On Friday, April 13, 2013, qnotes debuted its profile of 18 young LGBT professionals in our latest cover story, “Out for Change: Young LGBT Professionals Making a Difference.” This week, we feature more in-depth profiles of our young professionals. Today, we feature Amanda Breeden of the Charlotte Business Guild.

Amanda Breeden

Age: 30
Occupation: Non-profit staffer

Hometown: I moved to Charlotte in January of 2009 by way of the Midwest and Northeast. I was raised in a rural farm community in Nebraska (Franklin, NE, population 1,004).

Currently: College of Health and Human Services research officer, University of North Carolina Charlotte. Vice President, Charlotte Business Guild.
Past employment and community experience: Various non-profit agencies focused on human rights and social justice issues (intimate partner violence, economic justice, homelessness). Board member, Carolinas Care Partnership, 2009-2012.

Alma Mater: University of Nebraska-Lincoln (undergrad), University of Northern Iowa (graduate).

Would you describe yourself chiefly as an activist, advocate, student, entrepreneur, professional or something else? Why?
Today? Today, I’d label myself more of a professional than the other labels provided, but at any given time I might describe myself as any of those things – either through grassroots efforts, legislative education, in the classroom, or in the business community (although I don’t have the emotional wherewithal to be an entrepreneur – those folks are amazing).

Which LGBTQ/progressive causes are you most passionate about?
I’m very passionate about creating a professional presence for the LGBTQ business community and nurturing a climate that is both supportive internally (LGBTQ businesses supporting LGBTQ businesses) and inclusive of the ally community. I feel the Charlotte Business Guild is the avenue for creating that environment, as the Guild’s mission is to provide a diverse network of professional, business and social connections among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight communities.

The LGBT Economic Study, funded by the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund, is a crucial part of this work. (If you are reading this and haven’t taken the brief, 5 minute survey, please do so now at: www.charlottebusinessguild.org.) This study will provide benchmark economic statistics on the LGBTQ business community – data that is otherwise missing.

What inspired you to become involved in the LGBTQ/progressive community?
In short: the people. When I first met the members and board members of the Charlotte Business Guild, I felt like I finally found my Charlotte ilk. Amazing folks.

How does your passion for LGBTQ/progressive issues play a role in your work or education? Are there any intersections between your professional/educational career and LGBTQ/progressive causes or organizations?
I have a women’s and gender studies masters degree from the University of Northern Iowa, which provided me a solid theoretical foundation to discuss LGBTQ and women’s issues. I draw on this daily.

What do you believe is the most important issue currently facing the LGBTQ/progressive community in Charlotte? In North Carolina? In the nation/world?
My experience is that LGBTQ issues vary to some degree depending on cultural norms regionally. Across the globe, folks are still being discriminated against, and in some cases murdered, based on their sexual or gender identity – and that includes here in the U.S. Sadly, there are communities in this country in which coming out is not an option, for fear of one’s safety. We should be able to feel safe out in the open, but social change can be a long and tedious process. For that level of social change to occur, institutions and systems must first recognize LGBTQ issues as human rights issues and adapt policy and change cultural norms accordingly. This necessary social change has to be addressed at a systems level – and through the context of a human rights framework. I, personally, support national advocacy groups such as Lambda Legal, which advocates for civil rights for the LGBTQ community through legal reform, education, and public policy.

While I do see cultural change occurring nationally – and the data supports this – I do feel a strong sense of responsibility to promote social change on an individual level. I try to engage individuals I don’t know to be LGBTQ and build personal relationships. The Pew Research has long demonstrated knowing someone who is LGBTQ to be a huge influencer in increasing tolerance. And while it is a far cry from acceptance, it’s a first, important, step. And the importance of allies cannot be overlooked, if we are to achieve our end goal.

On another front, I take inspiration from a high school student I met at a national intimate partner violence conference back in 2008. At 15, she and her friends started a pact to call attention to hate speech by simply addressing it when it happens. Brilliant in its simplicity, they simply say the phrase “use another word” when their high school peers use “gay” in conversation to denote something negative. These high school students (LGBTQ and allies alike) were demanding respect of their peers by changing the conversation. I’ve found this intervention effective with adults with whom I already have an established relationship. Is it mind-altering or systems changing? Not on the surface, but it is changing the conversation from disrespect to one of respect. I think that’s important work, individually.

Do you feel Charlotte is a progressive, friendly and welcoming place (e.g., business, educational, social, religious or political climates)? How could these climates be best improved?
I think the perception of the mainstream Charlotte business community is that it’s difficult to infiltrate, particularly if you are a transplant entrepreneur. This is a community where business is based on relationships. As a transplant entrepreneur, it takes a great deal of time to establish and build those relationships. And the one thing we know about entrepreneurs is: the thing they have the least of is time, particularly if they are a very small or microbusiness.

One aspect that we focus on at the Charlotte Business Guild is a hybrid approach to relationship building: yes, start building relationships for long term success with local prospects, but also, come to a few Guild meetings and figure out who you can start doing business with now – so there is current cash flow. Entrepreneurs are often discouraged at the time it might take to close a deal in Charlotte because they overlook the other transplant entrepreneurs as prospects – or fail to seek out the LGBTQ business community for support.

Also, we encourage businesses to work smart, lean, creatively, and to take advantage of the resources available here in the community. The services at Queen City Forward have been significant assets to helping openly-lesbian owned member business Create-ster launch their startup.  Our members do go out of their way to do business with one another, and also send referrals. Sir Speedy Printing, a long-time business member is the “go to” printer for many of our members. Sir Speedy openly-gay proprietor Frank Kalian is an active volunteer in the community. Jim Hall at Allstate has been a fantastic ally member and active volunteer – and example of an ally business supporting and doing business with the LGBTQ community.  We encourage folks to get involved in the community as well as volunteer – volunteering one’s time and talents will get you far. It’s a way to build relationships and get exposure for your business.

The Business Guild obviously relies on local LGBT member businesses to fulfill our own operational needs. Currently, the two caterers we utilize for our monthly dinners are openly-gay Armin Desch of Armin’s Catering, and openly-lesbian Kelli Crisan of Roaming Fork.  Roaming Fork has won numerous food truck awards recently, and Armin catered several high-level Democratic National Convention events including the Huffington Post’s Oasis. Out lesbian Financial Advisor Victoria Eves, a long-time Business Guild member and former Board member, has made excellent contacts through the Guild, and she’s grateful for the extent to which these contacts have helped her grow her business.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.