For love or money.
Chicks in Charge
FOR DECADES, the LGBT community had little luck finding radio programs it could relate to, as talk radio was geared toward the average heterosexual. Topics ripped from the pages of Cosmopolitan and Maxim, such as "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" and "Can Men and Women Really Just Be Friends?" may be entertaining to the mainstream, but have little or no appeal to the average queer radio listener. But all of that changed four years ago, when Sirius Satellite Radio launched its OutQ Channel, with 100 percent queer talk and music brought to you by 100 percent homo hosts. And it's not only the boys who just wanna have fun. Breaking the stereotype that lesbian radio is a sociopolitical anger fest, the girls of Sirius OutQ are smart, fun, informative, flirty, raunchy and in your face, and they're tearing up the airwaves with their new brand of edgy queer talk.
Is it hard to be a woman in the men's world of radio? Does being on a gay radio station make it easier?
Diana Cage: I don't really feel like I'm in a man's world. Sirius is great in that way. They have so many female voices. It's so thrilling to be talking about dyke lives on the air that sometimes I can't believe the show really exists.
Kathy Sanchez: Being a woman in a man's world is hard. Radio is no different. The reality is that it took Sirius four years before we had a woman-focused show on OutQ. We still have a long way to go to be completely well-rounded, but we're getting there.
Do you mix gay politics with entertainment in your shows?
Doria Biddle: If I think that we make a statement every day by being ourselves and being out--I'm very sensitive to women's issues and I'll jump on any hint of misogyny that creeps into the show, but I also want to help get rid of the lesbian stereotypes. We can be funny, we can take a joke and we can be well-groomed. And not all of us are dragging U-Haul trailers behind our cars.
Romaine Patterson: It is my job to entertain people, and I personally find politics boring! Every day I make it my job to go on the air and give people a reason to forget about their day's work and laugh. Besides, aren't topics like blow-up dolls and poop more interesting?
Do you think it's more important to cover gay topics, or to cover all topics from a gay perspective?
Sanchez: I really don't see a difference in the two. Every law, every headline affects at least one queer person ... thus it affects us all.
Cynthia Frawley: Topically, issues facing our community need to have a voice, but I think focusing on a gay perspective alone is, in a way, a mistake. It keeps that us-versus-them vibe going strong.
How much of your on-air personality and experience is really you and how much is embellished?
Patterson: There is very little about my life that is not reflected on the air. Sometimes it gets me in trouble, like that time my mother called and asked me what a glory hole was. She is still pissed that we play that clip.
Cage: I tell stories from my personal life constantly. I really don't embellish things. My show is pretty much about bringing a queer woman's life to the air.
Is there anything you will not talk about on the air? Why?
Patterson: The only time that I have really had to censor myself was when I was dating the drill sergeant, while she was still on active duty in the Air Force. I had to come up with a way to talk about her without giving away any information about her identity.
Biddle: I only skim the surface of my personal life on the air. I know that only makes some people more curious, but I'm not comfortable making deeply personal revelations. People either think I'm a prude or a closet pervert.
Do you ever discuss topics that you're worried might upset your more serious lesbian listeners?
Patterson: Those lesbians hate me! I am always saying something that pisses them off. I am way too over the top for them, which is just the way I like it. So keep that hate mail coming, all you serious lesbians out there!
Frawley: I am more than willing to hear anyone's perspective on anything. I will not listen to anyone who negates my opinion because I'm not as gay as they are.
Have you ever said anything irreverent on the air that's upset your significant other or friends?
Patterson: There have been a times where I was afraid to go home after the show--I thought my partner would kill me for my on-air antics. I simply remind her that she knew who she was getting involved with when she met me.
Sanchez: My personal life is up for grabs on the show. But, my close friends expect me to use aliases when referring to them. If not, I get a snarky e-mail.
Has being a hot queer radio star netted you any dirty, sexy or creepy fan letters from your adoring fans, obsessed listeners or potential stalkers?
Patterson: Kiss and tell? Let's just say that I have had my fair share of listener love letters, and I love the really hot ones!
Biddle: One woman started out innocently enough, writing a basic fan letter about how much she enjoyed the show. I sent her a generic reply. After that, the floodgates opened and she started writing me several times a day. I only ever responded that first time and I think my silence sent her over the edge, as her e-mails got angrier. She began to dissect my character in unflattering ways. Her last e-mail was a plea for my used panties. I keep wondering if she's the one that got away. Just kidding.
By Jenny Sherwin
"PUSH IN. I want to get a close-up of her hands. That looks great," director Andrea Meyerson tells her cameraperson from the director's booth at Los Angeles' Jazz Bakery. It's a steamy July night, and the woman who's carved out a name for herself directing the Laughing Matters series has been at it for upward of 14 hours. But Meyerson's cheerful and excited about her latest project, a documentary about jazz musician Jennifer Leitham.
"I want to make sure audiences really understand the beauty of her music," Meyerson says about Leitham, who transitioned five years ago from John to Jennifer. As John, Leitham was a highly touted name on the jazz circuit who played with Doc Severinson, Mel Torme and Peggy Lee.
In Meyerson's debut film, 2004's Laughing Matters, featuring Kate Clinton, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Karen Williams and Marga Gomez, and in Laughing Matters ... More!, she used comedy as a catalyst to lever her subjects' tales of family, coming out, relationships and the AIDS epidemic.
So it's no wonder that Meyerson latched on to Leitham's story. "My goal is to tell the story of a very happy woman," Meyerson says. There are so many important and tragic stories about people who transition, Meyerson says, that it's important to highlight the joy for someone like Leitham who's already gotten to the other side of that struggle.
Meyerson's told dozens of LGBT success tales with the Laughing Matters series, but her own journey from a married woman to an out lesbian entrepreneur and a highly recognizable mover in Los Angeles' LGBT community is as inspiring as any of her subjects' lives.
"Coming out late and living life as a heterosexual was the path I was supposed to take," says Meyerson, who--although she says she loved and slept with women throughout her 20s--came out in her mid-30s.
When Meyerson's not behind the camera, she's organizing and running events for Women on a Roll (WOAR), Los Angeles' lesbian social organization. Not one to wait for an opportunity to present itself, Meyerson took a look at the scant social activities available and created WOAR.
"There were bars and there was softball," Meyerson says. Missing the myriad of cultural opportunities that were available to her as a straight woman, Meyerson says, "I decided to do something about it. I was so hungry for the life I knew we all deserved. I didn't want to compromise."
Lesbian stand-up shows were Meyerson's first touchstone with the lesbian world outside the bar scene, she says. It's kismet that Clinton's and Westenhoefer's stand-up shows influenced Meyerson in her nascent coming-out stage. And now, thanks to Meyerson's unwavering ambition and foresight, her documentary of Clinton's 25th anniversary tour is running on Logo, while she's putting the finishing touches on her film of Westenhoefer's A Bottom on Top.
At this pace, it's just a matter of time before a young, lesbian documentary filmmaker snatches up Meyerson's own story.
By Tracy E. Gilchrist
Red Rat Pack
IT'S JUST BEFORE noon on a gorgeous Sunday in San Francisco's outer Mission District. Malia Spanyol walks into Pop's Bar (myspace.com/popsbar) with her runty, deaf, spotty, impossibly handsome cattle dog, Goose, who has no idea that the Scorpions are pouring from the jukebox while the beer is flowing from the taps. Spanyol opened Pop's in 2003 with her business partner, Harmony Urmstrom. Each had experience working in bars, plus Spanyol already had two business-owner credits under her belt. The first was Sparky's Bookkeeping.
Sparky's had Spanyol running all over town setting up QuickBooks for punk-rock, rockabilly and classic heavy metal business owners of every stripe. Clients ranged from shop and cafe owners to independent contractors. Spanyol still toils away during long April nights during tax season, as well as doing consulting work for her friends.
"One of my dirtbag friends will approach me and say, 'I have this idea. Fill in the blank. I don't want to work for anyone anymore. I just want to do what you do. How did you do it?' So I sit and talk to them about how things work, where you can start, and mostly just assure them that they can do it," Spanyol says.
Spanyol closed the books each night, but her day was far from over. Red Rat Industries (redratindustries.com) started in Spanyol's garage. Having spent many hours in the tattoo chair already, she had plenty of time to talk to tattoo artists about how the vibration of the machines took its toll on gifted hands and exhausted nerves. She and a skin artist friend talked at length about a simple device that would slip onto the machine, absorb vibration and withstand the sterilization heat of the autoclave. Using a tried-and-true trial-and-error technique of mixes, Spanyol poured molds in her leased parking space alongside her sputtering car until the prototype was perfected. Eight years later, Red Rat now has its own warehouse, small staff, pallet jack and loyal clientele of both legendary and emerging tattoo artists.
But building a desk-based life wasn't Spanyol's vision for herself. So together she and Urmstrom opened Pop's neighborhood dive to the celebratory response of San Francisco's fine citizens. Spanyol wanted to own the kind of place she would want to go to: loud, affordable, rough around the edges and ambitiously fun.
Spanyol grew up on Oahu. Even though it's one of the most beautiful places on earth and she misses it desperately, she plans never to leave San Francisco. In 1989, she packed her bags in the middle of her college career in Arizona to move to the City by the Bay after a mere weekend visit. She pretty much moved here to be herself. And for the ladies.
"It was the first time I ever really felt comfortable. I can be covered in tattoos and feel totally at home. I can be a total dirtbag and never sit behind a desk and have a really good life."
Her first job was as a buser. After that she was a dishwasher, a bartender at a pool hall, a dildo craftsperson, a bar back, a self-taught bookkeeper and now an entrepreneur. Never one to tire, the friendly Spanyol recently expanded her empire, adding yet another bar, Thee Parkside (myspace.com/theeparkside), to her list of businesses she runs.
Spanyol has no regrets, despite the grueling hours, the bar antics and the frequent need to use her drunken-whisperer skills, or the difficulty in getting a vacation. She wouldn't change a thing.
Astrological Sign: Sag
What do you do for yourself? Muay Thai boxing, tattoos
Was it what you dreamed? I didn't know what it meant to own a bar. What kind of work it entailed. I just knew I wanted to open a bar where you could be anyone and come in and have a drink, hang out with your friends and be yourself. I wanted a place that looked and felt like me. No neon. No velvet.
Who does your books? Sparky.
How many hours a night do you sleep? Depends if I'm dating or not. Four to six. Maybe seven.
How many days a week do you work? Seven.
