LGBTQ + entrepreneurs promote inclusiveness in their businesses, face unique challenges

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Pride Month provides an opportunity to uplift and celebrate members of our community who identify as LGBTQ +, and it is also an important time to recognize the distinct challenges these individuals may have overcome or are currently facing. .

We spoke with three local entrepreneurs about their experiences as LGBTQ + business owners in Sioux Falls and the exciting things going on in their businesses.

As members of the Startup Sioux Falls community, we encourage you to learn more about and support these businesses, not just in June, but throughout the year.

GOOD NIGHT THEATER COLLECTIVE PROMOTING THE ARTS AS A S SR SPACE FOR ALL

The Good Night Theater Collective (GNTC) is a professional theater company from Sioux Falls about to enter its sixth season in 2021. After being forced to cancel its season last year due to COVID-19, the company is delighted to be back on stage this fall.

For GNTC, the development of the LGBTQ + community has been a priority since its creation. Marketing director Luke Tatge says the arts have long been a safe space for the community, and it’s an environment he hopes GNTC can continue to foster.

Tatge, who has been married to one of the company’s four co-founders, Bob Wendland, for almost 11 years, says it was never about speaking openly about their identities and perspectives.

“We’ve been a couple for so long and we’ve never been open so we’ve been able to create a great community of people who love us and appreciate us for who we are,” he said.

“Having people around us who know us has created such a solid base of support. “

The company also strives to uplift the LGBTQ + community in its performance. GNTC seasons include a mix of established plays and musicals as well as original screenplays, many of which are written and directed by Tatge.

“I always try to make an effort to portray well-rounded gay and lesbian relationships that aren’t just side characters, and we’ve been doing that since our first show, ‘David and Lucy’,” he said. he declares. “Each of my original shows featured a gay or lesbian character.”

Bob Wendland and Wade Gemar performing in David & Lucy (2017), a show about having a “working wife / working husband” in which the main character’s boyfriend guides him through his platonic, co-dependent relationship with his colleague.

GNTC is also known for its cabaret performances which provided additional opportunities to showcase LGBTQ + artists.

“We did a whole cabaret of LGBTQ + writers and artists, which was really great. We never shied away from that, and it was truly rewarding, ”Tatge said. “Our audience is a little older, but they never complained, it never caused any problems with the clients and our actors are all very supportive as well.”

Tatge recognizes that the art space, in general, tends to be more tolerant and inclusive.

“I think theater has historically played a big role in providing a safe space for members of our community to create, perform and do magic and feel safe doing it,” Tatge said.

“Due to the region of the country we are in, that’s not always the case, but I think it makes a much stronger statement. Our audience may be more open-minded than the population of the whole city, but we have conservative spectators coming back time and time again, and I think that’s a good sign for the future.

You can support The Good Night Theater Collective by purchasing tickets to their upcoming preseason show, “Reality Wives” (written and directed by Tatge) or by purchasing a subscription for the 2021-2022 season, which includes four cabarets and four shows. .

Ben and Amanda Wermers review newcomers to complete their company's board game inventory.  The Wermers own Game Chest in downtown Sioux Falls.

GAME CEST IS COMMITTED TO IMPROVING THE COMMUNITY AROUND THEM

When Amanda Wermers and her husband, Ben, came up with the idea of ​​opening a game store in 2012, they were concerned about how the community of Sioux Falls might receive them.

Wermers said the inspiration for Game Chest came from the need she saw for game stores that would be welcoming to everyone. She wanted to create a space where anyone who does not fit in or struggles with their identity could come and feel at home. The challenge, she said, was the location.

“We were trying to decide between here and Seattle, and in Seattle, we would just have been accepted right away, our politics and our policies would have aligned and it would have been easy,” she said.

In 2017, they opened the store in Sioux Falls despite concerns about the inclusiveness of the community.

Since then, Wermers says things have been tough, but the safe space they provide is well worth it.

“I would say the climate that has existed over the past few years has made things more difficult and scary than before, but the people who are committed to equality – the allies and other corporate-owned companies. LGBTQ + – are stronger and stronger as a result.

