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'Finding their fire': What it's like to be an LGBTQ+ business owner in Sioux Falls

Luke Larsen’s wedding videography business has nothing to do with the fact that he’s gay.

Whether he’s working with a straight couple or an LGBTQ+ couple, he’s focused on them. He’s focused on sharing their story the best he can.

But the videographer is still proud about who he is.

“I don’t want people to think of a person as only their identities. We’re so much more than how we identify,” he said. “We’re capable beings. We’re all capable of accomplishing great things, giving love, being empathetic — and we’ve come a long way in Sioux Falls where I’ve seen so many people who are happy living their truths and doing things like running a business.”

The 29-year-old was one of several members of the city’s LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who shared their stories with the Argus Leader about what it’s like to be an openly LGBTQ+ business owner in the city, and what they hope to accomplish as entrepreneurs.

As the number of LGBTQ-owned businesses in Sioux Falls grows, it’s integral to support those organizations, local business owners say. LGBTQ+ small business owners have a lot to be proud of — from overcoming barriers, creating successful businesses and navigating a chaotic year and pandemic.

More: Sioux Falls brewery is releasing the first-ever local Pride seltzer

South Dakota ranks last place in the Midwest and 48th overall by the State LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index for 2021, by Out Leadership’s annual report on state-by-state progress.

But LGBTQ-led businesses in South Dakota have forged on, and have helped foster an inclusive and vibrant atmosphere. Larsen said he hopes to encourage aspiring LGBTQ+ business owners to make the jump.

“It’s great to see businesses out there that are succeeding and driving toward their goals — and as a side note, they’re queer-owned,” he said. “That’s just a bonus. It’s an extra treat.”

Here are the stories of several LGBTQ+ business owners in Sioux Falls in honor of Pride month.

Queen on the Scene: Being LGBTQ+ is ‘more than a demographic to market to’

Quinn Kathner-Tucker needed some Pride gear at a festival a few years ago. They found a booth and bought a few items. As they checked out, they chatted with the people running the booth.

The booth was neither LGBTQ+ owned and operated, nor interested in giving back to Pride and the various organizations looking to elevate queer voices — they were just in it for the sales.

“That lit a fire in me,” said Kathner-Tucker, a nonbinary lesbian. “Our community deserves better and more opportunity to support each other. I am more than just a demographic to market to for profit, and I want the community to feel the same.”

So they started their own business designing pins and accessories celebrating Pride and the LGBTQ+ community, called Queen on the Scene — a nod to Kathner-Tucker’s childhood nickname and to inspire confidence among their customers. 

Pins are a form of expression to be “loud and proud,” Kathner-Tucker said, who was also president of Sioux Falls Pride from 2018 to 2020. They also have pins that aren’t specific to Pride, but can be bought by anyone.

“I felt the need to empower people’s voices without speaking,” Kathner-Tucker said, “and that’s what my pins are made to do.”

Their vision of rainbow capitalism is to provide visibility for the LGBTQ+ community and support other queer-owned and operated businesses and nonprofits.

Their campaign, the Purpose Program, works with nonprofits supporting the LGBTQ+ community mission to provide fundraising pins for the nonprofit.

“Queen on the Scene is all about giving back,” they said. “If we’re not moving forward together, then we won’t get there.”

While Kathner-Tucker has had plenty of support from the Sioux Falls community as a queer business owner, they still feel that the cards are stacked against them.

They’ve been yelled at on Phillips Avenue for simply wearing a Pride flag on their shirt, and they market specifically to people and organizations where they know the Queen on the Scene brand would be supported.

But it’s getting better, and Kathner-Tucker hopes that they can set an example for aspiring queer business owners. They recently started a wholesale partnership with RayGun, a popular Midwestern clothing company out of Iowa, and they want everyone to feel safe to be who they are, safe to start a business and safe enough to live a life in Sioux Falls without being harassed on the streets.

“Keep an eye on South Dakota,” they said. “We have a lot of passionate people in the LGBT community who are starting businesses everyday and are finding their fire and will help lift our state to a more progressive mindset.”

More: $1,000 contest to paint next mural in Sioux Falls at Sunny’s Pizzeria

Full Circle Book Co-Op: Inclusion requires speaking out, staying proud

With a large flag out front titled P-R-I-D-E, Full Circle Book Co-op is anything but shy.

“We’ve been vandalized four or five times” because of the store’s outspokenness, said co-owner Jason Kurtz.

Staffed by LGBTQ+ people and led by an ally, the store speaks out in support of political topics like transgender students’ rights to participate in sports. And the small business poses its business model in support, too.

Full Circle is an event space and a relaxing afternoon hangout spot for anyone interested in art or reading. Located at 123 W. 10th St downtown, events are the center of the community. From burlesque, drag, live theater, erotic art and nude suspension to being an after-school coffee shop, board game and poetry slam center, there’s something for everyone at Full Circle.