Career advice? Do something you like. No matter who you are, no matter what you look like, there is always an opportunity to build your world around yourself. You don't have to wear a power suit. You really can pick something you like and do it.
By Sara Seinberg
ELIZABETH FALKNER is the executive chef and owner of Citizen Cake, a bakery and restaurant located in San Francisco. Her talent is recognized nationwide--Bon Appetit named her Pastry Chef of the Year in 2006, and she has appeared on Iron Chef America. Her desserts are witty and visually creative. They taste fantastic. And although they may be ambitious in construction, Falkner's desserts are also surprisingly democratic. The first section in her debut cookbook, Demolition Desserts, consists of five variations on a chocolate chip cookie.
I sat down with Falkner (pictured below) and her gal pal and business partner, Sabrina Riddle, to discuss Falkner's new ventures, her anime alter ego, and how to cover a street with chocolate ganache.
Let's start with the book.
Falkner: The book is came out in September, and it's really cool. It's called Demolition Desserts and it's my first book. So it's definitely been an educational experience. It's got a lot of recipes that I've done in the past and revised for the home cook or baker; and stuff that's fantastical, somewhat architectural, definitely component driven, but not hard to make. Demolition Desserts is about deconstructing classical ideas and remodeling them for today. It's very different looking from a lot of baking books.
Yes. I thought so too.
Falkner: We also have this little anime character that we introduce in the book, Caremi. She's fun, she's inquisitive, she wants to push the boundaries and she's empowered. She is the alter ego of me, the little super-artist who wants to take pastry ingredients and make much-larger-than-the-plate sculptures.
Riddle: Talk about the name.
Falkner: Yeah, we gave her a name, Caremi Keiki, because I love the way [the] Japanese take a Western word and make it [their] own. So when they say "cake" in Japan, it's keiki. Then there's a very famous pastry chef, Antonin Careme. Careme was really famous for building huge cities out of cream puffs, and sugar sculptures, all that kind of stuff. Actually, I've been called the West Coast version of Careme by Gourmet magazine a couple of years ago. I do like to make these crazy sculptures, although it's easier for Caremi to do it in the book than it is for me to, say, get a bunch of big mixers out to do a chocolate-ganache-covered street!
If you could, though?
Falkner: If I could, I would. Oh yeah.
I also thought that the character really helped to convey the playfulness of dessert baking.
Falkner: We have a lot of fun with baking, with creating names for our desserts. When we have new pastry chefs here--nobody in their past has ever told them, "Please don't make symmetrical things. Don't ever present me with something with strawberries fanned out perfectly, because I will not like that at all."
Tell me about your new restaurant, Orson.
Falkner: We're in the middle of construction right now. It's a big, beautiful building, authentic beams and cement walls and skylights. We both walked into the space and fell in love. It'll be a really fun, sexy, cool, lofty living room kind of environment, with a huge bar in the middle and a great cocktail program. Lots of stuff you want to eat when you're hanging out with friends. We're calling it edgy California cuisine. It's using fresh seasonal ingredients, but pushing it a little bit in terms of the techniques used.
What techniques are you referring to?
Falkner: Like cooking sous-vide style, where you put things in a vacuum bag and cook them at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. As someone who's focused on pastry for such a long time--most of the technology, whether it's aerating things or better emulsification machinery, most of that comes from the pastry department. Now we're seeing all that stuff utilized throughout the kitchen, and it gives you a lot of creative freedom. How long have you guys been together?
Falkner: Nine years.
So that's the entire history of Citizen Cake?
Falkner: Almost. We opened Citizen Cake in 1997, so Citizen Cake is 10 years old on Halloween.
A woman running the kitchen is still unusual, and it's still a stereotype that if women are going to be chefs, they're going to be pastry chefs. How have you handled that in your career?
Falkner: I do find myself sometimes wanting to be direct and being treated like, well, you're a woman telling me what to do. But that's probably common in every profession, you know? I mean, I've known female chefs who are as macho as male chefs.
Riddle: I hear you talk more about the difference in food.
Falkner: Yes, I do, that's another side of it. That's kind of stereotypical, too, because I do know some male chefs who are quite feminine in their food making, if you can put those sorts of labels on it.
Yes, I would like to know what you mean by masculine and feminine food. I've certainly heard other people talk about it that way.
Falkner: It's just like any art--you have a more aggressive side that's expressed in whatever medium, and a more sensitive side. Sometimes guys are more showy about making the food. You see guys flambeing, that sort of stuff.
Riddle: And on the plate?
Falkner: It's a hard thing to talk about. There are some people who have really beautiful, female food. It's not ever showy. And it's more nurturing. And some of my favorite masculine chefs--it's just more aggressive, sometimes in flavor and sometimes in presentation. And bigger. It's always more food!
By Lori Selke
RENOWNED U.K.-BASED lesbian filmmaker Pratibha Parmar, best known for her documentary on female genital mutilation, Warrior Marks, has ventured into new waters: a feature film. Made to appeal to a mainstream audience, Nina's Heavenly Delights (ninasheavenlydelights.com) sacrifices nothing in its depiction of South Asian queer sexuality, grief and inner wisdom. With delicious cooking, highland-dance skirts and a great many plot twists, Nina's Heavenly Delights has hit the silver screen to sold-out shows in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Miami and beyond. Have you heard of gastronomical erotica? Here you go, ladies, lesbian food porn at its best: with intelligence. Nina's Heavenly Delights reveals the best of Parmar's rich cinematic eye in this moving story of family, friendship and some very spicy love.
You've been selling out in the United States. How is Nina's Heavenly Delights doing internationally?
I was in New Delhi where the film screened as part of a film festival on gender and sexuality. To have a really great response from a mainly straight audience was stellar. People came up to me after the screening, saying how they appreciated the sensitive way in which I handled the lesbian love story. I think what appeals to people across the board is that the Shah family in the film is real, and they are not stereotypes; their story is a universal story. They are grieving after the death of the father, and it's through their grief that they all learn to connect with each other again. Each one of the family members has a secret, and that secret has to do with different kinds of forbidden love, except in the case of Nina's little sister, who is a closet highland dancer. She is a total hoot.
How is it to travel with your films?
I feel so lucky that I have been invited to all these film festivals around the world and have been able to share the film. It took seven years for me to make this movie. I know: crazy, right? To be able to finally sit in a cinema with three or four hundred people who are laughing, crying and enjoying the film has been really quite precious.
You've met so many lesbians!
You know, the one thing I truly believe is [at the screenings] queer desire in all its multiple manifestations is being celebrated, regardless of the culture or country it's in. Many of us all over the world have often gone through tough times to define ourselves on our own terms, and some queers are still fighting for the right to exist, let alone love.
The film is set in Glasgow. What is it like there?
The first time I went to Glasgow, my partner, Shaheen, came with me and planned the whole trip around buildings and architectural sites. It was great to walk around this city, craning my neck, looking at details and shapes and the way light fell on the buildings. She has taught me how to look beyond the surface to shapes, shadows and how space can change the way we experience the world. We went to an Indian restaurant and all the Indian waiters were wearing kilts and turbans and spoke with a wonderful, lilting Scottish-Indian accent, which made me smile. This was an opportunity to make a film that also challenged ideas of nation and identity.
The drag queen in the film seems to be a symbol of hope.
Oh, totally. Bobbi is simply divine. He is so true to himself, even when it's tough to look the way he does on the streets of Glasgow, but he doesn't know any other way of being. There is wisdom in him, but he is also an innocent who steals your heart, and you just want to dance out of the cinema with him.
Can you imagine a world without dancing?
Oh my God ... no way. For me that would be a certain kind of death. I have always loved dancing. You know, in most of my films, documentaries too, I have used dance as a storytelling device, somehow. I have a secret fantasy to be this shit-hot dancer. Sometimes if I am feeling stuck or in a blah kind of mood, I will put on a dance album and dance around my living room. I always feel so much better about life after that. It's a total cure for all kinds of ailments, trust me.
What do you put on?
If I need to shake my booty, a Bollywood song called "Chaiyya Chaiyya" from a film called Dil Se. It has mesmerizing percussion beats. Another fave is Beth Ditto [from The Gossip], "Standing in the Way of Control."
In the film, the main character, Nina, decides to win back the restaurant her father lost in a bet, even though her family has let it go. Why?
Nina's father always said to her, "Follow your heart," and that is what she tries to do after his death, but she has to go through internal turmoil to find that courage to be true to herself. Many a journey of self-discovery is fraught with doubt and insecurity, but hey, that's what growing up is all about.
Are you as stubborn as Nina?
Oh yes, without sheer determination and bloodymindedness this film would never have got made. I can't hear the word "no," which is the most-used word in the film industry. For me, every "no" meant I had to find another door to push open.
Was your first date with your lover as delicious as Nina and Lisa's?
Just as delicious, if not more! I can't remember the food but totally remember the lips and the mouth that ate the food!
By Tania Hammidi
FOR NEWCOMERS to the Los Angeles scene, strolling into West Hollywood's East/West Lounge on a Thursday night is like walking into a scene from The L Word. And at the helm of the most classy girl night in Los Angeles is promoter extraordinaire Shannon Kampa.
But while the house that Kampa built offers up plenty of eye candy and Hollywood glamour--femme, butch and otherwise--and a few celebrities, it also gives off a decidedly down-home feel, thanks to Kampa's Minnesotan roots.
"I want people to feel as if they're walking into my home [and] I want my nights to have an authentic, good-feeling vibe," Kampa says. Having evolved into one of the most recognizable figures in L.A.'s LGBT community as a promoter, entrepreneur and publicist, Kampa, with her piercing blue eyes and Ivory Girl skin, is still the girl next door. At East/West she makes the rounds, introducing newcomers to tried-and-true Thursday night patrons, and even goes the extra step to remember names and to greet as many as possible.
"My job here is to be the hostess and to ensure that everyone is having a good time. There's no drama and there are no divas here," Kampa says. While women's nights in Hollywood come and go, East/West Thursdays are strong and steady after 18 months. She attributes her success to creating an atmosphere for women to network and talk in a mellow environment, where the music is kept to a reasonable level for chatting.
Born in St. Cloud, Minn., and raised all around the country due to her father's military career, Kampa grew up in a "very religious" fundamentalist Baptist household. A Midwestern gal who can "sing Amazing Grace' backwards," Kampa became highly visible in Los Angeles' difficult-to-penetrate gay community.
"Coming out was a huge process," Kampa explains. The only daughter in a family of four children, she admits that her coming out threw a wrench in her parents' expectations of her, but adds, "They're accepting of my happiness."