A photo of Game Chest's pop-up location in downtown Sioux Falls.

She adds that as more anti-LGBTQ + laws emerge, she has felt even more determined to hold on.

“Especially now we really strive to be a safe space for trans youth in our store. They need it more than ever, ”she said.

“I don’t believe I was put on this planet to have an easy life. My husband and I have a unique ability to make people feel safe, we give people this place to feel safe and it would be selfish of me to leave and stop just because it is. difficult.

Some of the ways Wermers is working to make Game Chest a safe place include advertising all events as inclusive, prominently displaying rainbows and Black Lives Matter signs on the door, and fighting discriminatory behavior at the source.

“Something I’ve learned, especially over the past year, is that people are going to say the wrong things, but the important thing is that the community around them can educate them while remaining respectful and nice so that this person has the opportunity to correct what they said.

As a business owner, it’s all about listening to the needs of your customers, and Wermers says that has been his number one priority from the start.

“Our clients are looking for a home away from home and a community that validates what they feel,” she said.

“We are very aware that our customers want us to be a safe space for LGBTQ + people and they want us to be a safe space for black and brown people, not only for our customers, but because we need it for our community. Our customers are just a bigger view of the community as a whole.

Learn more about Game Chest at www.sfgamechest.com.

Jared Nieuwenhuis, owner of Cannabis ChemLab.

ENTREPRENEUR CREATES NEW OPPORTUNITY IN CANNABIS INDUSTRY

For entrepreneur and chemist Jared Nieuwenhuis, the challenges he faced as an openly gay business owner ultimately led him to switch industries. Today, what was initially a daunting reason to make a change has led to a company with incredible growth potential.

In 2016, Nieuwenhuis started a company called East Prairie Laboratories to bring soil testing services to rural South Dakota. A few years later, he also decided to stand for election to the State House of Representatives.

“Agriculture is a very conservative-minded industry, and a lot of farmers and ranchers didn’t like me to be both gay and democratic, and it became difficult to run the business,” did he declare.

Farmers and ranchers in the area stopped sending their samples to East Prairie Labs due to their divergent views, and Nieuwenhuis began to seek an opportunity that would allow him to build a successful business without having to deal with discrimination.

He ran in the 2020 election, and although he lost his candidacy for the House seat, the election results on Amendment A and IM 26 inspired a commercial pivot towards cannabis. Nieuwenhuis registered Cannabis Chem Lab Inc. as a national company in South Dakota in November 2020 and began preparing to test cannabis products, starting with industrial hemp. He is currently participating in the second CO.STARTERS cohort of Startup Sioux Falls to prepare for the investor search process.

The Santee Sioux tribe of Flandreau allows him to rent a space for his laboratory and partners with him for industrial hemp tests. However, work on industrial hemp is just the starting point for Nieuwenhuis, who also hopes to work with medical and recreational cannabis. While awaiting the results of the next decision on Amendment A, Nieuwenhuis and his newly hired CEO, Matt Jorgenson, are working to prepare the lab to be able to handle all the necessary procedures.

Currently, it is the first and only independent testing facility in South Dakota to certify industrial hemp and ensure the safety of cannabis products. Nieuwenhuis hopes the company will be able to help South Dakota establish standards and regulations that will promote greater public safety.

“No one knows yet what South Dakota will need, but I hope they will come and see what we are doing to better understand all of this and to help draft the laws. In any field of science, if everyone does not do the same procedures, the results will be a little different. I hope that by being the first laboratory in the state, we can help implement some standardization, ”said Nieuwenhuis.

Nieuwenhuis and Jorgenson are dedicated to building a business that holds cannabis producers accountable for creating safe, high-quality products.

“Almost everyone wants to go into production, but we have a niche where our specialty is compliance. We make sure the product is what it says and we take credibility very seriously, ”Nieuwenhuis said.

Learn more about Cannabis Chem Lab at www.cannabischemlab.com.



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