. Being a queer business meant being more cognizant of power imbalances in existing systems. It also meant using that awareness to design a system that rights those imbalances and holds itself accountable to people in addition to profit. 

In my short time on the Diaspora team, I have seen how being a queer business goes deeper than representation of openly queer people on the team, by shaping the values with which the team operates. Queerness impacts the team culture and decision-making process, creating a level of open and mindful discussion I haven’t experienced in another business setting. Decisions are refreshingly empathic and conscious of what gaps exist in the perspectives represented. All that being said, the team is still navigating the tension between queerness and anti-capitalism and actively figuring out what exactly it means to be a queer business. I could not be more thankful to be a part of it. 

ASHA (she/her), Recipe Editor:

I have always said that the best decision I made for myself in my adolescence was to attend Mills College, an all-women’s college in Oakland, California. Those 3½ years taught me the power of a queer space. Now years later (yes, I’m the oldest one on the Diaspora team!), I can say one of the best decisions I’ve made as an adult is to become a part of this queer, woman-led, spicy AF business. While I don’t identify as queer, the space that Sana and the rest of our weird, quirky little band of air, water and fire signs has carved out in the specialty food industry is incredibly special—and, extremely rare. This is a place where work feels like a community—one where we support each other, treat one another with grace, banter with each other with kindness, listen with open minds and live it up with an obscene (but necessary) number of emojis. 

This energy—paired with transparency and truly delicious spices—is what makes Diaspora so special, and it shows in the loyalty and love I’ve seen in our greater community. This team is one I feel honored to be a part of and excited to see grow and thrive!