So how did this Midwestern girl wind up entertaining lesbians at a staple Los Angeles women's night? She originally headed to Southern California several years ago for a job in business and organizational psychology. Kampa wasn't discouraged when that position didn't pan out.
With her entrepreneurial mindset and a desire to give back to the gay and lesbian community, it was no time at all before Kampa wandered into ultra-gay West Hollywood. "I ventured to West Hollywood on my own two weeks after I moved here. I went to GirlBar and Sandy and Robin took me under their wing," she says. Kampa credits the wildly successful GirlBar's promoters, Sandy Sachs and Robin Gans, with helping her kick-start her promoting career.
Despite East/West's clientele, a steady stream of hot lesbians bolstered occasionally by the likes of Jackie Warner, The L Word clan, Dante's Cove's Michelle Wolff and Jenny Shimizu, and even some famous straight allies including Sharon Stone and director Oliver Stone, Kampa remains humble about her night. "It started slowly and it's been very consistent," she says. The night has grown strictly via word of mouth, and she credits East/West's owner, Trip Wilmot, for providing the classy venue.
But Kampa's work in the community goes beyond East/West's doors. One need not look any further than the clothes on her back to understand Kampa's commitment to the gay community at large. Happy to create buzz and business for LGBT community members, Kampa enthusiastically describes the beater and jacket she's wearing as part of Maryam Dalan's Peeler Gear clothing line. For jeans she's sporting the "Kit" from Honey Labrador's Honey L Designs, The L Word collection. "I want to celebrate people like Maryam and Honey Labrador, who are out there trying to make a difference in our community," Kampa says. She's truly a gal who's got her hands in many pies--Dinah Shore attendees might have spotted Kampa decked out with a headset and cell phone as the talent and VIP liaison for Dinah Shore's Club Skirts.
Kampa is looking forward to spearheading fashion and music events while continuing her publicity work and, of course, her night as East/West's women's night hostess plus. "This is my community. Every part of the LGBT community is part of me," Kampa says.
By Tracy E. Gilchrist
Ms. Missile Tester
AN FA-18 MILITARY JET rumbles across the sky. Moments later, the pilot releases a missile that streaks toward a small vacant building and explodes in a fiery puff of smoke.
"Did you see that?" says Sue Armitage, pointing to the replay that, even in slow motion, is almost too fast for the untrained eye. "It went into this window as opposed to that one."
That's one smart weapon."[It] can take out one room, where the bad guys are, without destroying the entire building," she says.
Armitage, an upbeat, 40-something engineer with one of the country's top defense contractors, oversees the testing of smart weapons used by the U.S. military. The tests show the capabilities of a missile system that Armitage and her team have spent the past year monitoring at China Lake, the U.S. Navy's test facility in the high desert north of Los Angeles.
Armitage is the senior principal systems engineer in the Strike Department, which sounds like something out of a Robert Ludlum novel. She works side by side with military personnel, yet she could not actually be in the military and live the way she does now--as an out lesbian.
While the military--as well as most of us living in the United States--depends on experts like Armitage, it cannot officially accept gays and lesbians into its ranks.
"I feel like I work for the military," says the Pittsburgh native, who has worked for several defense contractors. She's perplexed by the arguments behind the "don't ask, don't tell" policy because of the many talented people who are affected.
"There are people in the military just like me, who are smart, capable and committed. You want to kick them out because they are gay?"
Armitage, who lives in Tucson, Ariz., with E.J., her partner of 17 years, has dark, youthful features and big brown eyes. She earned a master's degree with honors in engineering from Texas Tech and has a rather cheerful disposition for someone whose job has such serious objectives. But with the support of her family, she is proud of her country and loves her work.
Before this, Armitage worked for Kaman Aerospace, testing its Magic Lantern mine-hunting system. "I used to fly in the back of the helicopter and teach the Navy guys how to run that system. The pilots treated me like one of the crew."
In each of her defense jobs, her experience with military personnel--mostly men--has been positive. Their primary concern, she says, is whether you can do the job.
"It's a joint effort to get this done, and when something goes well we're all in the range center, high-fiving, patting each other on the back."
It's not the rank and file who have a problem with gays in the military, she explains.
The negative attitude, she believes, "flows from the top down."
"If you look at our company, the president is absolutely 100 percent for diversity and equal rights," she says. "You look at the military, do they have the same situation?"
Her employer was one of the first defense contractors to grant domestic partner benefits, says Armitage. "Not only is it the right thing to do, but also from a business standpoint, it takes that worry away for people like me. My partner is disabled and I can go away on my business trips and I know E.J. is taken care of."
Armitage has a history of challenging attitudes about gender and sexual preference. When she mentioned to her high school counselor that she might be interested in computer science, a new field when she entered California State University, Northridge in the early 1980s, "he said that girls didn't like that, it was too hard." She marched out, demanded a new counselor and pursued computer science.
"I had no idea of how I would make a living, but no one tells me that I can't because I'm a girl."
After graduating in 1984, Armitage worked on the Airborne Early Warning System on P-3 Orions and the Stealth Fighter at Lockheed Corporation in Burbank, Calif.
She loved being part of Lockheed. A softball player and coach for much of her youth, she helped to start a coed softball team composed of Lockheed software engineers--it was called the Fatal Errors (yes, computer geeks do have a sense of humor!).
After her current team finishes testing at China Lake, Armitage is heading to Turkey, where she will integrate a missile system onto F-16s purchased from Lockheed Martin.
While Armitage doesn't fear losing her job because of her sexual preference, there are other issues with which she must contend.
"I've been at gay events such as Out & Equal, where being gay and working in the defense industry isn't always popular," she says. "What folks don't realize is how much of what we discover in the defense development world finds its way into the mainstream. And sometimes the best offense is a good defense.
"Do I like war? No! But history tells us that it still seems to be a necessary part of our world."
By Laurie K. Schenden
Mixing for Moolah
LUCY BRENNAN took a rather circuitous route to Portland, Ore.'s North Russell Street, where she owns her own restaurant and lounge. After living in New York and working on Wall Street, she moved to San Francisco, but couldn't find work in the Financial District.
"A friend of a friend said, 'They're hiring at the Park Hyatt, graveyard room service waitress, and I was like, I've got to pay my rent, I'll do it," she says. She worked at the Park Hyatt for five years, eventually taking on a management role. After transferring to Portland, she wanted less responsibility and started tending bar. Before long she was shaking things up as the bar manager at Portland's hip, gay-owned Saucebox. Five years later she left to open Mint and 820.
Established in 2001, Brennan's venues (mint and 820.com) boast a cocktail menu with thrilling concoctions--from the tantalizing Mandarin Margarita to the beet-infused Ruby to the banana, rum and cream-tastic Sweet Love.
It's not just local imbibers who have eagerly waited in line to sample her distinctive drinks. She has won the attention of industry names such as Bon Appetit magazine, which has described the British bar maven as one of nation's 10 best mixologists, and Playboy, which rates Brennan on its list of America's top 10 bartenders.
I ask Brennan whether Mint and 820 are popular with the city's lesbian contingent. She tells me, "I am actually very impressed with the community, both boys and girls, who support me, but particularly the girls who, because of writers who write me up as openly gay,' respond and want to support [lesbian-owned venues]. I am very thankful for that."
Mint and 820 are appealingly mixed, neither "heavy straight or heavy gay," according to Brennan. "It's who I am, pretty much open to everybody." Like Portland? I suggest, and she agrees.
Although she doesn't spends long stints behind the bar anymore, Brennan teaches popular cocktail classes and does consulting work. Her list of clients include Oregon's SakeOne and Bendistillery. "I'm very fortunate to have had my manager with me since the beginning. She's also my ex-girlfriend. I must be doing something right because we're still best friends."
Brennan is renowned for her use of intriguing ingredients. Her drinks feature items more commonly found in grocery aisles than on liquor store shelves. "I love simple, well-balanced drinks. [The ingredients are] not that foreign. I mean, you eat cilantro. Mint has always been a common ingredient in cocktails. Avocado is like a banana."
With a restaurant and lounge, the classes and a book with Carolyn Burleigh, Hip Sips, already to her credit, Brennan is looking to the future. "I would love something on the Food Network," she enthuses. "I would love to teach people how to make decent cocktails. Another book has been talked about--you know, pairing it with foods. Another lounge is on the table. But I'm focusing on my personal life right now, actually. Keeping it balanced. I feel very fortunate, very blessed."
She continues, "I absolutely love what I do. I dream about cocktails. Not actually drinking them," she quickly adds, "but coming up with more drinks. I'm doing what I love. And people are enjoying it, too."
It's the perfect recipe.
Get Brennan's book, Hip Sips, at Chronicle Books (chroniclebooks.com)
By Aefa Mulholland
Vegan Recipe for Success
AMANDA FELT is in love. The objects of her affection are chocolate-peanut butter brownies and maple and spice coffeecake, made from vegan recipes that she developed herself.
Felt began to bake when she was just old enough to help stir the cookie dough. She started experimenting with vegan recipes to impress a woman and realized shed stumbled on a good business plan.
"There was not a single place in Portland [Ore.] serving vegan baked goods," explains the 30-year-old Felt. "It was a fun challenge to develop the recipes, and at the same time, I saw it as a chance to run a business doing something I love."
In 1999, Felt rented space in a commercial kitchen and began adapting traditional recipes for cookies, cakes, muffins and brownies and turning them into vegan fare.
For months, Felt spent her mornings as a cook at a popular cafe in Portland, and her afternoons measuring, mixing and baking thousands of different vegan treats. She took detailed notes about the mixes that worked and those that flopped and began talking to coffee shop owners about her products.
Felt had three clients lined up before the first mixes hit the market. For the first few months, she balanced her full-time job with her fledgling business, shopping for ingredients on her breaks, baking after hours and making deliveries in the mornings. Then it was official: Black Sheep Bakery was a hit.
Felt was determined to succeed as an entrepreneur, even though the schedule was draining. The minute her client list grew to 10 accounts, she gave notice at the cafe and devoted all of her time to Black Sheep.
"I still remember the first time I saw someone eating something I made," she recalls. "It felt dirty, watching them to see their reaction. It was surreal."
The combination of consumer demand and lack of competition led to the almost overnight success of Black Sheep. The business took off much faster than anticipated, and soon her products were showing up at small coffee shops as well as huge chains.
The growth spurt forced Felt to go from being a one-woman operation to a business with three staff members. There were growing pains associated with hiring staff: Felt had to relinquish control of duties like baking in exchange for dealing with administrative issues. Hiring staff also put added pressure on Felt to ensure that Black Sheep continued to meet its sales goals--and it did. The business continued to introduce new products and attract new accounts.
There were also setbacks: Felt underestimated her costs, a move that required her to lay off her staff and almost caused Black Sheep to go bankrupt. Instead of dwelling on her mistakes, Felt looked at them as a natural part of doing business and credits her success to a willingness to experiment.
Once, when a customer asked her to ship a dozen cupcakes to an out-of-state address, Felt jumped at the chance to find out whether her baked goods would survive shipping. Hours after the cupcakes arrived, Felt got a call from the customer: The box was delivered upside down, with cupcakes oozing from the seams of the box.
"It was a complete disaster, but at least I learned that it's a bad idea to mail cupcakes," she laughs.
One of her mistakes turned out to be one of her biggest successes.
During a recipe development session, Felt made the mistake of adding too much bran into a batch of muffin mix. In order to balance out the taste, she added handfuls of cranberries and dried apples to the mix. The result was a cran-apple multigrain muffin that has become one of her bestsellers.
Seven years after Felt began selling vegan baking mixes, Black Sheep is more popular than ever. The mixes are sold at the Portland Farmers Market, natural food stores across the U.S. and through the Web site blacksheepbakery.com, as well as in the new bricks-and-mortar location that Felt opened in a hip Portland neighborhood last spring.
Felt is relishing the success of Black Sheep and wondering what the future holds.
"I have no idea where the business is going to go," she admits. "I know it'll move forward, but in what direction and with which products, I'm not sure, but I'm excited to find out."
By Jodi Helmer
Mo Butta Blues
ON MORE THAN ONE occasion I've considered the possibility that Christiana Remington has an identical twin sister she's hiding from the rest of the world. I have no other way to explain the energy required to live a life that includes raising four teenagers, running a women's promotion company and, in her spare time, whipping up meals for nonprofit organizations like Covenant House.
She's come a long way, baby. In 2001, Remington was supporting her family by working at Starbucks, where she was a barista in just about every cafe in San Francisco. An intimate of the San Francisco club scene, the petite Remington also frequented pre-emininent club Backstreet, where a bevy of colorful women danced the night away on three stages of hip hop, salsa and house music. Never afraid of a challenge, she made a name for herself as one of the scene's first plus-size dancers.
In 2003, while recovering from surgery, Remington fulfilled a long-held dream when she opened Butta, her version of the afternoon tea dance. "Butta is a place where women who love women can get together, have some drinks, dance, eat some good, home-cooked soul food and just be comfortable," she explains, justifiably proud of the space she's created. Held at the Oasis, a beach-scene-muraled, indoor-outdoor space lined with comfy couches and dotted with plants, Butta has become a lesbian tradition in Oakland.
"Venues are so important," she explains. "The Oasis had just the right amenities and funky look to have a backyard barbecue. I felt instantly inspired. I wanted to provide a sense of home and family," which comes complete with DJ Olga T, family as support staff and, of course, free, tasty nosh.
"Ahhh, the free food," she laughs, giving the impression that it's a uniquely difficult concept for people to accept. "I have always believed that the soul needs food to grow. I have always fed people. It's just a part of who I am. If you came to my house for dinner I wouldn't charge you, I'd ask you to bring drinks. Butta is my home so food is on me--until it runs out!"
Remington wanted the ever-popular Butta to be a whole experience with dance, spoken word, and something more than just "drinking and cruising."
For Remington, whose is initial vision metamorphosed into Butterfly Productions (which produces events like Mo Butta, an official San Francisco Pride party), and Lil Somthin Somthin catering. And as she says, she didn't do it alone.
"Blood is not the only definition of family. I believe that it's what we bring to each other's lives, and how we grow with each other. Family is also a root of unconditional love. I have many folks close to me, and that I consider family. I am rich."
By Alison Peters
IN THE ANNALS of computer and software development technology, Soraya Bittencourt's name is prominent.
After a highly successful engineering career in her native Brazil, launching the first Latin America communications satellite, Bittencourt came to the U.S. She went on to develop several major applications for Lotus Corporation, and then joined the leadership team at Microsoft. It was there that she received perhaps her greatest international recognition for creating Expedia, one of today's most robust Web-based tools.
And unlike in her native Brazil, Bittencourt found it somewhat easier in the U.S. to be an out lesbian. "The first thing I did when I was hired was to look for GLEAM, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgen-der employees group at Microsoft," she says. "Yes, I was out, really out ... pushing the Brazilian samba Microsoft float in every Gay Pride parade while I was there."
But even at Microsoft, a company committed to diversity, says Bittencourt, things are not always picture perfect, and she ended up leaving.
In the end, it may have been the best thing that happened to her. "There are times in your life when you take a break from your day-by-day and think what is really important," she says. "I was earning a great salary, in a great company, but somehow, I was not really happy."
At the same time, her diabetes started to catch up with her, and Bittencourt's health started to decline. Ever the problem solver, Bittencourt launched Nutrihand, an online service that helps people plan, track and report their meals, exercise and medical information (nutrihand.com). Users can determine how food and exercise affect their health, and prevent and control chronic diseases.
She followed up with Nutrihand Pro, a professional service for nutritionists to analyze clients' information, create personalized plans and then monitor those plans online.
Today, she has over 1 million consumers and 4,000 dietitians using the service. "Nutrihand has given me the chance to learn more about people, to think more about what is important in life, and to do it every day," she says.
By Sheryl Kay
Companies We Love
The Right Cut
Mad-Ame caters to a wide range of testes. By Aefa Mulholland
THE WOMEN OF Montreal have a rather unique shopping option: Mad-Ame (mad-ame.ca), a lesbian-owned and -operated boutique planned, owner Amy Skinner says, "with lesbian styles in mind."
Skinner observed that across Canada, from Vancouver to Montreal, there were no clothing stores explicitly appealing to a lesbian clientele. While teaching in the women's studies department at Montreal's McGill University, she studied clothing patterns as a means of sexual self-identification and discovered a dearth of designers creating fashions specifically for lesbians.
Skinner is quoted on Montreal's lesbian Web site, NoMorePotlucks.org, as saying, "It frustrates me to hear those stereotypes: lumberjack shirts, front pleated jeans and terrible shoes. The lesbian imagery in popular culture seems to be either that of a stone butch in ill-fitting men's wear or a straight-looking porn star, when in reality we cover an incredible span of styles. A particularly common frustration experienced [is] finding butch wear, but in women's sizes and cuts, and club wear that doesn't involve tube tops. Women looking to attract women really do want something different than those trying to attract men, so it's understandable that we have been underwhelmed and not willing to invest in mainstream options."
Undaunted, Skinner decided to do something about this. Singlehandedly saving the women of Montreal from having to settle for second-rate wardrobes, she created Mad-Ame to offer "casual clothes with lesbian sensibilities," items she says are "comfortable, affordable, local, socially and/or ecologically conscious, easily modifiable and sexy, too."
Labels and designers that fit the bill include Covet, Eve Gravel, Dinh Ba, Valerie Dumaine, Fairyesque, Plain Jane, Karv, Logik, Oom, Termite, Barila and Gwendoline. A large amount of stock comes from local Montreal or LGBT designers, as does an exciting supply of accessories, such as distinctive belt buckles, sexy suspenders, stylish fedoras, fun mittens and more. An impressive array of underwear ranges from Vulvarific's "hotshorts" and g-strings to Canadian label Ginch Gonch's "beaver eaters" boy-cut briefs and tanks. The result is a diverse and unique shopping experience. Commenting on her wares, Skinner says, "Most design houses follow the typical four-season schedule, but we are able to bring in items from smaller designers, and really, these tend to be the most fun stuff!"
For those of us accustomed to having to make do with clothes that don't quite fit right, Mad-Ame is reason enough on its own to visit Montreal. Determined to make all items work perfectly for her clientele, Skinner guarantees that her prices include tailoring or modifying all of the items in her workshop. Orders for custom work are also accepted. Skinner's really is an operation that caters to each individual shopper. "Make the clothes fit the person, not the person fit the clothes," trumpets the Web site, and they sure do try. To keep everyone, of every size, happy, the store stocks clothes designed for larger sizes, several lines that range from sizes 1 to 15, and garments in men's sizes that can then be tailored to fit the wearer.
Skinner has instituted a frequent shopper rewards system. Customers are given their purchases in heavy-duty fabric bags, and when they bring the bag back, Skinner says, "They receive five percent off regular-priced items. These are also the shoppers who get first notice of sales and an advance day of shopping at sale prices."
Other incentives to visit the boutique include shopping parties with generous discounts and drinks for groups, as well as the services of an in-house stylist or a guest tailor. Once everyone is all togged out in their new attire, they can sashay along to one of the nearby clubs for which Mad-Ames staff arranges VIP guest listing. The L Word screenings and movie nights also lure prospective shoppers to the store, which includes a chill-out area complete with an original Ms. Pacman machine and espresso maker.
Next time you look at your wardrobe or shopping options with dismay, book that flight to Montreal and go one-stop shopping.
Holding All the Cards
Woman leads three companies. By Aefa Mulholland
DAWN ACKERMAN is a woman with a lot of different business cards. The CEO and founder of the office equipment and supplies consulting company EcoToner (ecotoner.com) is also the vice president of Los Angeles' Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the co-founder of the LGBT community-supporting OutSmart Office Solutions and the COO of the LGBT recruiting services and products company CandidateFive.
Ackerman, an entrepreneur with an eye for business opportunity and a passion for helping both the environment and the LGBT community, started EcoToner in 1997. "After graduating from college with a degree in biology and psychology, I decided I wanted to go into business for myself. A friend of mine and I thought that helping companies recycle toner cartridges would be a good business to start and so we started EcoToner."
Tackling the toner cartridge challenge has not been easy. Ackerman explains, "Unfortunately, as time progresses, the printer manufacturers have worked hard to be sure that every time they make a new printer model they create a new toner or ink cartridge. There are even more companies manufacturing printers and doing whatever they can to lock out compatible or remanufactured alternatives. The industry has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Sadly, just when more people are trying to focus on being green, it is even harder when it comes to office equipment and supplies." She continues, "The manufacturers sell printers super cheap and then gouge customers with the cost of the cartridges. It becomes cheaper to get a new printer than to buy refills. Many of those discarded printers go straight to landfill."
The Los Angeles-based entrepreneur has also sought out other ways to make a positive impact on our world. "I have decided to change my business model to help my community in a different way. I understand that people have to buy office supplies. However, they do not have to buy them from the three big office-supply chains, which donated 85 percent of their political contributions to parties that do not fight for the interests of the LGBT community."
Along with George Pieper, Ackerman founded OutSmart Office Solutions, Inc. (outsmartoffice.com). The company, launched in September 2007, gives a percentage of all sales to LGBT nonprofits through donations and sponsorships. Ackerman adds, "We also give GLBT and allied nonprofits significant discounts on all their office-supply needs. It has always seemed extremely unreasonable to me that a nonprofit has to spend so much of their operating money on office supplies and equipment when it should be going to the services they provide. So we are helping them save where we can. We also offer free recycling labels to our customers so that they can send their used cartridges that can be recycled back to us for remanufacturing."
The third of Ackerman's LGBT-positive businesses is CandidateFive (candidatefive.com), a company that provides LGBT recruiting products and services to Fortune 500 companies. Ackerman explains the company's mission: "We help Fortune 500 companies recruit LGBT employees for workplace diversity. Many members of our community are educated, experienced professionals looking for a place to work where they can be themselves. We help them do that. Only when you are able to be yourself is your true potential unleashed. Fortunately, corporate America is realizing that [having] LGBT [individuals] in their workforce adds to their diversity and increases their bottom line."
CandidateFive organizes career forums where Fortune 500 companies can set up booths and interview LGBT professionals on the spot. Ackerman contends that Fortune 500 companies actually want to fulfill diversity requirements. "They want to hire LGBT people, but can't ask someone if they're gay in an interview. They can assume that if someone has come to a specifically gay job fair, that they're gay allies or LGBT themselves."
With this innovative trio of business successes and her driving passion, Ackerman's future success is in the cards.
Going It Alone
Are you one of the thousands of women dreaming of giving entrepreneurialism a go? these go-to guides for self-starters may be just the encouragement you need.--Maria Ginsbourg
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting Your Own Business (Alpha): Sure, you're not really an idiot, but Edward Paulson's guide, now in its fifth edition, can help show you how to get a company up and running with easy tips on drafting a business plan, interesting investors, figuring out the legal structure, marketing your product, taking the biz online, paying taxes and purchasing an existing business or franchise. Bonus points for the CD with over 100 documents and agreements you can download and use. (idiotsguides.com)
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grant Writing (Alpha): If you can't face one more bake sale for the local library, if your nonprofit needs cash to keep afloat or if you're a starving artist, do read Waddy Thompson's funny and no-nonsense guide to finding grants and writing "fund-winning" proposals. (idiotsguides.com)
How to Start a Home-Based Professional Organizing Business (Globe Pequot): Ladies who'd love to organize closets for a living should check out Dawn Noble's guidebook, which covers all the aspects of becoming and thriving as a professional organizer. Topics include working with clients, developing a marketing strategy, and a four-step system for organizing anything. (globepequot.com)
How to Open and Operate a Bed & Breakfast (Globe Pequot): If you have a love of people, own a guest room in a touristy location and possess the Martha-Stewart gene, you might just have all the ingredients you need to operate a guest abode of your own. In its eighth edition, this classic guide by Jan Stankus can teach you how to write a business plan, deal with taxes, market your business and brew a perfect cup of coffee. (globepequot.com)
How to Start a Home-Based Online Retail Business (Globe Pequot): Ah, the benefits of working from home: low start-up costs, no commuting and the luxury of wearing pajamas to work. Jeremy Shepherd's motivational and easy-to-read guide can show you how to transform your ideas into a real business. (globepequot.com)
The Erotic Oasis
Sisters mix sex and politics. By Karen Loftus
I WAS RUNNING LATE, talking to my mom on my cell, weaving in and out of traffic, trying to find parking in a permit-only parking zone so I could make a quick stop at a new store opening before hitting a media dinner in Santa Monica. It was just another day in Los Angeles, or so I thought. As I was running up Little Melrose in West Hollywood, across from the famed spiritual bookstore the Bodhi Tree and next to the Zenlike bar, Elixir, I was subtly or seductively reminded to slow down.
Once I walked under the Coco de Mer archway, I knew I had crossed over to another world. Like Alice in Wonderland, it was both fantasy and fairy tale--seductive, yet playful. In the courtyard, I was greeted by an oversized, perfectly manicured, phallus-shaped bush. I knew then there was more fun to come. Once in the lush burgundy boudoir, I was surrounded by suggestive silks, lingerie and wraps, glass and jade dildos, multi-pearl rings, paddles, whips, vintage erotica, harnesses, blindfolds, leather goods by U.K. designer Alexander McQueen and erotic furniture with hidden sexual functions, all presented in an aesthetically pleasing museum quality manner. A wave then came over me, that feeling of complete relaxation and joy that you feel after a yoga class, a deep belly laugh or an outrageous orgasm. It was tip-to-toe pleasure, where all my senses were active, open and relaxed. I didn't know where to cast my eye, as everywhere I looked was pleasing, stimulating and enlightening.
Before I made a move, I was introduced to the lovely and impassioned sisters Samantha and Justine Roddick, the proprietresses of pleasure. Their place is about much more than just pleasure, though; it's political through and through. Theirs is a family of activists.
Their late mother, Anita Roddick, was the founder of the Body Shop, which is all about giving back and actively addressing the issues and needs of the global community. Their father co-founded the U.K.-based paper, The Big Issue, which is sold by homeless people. Sam says, "I was an activist by the age of 3, encouraging my mom."
All of their sex toys boast of being noncarcinogenic, which caused me to pause. The ones that I have, I never knew to ask about. Garments, toys and clothes are made in communities that receive a percentage of the profits after the items are sold, and the running theme throughout the store is respect, permission and pleasure. As Sam says, "There's no shame, no violence, no judgment. And with clear boundaries, there is a lot of pleasure."
They're never heavy-handed, and there is an incredible sense of humor and whimsy throughout the store, from the Peep Show in the changing room, where your lover can literally peep through a window to view you in your seductive wares, to Mr. Permissions Office, where you can view saucy movies and record or listen to a prerecorded confessional on the antique phone. Seduction never looked or felt so good.
Sam runs the U.K. boutique, while Justine manages the Los Angeles one. Justine, who's been in a relationship with a woman for several years, says that a lot of gay women frequent the Los Angeles store, from the hip, rock 'n' roll, L Word lesbians to the 50-and 60-something women in long-term relationships. They often leave saying, thank you, this is just what we needed. Their customers run the full spectrum of the Kinsey scale.
Though Coco de Mer comes from a definitively feminine perspective, Sam admits, "We have great men standing beside us." Dave Stewart, activist, artist and musician best known from the Eurythmics, is the third partner of Coco de Mer." We didn't need the money. We wanted Dave to join the family," continues Sam.
A few weeks later, I returned to the boutique for the official launch party where Stewart hosted, inviting a few of his closest friends: Ringo Starr, Eric Idle (a.k.a. Monty Python), Lily Tomlin, Debi Mazar and Deepak Chopra were a few of the famous creative and comedic faces at the fete. "I have tried every product in this shop," says Stewart, who then broke into "Walk on the Wild Side," while a curvaceous Marilyn Monroe look-alike mesmerized us with burlesque dancing in the background. It was truly a celebration of sexuality and art.
Deepak Chopra later took the stage, beginning with:" Dave and I have been friends for 15 years, done many projects together and gotten into many scrapes, but this is definitely the biggest." He then launched in to an impassioned speech about how sexuality is a creative force of nature essential to spiritual enlightenment. Who knew you could reach orgasm and nirvana? Heaven.
Less than a year ago, Patti Lucia and Desiree Ramos-Aponti opened Les Beans Coffee, a coffee house dedicated to Fair Trade, organic and shade-grown coffee beans, and it has already affected its community of Lake Forth, Fla. In a town where there isn't much for lesbians, Lucia and Ramos-Aponti have created a space where everyone is welcome and there is more to do than just sip coffee. Les Beans hosts writing workshops, open mics, game nights and live music. They even compiled a banned book library in their cafe, which houses titles such as Of Mice and Men and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.
"The art on the walls is by local artists, and most of the bands that play are local musicians," states Lucia. "We wanted to use this company to give back to the community."
But the community of Lake Forth isn't the only one they're giving back to. From the beginning, both owners were committed to selling only Fair Trade, organic beans. One of their bean suppliers is an all-woman, Peruvian coffee collective, Cafe Femenino.
"Many places use pesticides that are illegal in the U.S.," states Lucia. "Organic isn't just better for people, it's better for the farmers as well." She explains that as the demand for organic coffee grows, more farms will stop using harmful pesticides.
These beans don't just help overseas farmers; they make for a great-tasting cup of coffee with a higher caffeine count. "The quality of our coffee is superb because it is slow roasted in small batches," says Ramos-Aponti. "Coffee is not supposed to taste burnt and bitter unless it is over-roasted. Many people mistake a bitter aftertaste with a high caffeine content. When they drink our coffee, they not only enjoy a smoother cup of coffee, they feel the difference in the caffeine level."
In the hope of spreading Les Beans nationwide, Lucia and Ramos-Aponti are looking for people interested in licensing the name and coffee products. With delicious coffee, a full lineup of events and a positive mission statement, this wonderful coffee house would be welcome in any community.--Dana Kay Litoff
OurChart has more to offer. By Candace Moore
AFTER LAUNCHING less than a year ago OurChart.com has quickly become one of the most visited and populated forums devoted to lesbians on the Web. The site had 500,000 individual visits in its first three months and its steady growth clearly shows that the company's promotional theatrics have paid off.
Advertised within the storyline of Showtime's The L Word and touted by cast members in segments surrounding episodes of season four, OurChart, owned in part by the show's creator, Ilene Chaiken, was conceived not just as a spinoff fan site with behind-the-scenes footage but rather as a technological marvel, providing voice and connective tissue to an international lesbian community poised to take some of the creative reins into its own hands. What started as a cute model of the six (or two) degrees of separation between lesbians everywhere has become a literal cyberspace "friends tree" and communication venue.
While OurChart has not quite conquered the entire dyke world, it has become a popular alternative to MySpace, designed for and by queer women, as well as a premier site for quality media content and celesbian blogs. The president of the company, Hilary Rosen, is the former head of the Recording Industry Association of America. She spoke with CURVE about the site's exciting features, the brains behind the business and the business behind this burgeoning lesbian online community.
Viewers of The L Word already know the story of how Alice starts obsessively charting lesbian hookups and, in season four, turns her "chart" into a Web site. What is the story of how the real OurChart got started?
Early last summer, Kara Swisher, a tech guru who writes for The Wall Street Journal, and Ilene Chaiken came up with the idea of putting the chart online and creating an online social network. They came to me to help raise the money and design the business end. Ilene has felt for a long time that The L Word has been a social connection for lesbians in a really unique way. With the advent of a huge number of social networks online, it made perfect sense to take that experience and see what else we could do with it. So we came up with the plan and talked to Jennifer [Beals], Leisha [Hailey], and Kate [Moennig], because we knew that if we were going to be successful we had to have the actors involved.
Those three went in as partners, correct? Is that a financial as well as a spokesperson level of support?
Yes, they are owners and founders. Kara knew a woman named Beth Callaghan, who had been the editor-in-chief at PlanetOut.com for many years. She came in as our technology partner. So basically, the seven of us created this social network with the chart at the center of it. In large measure because of Ilene, Kate, Leisha and Jennifer, who have a lot of creative ideas, we wanted to make sure it was a haven for additional creative content.
Why the decision to marry these different formats--to include media content and webisodes along with editorial pieces, blogs and networking?
We felt we had something unique to offer. There were lesbian news sites, there were lesbian travel sites, there were fledgling lesbian dating sites, but nothing that, in our view, combined the stickiness of a social network with original content. One of the reasons a lot of sites don't create original programming is because it's expensive, and these sites don't tend to generate much revenue. So it's really an investment in getting more users and the series paying off. With respect to the original content, we are going to commission as much as we can and do as much as we can. So hopefully, that will be several good original series a year and several shorter video projects.
I noticed OurChart has a photo journal of lesbian nightlife. Sort of the real face of what The L Word portrays.
The corresponding piece is people's own individual L Worlds. The party scene is fun. It's our own little TMZ meets YouTube. User generated. We're open to people's ideas for more of that.
Do you think that people's comfort with the MySpace and Friendster formats has made the transition to this forum easier? When new users go to create profiles, they see something pretty familiar. Yet on OurChart you're also offered more options for describing your sexuality and gender, while MySpace has limited categories.
Well, if we can't get that right! This is a place for us, rather than being a place that someone else has made that welcomes us. I think most of the women who have profiles on the chart also have a MySpace or Facebook profile, and that's okay. The online world replicates a little bit how we experience our lives, which is that we're very integrated for the most part, and assimilated. On the other hand, sometimes on a regular basis, we just want kind of the safety and comfort and sexiness of being with lesbians--using lesbian in the broadest sense of the word.
How much time does the average user spend on the site?
The industry average of page views on a Web site is something like three-and-a-half to four [minutes], and our average page views are like, 10 [minutes], so we know people are enjoying it.
If you were going to give advice to someone creating a business plan for a project like this, something that requires a lot of investment and time, what advice would you give them for starting out?
Aside from the general, really important emotional and spiritual mantra of believing in yourself, which is critical, I think from a practical business standpoint, it's know your scale. If you've got a product in service that's going to be most viable for a targeted group of people, start there and scale up to get wider. Sometimes, business dreams fail because people's dreams are too big and the execution falls short. It's important to be able to scale right at the beginning--and you can always scale up.
You definitely targeted users through The L Word and through advertising on Showtime. What is OurChart's relationship with Showtime? Do they have a share?
CBS and Showtime are principal investment partners. They've been great partners.
Are there other ways you targeted the lesbian community, outside of The L Word?
We spent the first three quarters focusing on getting our technical features right, developing some deep content and preparing ourselves for the next level. Like most social networks, we haven't spent any money on marketing or advertising.
You've let it go through word of mouth.
Totally viral! For the most part we continue to take that approach, but we're starting to partner with organizations like the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Human Rights Campaign and AfterEllen.com and places in the community where we can share traffic and trade. We strongly believe that this is an ecosystem that benefits from everybody working together and sharing each other's users and partners and information. We think of this as coop-etition as opposed to competition on all fronts. This whole market is poised for exciting growth, and hopefully, we'll be right up there.
What do you think that OurChart has to offer lesbians that a more general site like MySpace doesn't?
MySpace in particular has gotten pretty messy. OurChart is an environment where people can come and find something in common with everybody and move through the network with a sense of interest and safety that I don't think you can find as a queer woman on any other site.
And how would you compare OurChart to sites like Gay.com, which offers chatting features as well as content?
First of all, [Gay.com is] very male focused, so there's no comparison in terms of the size of the lesbian user community. We're just so much larger. You can look at our content and see that we're lesbian focused, and that makes the chart experience that much better.
Could you tell us about any new site features coming around the bend?
The thing that our users are talking to us most about right now are additional technical features they want, so in the next two months we'll be adding videos, photos, we'll be adding more inter-user transparency--so that you can see what other people are doing on the site--and a richer forum and discussion. And of course, we will be adding the all-important Friends Plus, which was the essence of the chart originally.
Yeah, Alice's chart was about charting hookups.
Not starting with hookups was a very deliberate strategy on our part. We felt that as exciting and titillating as it was on the show, it was probably intimidating in an online environment, right away.
There could be privacy issues, perhaps?
We weren't so worried about privacy issues, because you can't be added to somebody's chart unless you consent to it, but we really wanted to focus on building community. On the other hand, we know that people want that extra excitement and sexy factor, and so Friends Plus is on its way. People will be able to designate people who are [already] on their chart as a [past] hookup or a present hookup.
It seems like OurChart is becoming its own entity, separate from The L Word, while having been born by it, or in relationship to it. Are you going to have content on other lesbian-related TV shows or media?
What we are looking for is what's coming down the pike that's compelling. We have a good relationship with AfterEllen.com. In terms of content sharing--they cover every lesbian who's ever sneezed in a movie or on a TV show, and that's what they do. We don't need to replicate that. So when we have unique behind-the-scenes access to something, or when we have an actor or a creator who's reaching beyond an audience, I think we see us as "value added" to some of those other efforts and not as a recap or review site.
What have Jennifer, Leisha and Kate been working on lately with regards to the site, and what is their level of involvement on a month-to-month basis?
Jennifer is loving selecting the photographs. I think she is going to be doing more [of that], and I think we are going to be offering her photographs for sale. Leisha's really busy with her band now, and we're talking about ways to integrate some of her band's activities onto the site. Kate just did a fabulous piece with homeless youth in New York City, "My Address," and she's very interested in social justice and will continue to work on projects like that. Right now they're all in production, so we're spending time on behind-the-scenes L Word stuff for them. Once production ends in October, we'll start again with some original projects.
How would you describe OurChart's appeal to someone who has not yet seen it?
The big challenge with online social networks is finding a reason for people to keep coming back. What's most compelling about OurChart is that our users, the ones who keep coming back, they're telling us that they're making friends all over the world, they're learning about new music and movies and political views that they hadn't experienced before, and their worlds are expanding just a little. Considering the media onslaught that we all experience, with the multitude of online sites and the multitude of offline media, to know that there is one place you can go to that is always going to efficiently satisfy you is a great thing.
Companies wear hearts on their sleeves. By Tania Hammidi
MEETING LIFE'S CHALLENGES takes the right clothes, and that's no joke. Dykes in charge know that, and so do our spirits and bodies. When we're under the weather, our skin gets sensitive. When we're well, we deserve healthy fabrics, positive messages and stunning colors. So believe the designers of FeelingBold and Liv'n Out Loud, two lesbian-owned businesses with 100 percent cotton, soothing and empowering clothing at their core. These companies are catching national attention like wildfire, for the ways both the clothing--and the companies' owners--are showing us how to meet the world dressed in courage.
The New Hampshire-based clothing company Liv'n Out Loud was born of a major health crisis. Co-founders Alyson Bruu and Kristine Fichers, lovers for 13 years, saw Fichers through a major glitch during a routine surgery in 2004 that turned near deadly.
Overcoming the experience brought Liv'n Out Loud into being. "Just putting something strong and uplifting on your chest makes you feel better," says Bruu.
The messages of Liv'n Out Loud "uplift the human spirit" and "empower and inspire" people from all walks of life (livnoutloud.com). Their watermelon V-neck tee reads, "Become your own hero." A sunbeam V-neck tee reads "I'm not beautiful like you, I'm beautiful like me." For sure, it is the colors combined with the messages that bring Liv'n Out Loud oodles of compliments. Bruu says, "Next to the 'sayings' on our tees, what we hear most is 'the colors are amazing.' We select colors that evoke something, colors that stir the spirit and enliven the soul."
And souls have been stirred in Hollywood. Late one April afternoon in 2007, while Bruu and Fichers were having a routine day of work, the phone rang, and the life of their small company was about to change forever. The pair says, "The phone rang, and as is customary when the phone rings, Alyson yells, 'Hi, Oprah!' Kris yells across the hall, 'It could be ... it's coming through as unknown.' With that, Kris answers the phone and a woman with a lovely voice and accent starts speaking: 'I received your stunning tees in my gift bag ...'"
The lovely voice was none other than Oscar winner Helen Mirren's. Mirren received a complimentary Liv'n Out Loud T-shirt in her celebrity gift bag at the Academy Awards. Bruu continues, "She then proceeded to order six [shirts] ... two for her and four for her husband. When the call ended, we jumped up and down ... screaming, laughing, high-fiving."
The Denver-based FeelingBold partners likewise know that overcoming obstacles requires the right fit--in a shirt, and a lover. Since meeting three years ago, founder Claudine O'Leary and partner Jean "Gio" Giovetti overcame cancer, negotiated immigration hold-ups (O'Leary is U.K.-born, Gio from the U.S.), and realized their common interest in creating "an industry of positivity" for women and girls. Launching FeelingBold in March 2006, the couple designed 100 percent free-trade organic T-shirts and their signature Bold Bead bracelets "from scratch at the kitchen table of a friend's house."
O'Leary is the dreaming "blue sky." Giovetti is the practical "green grass." Together, their spirits are made in elegant, soulful messages. A small, circular two-tone patch on the sleeve of a long-sleeved shirt reads, "We can do this." In the center of another T-shirt is the positive message "Breathe. Believe. Heal." The Bold Bead, O'Leary says, is "designed to be worn every day as a reminder to girls and women to internalize their personal and positive declaration of 'I am.' I am powerful. I am happy. I am a beautiful work in progress. I am ready." And each garment has Sita, the FeelingBold icon, with arms raised and chest out.
O'Leary says, "FeelingBold is an organization built on a solid foundation of positive values, conscious thought and integrity. We support and encourage women to live life with a positive intent and boldness of spirit."
Indeed, the couple have put their own beliefs to the test. A month after they launched the company (feelingbold.com), O'Leary was denied entry into the United States. "It was deemed I'd visited too often," she said. Since they've discovered the elusive E2 Investor's Visa, O'Leary and Giovetti now have two years of togetherness at a time. In 2004, Giovetti was diagnosed with a rare form of salivary cancer. Yet she survived the cancer, literally dressed in positivity. O'Leary says, "Gio felt such a strong need to actually put positivity on her body that every day she wore clothing that contained positive words. These words helped her maintain her faith, courage and resilience during some incredibly rough days."
All The King's Women
Gallery finds new home after Katrina. By Karen Loftus
ANGELA KING'S GALLERY on Royal Street in the French Quarter was the perfect official start to my week in New Orleans. I was lucky to have this as my first impression of the city: I was definitely impressed. Hers was one of the most stunning galleries I have ever been in. The space itself was as much a work of art, carefully sculpted and crafted by King and her crew, as the art it showcased.
Like many, King left New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina for what she thought would be only three days. With her long-term partner Julie and 10 others, she made her way to Florida, where the crew would spend a wrenching six weeks. But King is a woman who does what she's got to do, and 10 days after Katrina struck, she snuck back into the city, breezing past a dozen National Guardsmen. Once in, King made her way through the city in the dark, with no power or sunlight, checking in on everyone's houses to see that things were OK. That's the kind of king she is. She looks after her own.
Returning weeks later to an abandoned city, she found that many, including her then-business partner, her director and the co-owner of the Hansen Gallery, also on Royal Street, had left. Both the city and her business were in ruins. So King did what any leader would do: She made a bold move that inspired those around her.
A small woman with a strong, positive presence, she decided not only to stay, but to take over a bigger space up the street. She renovated an 1856 storefront, once an old shoe factory run by the original owner of the famed Monteleone Hotel, at the corner of Royal and Bienville. She, with the help of friends, colleagues and her partner Julie Jacobs, transported 28 years and four floors' worth of her art and furniture, one dolly at a time. She remortgaged all but her own shoes to make the move happen. Half a million dollars in debt, relying largely on tourists, she didn't have much of an income coming in.
"I didn't have the capital to hire somebody, so I took it upon myself one week at a time. What had to happen is that individuals pulled up their bootstraps, hiring people throughout Louisiana. I did outreach locally to all sorts of people to be part of the rebirth process," King says.
The new space was much larger in scale than her previous gallery and in need of a great deal of work. She stripped off the pink walls to expose brick, pulled up flooring and peeled bricks off the large bay windows outside to showcase the stunning space. It was a brave move, one that after 30 years in New Orleans earned her respect and acceptance in the otherwise old-school Southern enclave of Royal Street. She infused faith and built morale in the local and creative community beyond the Quarter.
"I developed relationships with so many artists over the years, they just stepped up to the plate like you wouldn't believe. I am working with the best of the best. Charlie Tysall sent me five of his paintings and told me to sell them just to get going again. Gary Patterson and Marion Barnes offered theirs at half price. I called an interested party and said, "That $6,000 painting is now $3,000."
The Angela King Gallery (angelakinggallery.com) officially opened 20 months later, with 15 invited artists and a large local turnout. Humble and incredibly grateful, she said, "I took care of folks and they took care of me."
You Had Me at Tello
The new lesbian online film company is ready for it's closeup. By Karen Loftus
WHEN NICOLE RABE and Christin Baker met in a soccer league in Chicago they knew they had more in common than kicking balls. With similar interests socially and politically, the two women took to chatting over cocktails and Rabe told the other woman, "If you and I ever came up with an idea we both agreed on, we could really make something happen."
That very night, the duo decided to start a Web site. Believers of The Secret (the ubiquitous Australian film turned cult classic), Rabe and Baker utilized the, well, secrets to help them plan. A few days and several conversations later, they had the makings of a community and a company that seemingly just fell in to place.
They called their video content site, Tello (tellofilms.com). The site is similar to YouTube, because it depends on word-of-mouth to reach its audience, as opposed to traditional marketing strategies (no commercials or advertising for this site). Unlike YouTube, though, Tello produces original content--both film and series--for and about lesbians. Another difference between the two video sites is that Baker and Rabe will have control over content, but they welcome the experienced filmmaker as well as novices--anyone with a vision and a need to tell a story to or about the queer community. Think of it as Lifetime for the lesbian community, where the number one purpose is to entertain.
"There's a huge need to see our lives as lesbians reflected in TV and film," Rabe says. "It's annoying to go on Netflix and search lesbian entertainment. There's a low supply of video content for or about lesbians despite the high demand."
Baker pipes in, "It's what we want and need, but can't find."
"We want it to be a user-friendly, high-quality site that meets and exceeds the demands," Rabe says. "We are trying to provide an outlet for the community to see more than two hot chicks kissing when they type in 'lesbian' on a YouTube or Google site. The content is about us or by us. You don't have to be a lesbian to submit [a video], but you should have lesbian appeal or [a lesbian] story line or you can be a lesbian and submit any content."
Tello is busy with many projects. They recently shot their own pilot and are working on a not-for-profit portion to the site, which will focus on those who come from alternative families as well as aiding gay youth, creating or retelling their story through film.
Rabe and Baker have diverse, yet complementary skill sets. Baker moved to Los Angeles after college, working first at Regency Films and later at The Writer's Guild, where she found a passion for the writers and their rights.
An artist at heart, Baker flew to Albania on a whim to make the documentary Mr. Karaoke in Albania. Always a good problem-solver, Baker worked out how to get a karaoke machine in to a refugee camp to make her film.
Today Baker is still producing. She recently shot a pilot for Tello and is juggling the nuts and bolts on the production side as company co-founder and CEO, while Rabe, co-founder and chief of marketing, focuses on figuring out what the consumers want, how best to make their site user friendly and how to market the community that they are building to the audience they want.
Their future looks bright!
Savvy ladies make specs cool. By Jennifer Corday
L.A. EYEWORKS co-owners and co-designers Gai Gherardi and Barbara McReynolds have changed the way people think about eyewear, creating original, invigorating eyeglasses since 1979. That was the year the two women opened their first store on Los Angeles' now famous Melrose Avenue. It has since blossomed into a multimillion-dollar worldwide enterprise. Once lovers, now friends (they call themselves co-wives), they have years of shared experiences together and clearly get a great sense of joy out of operating l.a. Eyeworks.
They met in high school in sunny Huntington Beach, Calif., and were immediately inseparable after realizing they had innumerable traits in common. "I had the worst crush on Gai," admits McReynolds. "We lived at the beach, so we did all those beach things together-we surfed, we hung out at the Golden Bear and we were always out for an adventure."
McReynolds was openly gay. Gherardi was not, but on a vacation to the Colorado River, camping under a moonlit sky, the two, uh, changed "the nature of their friendship."
Back in California, the high school friends became increasingly frustrated with the eyeglass scene, or lack thereof: "The frames at the time were God-awful. Pretty ugly. There was a certain look in the early '70s--they were these huge things obstructing the face," says McReynolds.
More than that, says Gherardi, the duo had a desire to revolutionize the eyeglass industry. "A pair of eyeglasses can transform you in a spiritual way--they can open that big wonderful door to let the person on the inside come out and be shared with the rest of the world," she admits.
The ugly styles, combined with a lack of customer service in the industry, sparked their entrepreneurial urge, and they decided to open their first store on Melrose Avenue; at that time, it was a quiet, deserted sector of Los Angeles.
"It was in the middle of nowhere, a real diamond in the rough, and there was no place like it," says McReynolds. The first jewel in the 1.a. Eyeworks collection was called the Beat, a chunky plastic frame available in over 22 outrageous colors, meant to accentuate and celebrate an infinite spectrum of unique personalities. Hungry for frames with style and individuality, people quickly clamored for more.
Two young customers saw the craze and convinced the women to hire them for an ad campaign featuring the tag line "A face is like a work of art. It deserves a great frame," which instantly branded 1.a. Eyeworks worldwide.
Their first ad was a full-page spread in Andy Warhol's Interview magazine. The oversized magazine was the first to celebrate fame and was the place to be seen. The black-and-white ads, shot by Greg Gorman, have now featured nearly 200 extraordinary faces wearing 1.a. Eyeworks glasses, from Jodie Foster to RuPaul, Pee Wee Herman and John Waters. Gorman's photo of Andy Warhol sporting their L.A.X. frame is even the trademark image for the Warhol Museum.
"It was always our intention to be really celebratory of the face and how that face presented itself on the planet," says Gherardi. "It would have been really easy to have drop-dead gorgeous models, but we were more interested in presenting the face of our community."
Today there are over 600 designs available, three brick-and-mortar boutiques--two in Los Angeles and one in Costa Mesa, Calif.--and an online store (laeyeworks.com). Immediately recognizable for their modern strokes and bold color innovations, 1.a. Eyeworks frames have thoroughly infiltrated the popular culture landscape.
"We like stretching the limits of how the world perceives beauty," McReynolds says.
Long Live the Little Gals
Ten small lesbian businesses we adore. By Sarah E. Brown
SURE, WE LOVE Olivia, Wolfe, Babeland and the (largely queer) California corporation, Good Vibes, but there are some lesser-known, lesbian-owned companies making their mark on the business world.
THE SMITTEN KITTEN (MINNEAPOLIS)
This les-owned sex shop sets the gold standard. Jessica Giordani and Jennifer Pritchett's store, housed in an artsy, cultural district in the Twin Cities, offers a much classier experience than you'll find at other adult emporiums of its kind. Sip tea, coffee or spring water while browsing the finest, hand-selected sex accoutrements, in a boutique-style atmosphere. "Integrity," say the owners, "is the centerpiece ... of the Smitten Kitten." (smittenkittenonline.com)
JUNIE MOONIES NATURAL SOAP COMPANY (BATON ROUGE, LA.)
Founded by registered nurse Ann Warner, Junie Moonies uses only natural salts, oils and herbs, offering a unique take on holistic hygiene. Customers love it that Junie's soaps look like candy, but it's their natural ingredients and cruelty-free testing practices that truly set them apart. Junie Moonies even makes soaps for pets. Pampering yourself or your pooch has never been so dyke-friendly. (juniemoonies.com)
SKY SPORT & SPA (BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF.)
Thanks to her hit Bravo reality television series Work Out, personal trainer, clothing designer and Sky Sport & Spa founder and owner Jackie Warner has become a lesbian household name. Warner, who is quite the specimen herself, has made it her life goal to help others achieve theirs. While television exposure can't hurt, it's clear that her business success is due to the fact that it offers a superior product--a workout that produces results. (skysportspa.com)
FREE CITY SUPERSHOP (MALIBU, CALIF.)
From customized bicycles to handmade tees, Nina Garduno has created a business that has redefined the shopping experience, creating a museum-like environment for customers to explore. "It's not practical," says Garduno of her shop, yet the celebrities and fashionistas who flock to her gorgeous, funky Malibu establishment don't seem to mind. Garduno fuses her extensive fashion business background with her drive to capture abstract ideas in her designs, like authenticity, which she believes to be sorely lacking in mainstream fashion. "Any company would sell to me," says Garduno. "But this is what I want to do." (freecitysupershop.com)
PACIFIC REPRODUCTIVE SERVICES (SAN FRANCISCO)
This progressive, lesbian-owned sperm bank was founded in 1984 with a mission to serve women of all sexual orientations looking to start alternative families. Specializing in "willing to be known" donors, who allow offspring to contact them (at least once) when they reach 18, Pacific Reproductive Services, says founder Sherron Mills, "understands the societal, cultural, legal and financial issues all types of families face in the decision to pursue artificial insemination with donor sperm." (pacrepro.com)
KNEES AND TOES WEB DESIGN (SAVANNAH, GA.)
Jesse Harold is a self-described "visual artist and Web geek," She has designed funky, unique Web sites for companies, nonprofits, even the actress Ellen Burstyn. On being a successful, self-employed dyke, Harold says, "I'm ... quite visibly queer-looking ... I'm pretty sure that a conservative, high-profile design firm would want nothing to do with me. Freelancing is a great option for women who are very masculine or otherwise alternative-looking, who find themselves lacking the cultural capital that office environments require and that a more traditional gender presentation would buy you." Vive la butch. (kneesandtoes.org)
SHAKE YOUR BOOTY (WASHINGTON, D.C.)
Who says lesbians can't be fashionable and fabulous? When Kathy Amoroso opened this shop in 1996, D.C. gained a trendy outlet for shoes, clothes and handbags. While the shop mostly draws a young professional crowd, owner Amoroso made sure to keep prices down with frequent, massive sales so that more ladies--straight and gay--could enjoy her goods.
TACO CHULO (WILLIAMSBURG, N.Y.)
Greta Dana and Dija Amer infused this comfortably upscale, vegan-friendly Brooklyn establishment with enough West Coast flavor to satisfy even the most demanding palates. Fans come from all over the East Coast to get a taste of their authentic "pimped-out burritos," homemade salsas, guacamole, horchata and other sensational grub. Taco Chulo proves that fresh, well-seasoned Mexican food served in a lesbian-owned New York joint can be just as fabulous as anything dished up in the West. (tacochulo.com)
RUB-A-DUB DOG DO-IT-YOURSELF DOG WASH (SEATTLE)
When Carrie Eschenken opened Seattle's first do-it-yourself dog wash, she wanted to create a place for "big, hairy, stinky dogs and their owners." Nearly 10 years later, Rub-a-Dub offers the best of both worlds for pet owners: they can get down and dirty with their dogs and Rub-a-Dub handles the cleanup. Yay! No more dog hair in the drains. (rubadubdog.biz)
SABLE MAGAZINE (NEW YORK CITY)
Now that Venus is no longer aimed at the LGBT community, we hope lesbians of color turn to the five-year-old bimonthly online Sable magazine. Founder Susan A. Webley and her editorial team have put together a site that speaks to the multi-faceted experiences of queer women of color. It's free to join, but users are charged a small fee in order to take advantage of all its offerings, like articles, personals and community forums. Aiming to "celebrate her relationships, value her families ... (and) give her the motivation to go a little further, reach a little higher," Sable provides a space for less-heard queer voices. (sablemagazine.com)
10 Top Companies for Lesbians
These dyke-friendly workplaces top our 2007 list. By Katie Peoples
SOMETIMES IT SEEMS like big business is more concerned with profits than people, but more and more Fortune 500s prove that companies can take care of their employees and still make major money. For our fourth annual Top Companies list, we looked at past winners as well as companies making their first entry in to the top echelon of the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index in 2006. The index rates companies based on their commitment to staff diversity, their antidiscrimination policies and thier equal treatment of spouses and same-sex partners--and we only considered companies that scored a perfect 100 on those issues. "They really are leaders," says Eric Bloem, the deputy director of the Workplace Project of the HRC. "Companies are recognizing that inclusion is important. Increasingly, companies are finding they don't want to be left behind in their industries." But since CURVE readers care about more than just LGBT issues, we cross-referenced a handful of other sources to come up with our 2007 list. Among them were Diversity, Inc., the online magazine that put these companies at the top of its list for retention of diverse employees (people of color, immigrants, the disabled and queers, among others), and Working Mother, the magazine that gives props to corps that are the best places for working moms. Talk about a triple threat!
So here are CURVE'S 10 Best Companies to Work For in 2007 (in alphabetical order).
AMERICAN EXPRESS: Great benefits, retention for employees, and it had Ellen DeGeneres kick off its latest ad campaign, "My life. My card." American Express is once again on our list of best companies. Not only does it support its LGBT employees, but it also sponsors LGBT business events, including the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
CITIGROUP: The worldwide organization recognizes that more diversity means more business--and makes it work through benefit packages that recognize same-sex domestic partnerships and encourage networking between its LGBT and women employees. It's been widely recognized for these networking groups and also for supporting working parents with dependent care options that offer childcare programs and elderly care management services.
DELOITTE & TOUCHE: Deloitte & Touche makes an effort to include all aspects of an individual when it considers its efforts to diversify the workplace. Deloitte has relationships with recruiting organizations like Out, Equal Workplace Advocates and Reaching Out MBAs and retains them with a commitment to inclusion for all its employees.
GAP INC.: Come on, who doesn't want the clothing discount? The California clothing retailers at Gap Inc. offer a wide range of perks for folding T-shirts. Not only can you get health care for yourself and your partner, Gap has plenty of places and opportunities to grow within the company--with the extra protection of a Zero Means Zero policy against discrimination.
GENERAL MILLS: Known for tasty cereals like Lucky Charms and Cheerios, General Mills is also recognized for offering a great working environment. Not only does it provide medical and dental benefits to spouses and same-sex partners, but employees are eligible for coverage on the first day! General Mills also provides infant, backup and sick child care, maternity leave and two weeks paid leave for employees adopting children.
JP MORGAN CHASE: The financial services powerhouse believes in diversity so much, it made it the foundation of its culture. Believing (and rightly so) that diversity brings the diverse opinions that make the company a better competitor, it recruits through partnerships with organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and the Financial Women's Association.
MERCK & CO.: Merck shows support of LGBT employees by offering full benefits to same-sex partners. In addition, it believes strongly in affirmative action and in correcting imbalances in every aspect of business. It works with external groups like the Society of Women Engineers and supports internal groups like the Gay Lesbian Employee Association at Merck. Not to mention, it is well-known for its HIV/AIDS drug treatments.
PEPSICO, INC.: Pepsi's recognitions and awards for diversity are as numerous as its product lines, so it's no surprise that the giant food and beverage company is on the list. In addition to its promise to "deal fairly and honestly" with all its employees, in 2006 Pepsi also granted $500,000 over two years to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to come up with cutting-edge tools and Web-based resources aimed at improving equality in business.
PRICE WATERHOUSE COOPERS: This global consulting firm is loud and proud about its commitment to its LGBT employees. It approaches diversity as an effort to make everyone feel welcome and included. And it has an LGBT Partner Advisory Board and 11 LGBT Networking Circles to back up that commitment. PwC can also boast about its success with the ladies: Over half of its new employees each year are women, and there has been a 30 percent increase in female partners from 2001 to 2006. In addition, PwC offers benefits like new mom lactation programs and paid adoption leave.
WELLS FARGO: The San Francisco-based bank has made it a priority to foster and retain a diverse workforce. Women's magazines and LGBT advocacy groups have recognized Wells Fargo as one of the best companies for hiring and retaining women and LGBT employees. It has also made the very public point that it proudly supports the LGBT community through donations to GLAAD and by refusing to cave to a Focus on the Family boycott of the bank in 2005.
Other Great Companies We Wish Were Paying Us
Well, they can't all be in the top 10, but that doesn't mean we don't love them. The following companies all scored 100 on the HRC's Corporate Equality Index and have earned kudos from a variety of sources from Working Mother to the EPA.--Katie Peoples
XEROX: Requires diversity training and provides benefits to same-sex partners. It's also one of only 13 companies to score 100 on the HRC's Corporate Equality Index since it began in 2002.
WACHOVIA: Focuses on promoting people based on individuality.
SPRINT: Encourages a diverse workforce and is an EPA Top 25 Green Power Partner.
SEMPRA ENERGY: Has a 31 percent nonwhite workforce and was honored by NAWBO.
PRUDENTIAL: Continues to be on Working Mother's Top 100 list.
METLIFE: Actively recruits employees from an array of backgrounds.
KIMPTON HOTELS: Offers a newlywed package for gay and lesbian couples.
KAISER PERMANENTE: Offers culturally specific care.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON: Makes it a point to protect the environment and natural resources.
HEWLETT PACKARD: Cultivates and appreciates diversity.
ERNST & YOUNG: Is one of the top 100 companies to work for, according to Working Mother.
FORD MOTORS: Includes gender and sexual orientation in its hiring policies.
DELL: Has diverse women and gay networking groups for employees.
DAIMLERCHRYSLER: Covers all transgender benefits.
CUMMINS INC.: Has affinity groups for LGBT and women.
CHUBB CORP.: Covers most transgender benefits.
BAUSCH & LOMB: Covers sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy.
BANK OF AMERICA CORP.: Supports its workforce with an LGBT affinity group.
AT & T: Is committed to diversity and has a multicultural outreach program.
CONSOLIDATED EDISON CO.: Is one of the largest investor-owned power companies.
AETNA: Shows its top-down support by having its new president (a straight white male) take the role of senior-executive sponsor of Aetna's LGBT group.
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|Author:||Sherwin, Jenny; Gilchrist, Tracy E.; Seinberg, Sara|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2007|
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