Being welcoming is the store’s core theme. But the price and business model aren’t always very conducive to a typical downtown spot, where rent can be high.

Kurtz has also thought about being less outspoken in order to appeal to a wider base of customers. But that’s not going to happen.

“At the end of the day, do we need the support of the hate community? We do not. If that means that won’t get us over the tipping point in Sioux Falls, so be it,” Kurtz said.

The for-profit co-op made a decision to stay open through the pandemic, and is now getting popular again.

“Honestly one of my things is seeing the kids, all my baby queers, have a space,” said Rachelle Graham, a barista at Full Circle. “It makes me happy.”

More: Mike Miller’s Let it Fly sports bar is set to open next month. Here’s a sneak peek inside

Adrian’s Anomalies: Creating connections, challenging stereotypes drives art

17-year-old Adrian Day was homeless after his parents kicked him out of his Sioux Falls home after confiding in them that he is trans.

With nowhere to live and no one to support him, he funneled his emotions into his art and started selling his work online, hoping to use the money to fund his passion and to cover tuition at South Dakota State University.

Now 22 and a recent SDSU graduate, Day is a full-time illustrator and artist. Day said his identity as a trans nonbinary man informs who he is as a person, business owner and artist — and it helps him share his experience with others in the LGBTQ+ community.

“I find that a lot of people interested in my art are part of the LGBT community because they feel a connection to it,” Day said. “I like to draw monsters and express my feelings about what I’ve dealt with in my life, and a lot of people tell me they relate to it. My work helps explain stuff that they’ve never been able to talk about before.”

Day’s work is a gothic style, and while his work is relevant to anyone, people in the LGBTQ+ community are his biggest supporters. To recognize this support, he creates a Pride series each year. This year, the series focuses on monsters, each representing different flags of the LGBT community.

The figures represent people who are stereotyped as monsters, Day said. When he told his parents that he was trans, they saw him as “someone evil engaging in evil acts,” he said. But that’s not representative of who he is, and not representative of the many people he’s grown to know in the LGBTQ+ community.

His monsters do “nice things” in the paintings, such as picking flowers or gardening, to challenge the stereotypes people associate with others they don’t know, he said.

While Day didn’t find the Pride community until after he started transitioning, the community’s support has helped him build confidence in himself and his work.

“Pride is a big support system for one another to reassure each other that we’re still here and won’t let anyone stop us,” Day said. “Even if it seems like no one in your family supports you or anything, there are always people who will. You just have to do a little searching, and they’re not as far away as you think they are.”

More: Anthropologie to open store in Empire Mall this fall

Pasque Creative: ‘It’s OK to be out and own a business in South Dakota’

Hannah Boquet has owned her own photography and design business for 10 years, and she’s been open about how she’s a queer business owner since she started taking clients at Pasque Creative.

It’s part of who she is, informs how she works and is something she’s comfortable sharing. But she knows that’s not the same for other queer business owners in Sioux Falls.

“I think it’s a little scary to be in a new situation and being out about it. You don’t know how people will react and if people will stop giving you their business,” the 36-year-old mother said. “But I’ve been really surprised at how open and accepting everyone is in South Dakota.”

Pasque Creative is a family and commercial photography and videography business. Boquet started as an entrepreneur after she had her first child and didn’t want to sacrifice the time with her child to working demanding hours for another company again.

While she recognizes that there are a handful of openly queer business owners in Sioux Falls and South Dakota, she also wants to encourage aspiring LGBTQ+ business owners to start in Sioux Falls.

“I want to give people a push forward to know that it’s OK to be out and own a business in South Dakota, and especially in Sioux Falls,” Boquet said. “The mood and view around town is pretty open.”

More: Home values in Sioux Falls higher than Pittsburgh and Omaha, but cheaper than others

Amare Ari: Standing out is key to empowering future business owners

Sometimes starting a business can be a drag, but “in Sioux Falls it’s easy to follow your dreams and be an entrepreneur,” said long-time designer Arianna James.

James has been sewing since she was five years old, and is known as the go-to person for clothing for all body types.

“I made my own Sgt. Pepper costume, and people started calling from there,” said James, owner of Amare Ari, her own solo business where she makes professional costumes, drag and vintage-inspired wear.

As a polyamorous person married to a drag performer and a performer in her own right, James is also a very out business owner. She’s made it part of her brand, as “clothing and fashion is one of the ways to express yourself.”

When the pandemic struck, James adjusted well and got a number of queer customers.

Her New Orleans-inspired design is in demand, with a rotating performer list of about 50 people and an inbox of requests on Instagram, she said. James was able to keep up her cutting, sewing and designing all at home — with feathers and beads essentially covering the first floor. Without overhead for a shop or advertising, she kept up business.

Her advice to other business friends of the LGBTQ+ community is to “be out about it.”

“I’ve stood out for awhile,” James said. “Now I help other people stand out.”

More: 30-second ice cream: Nitrogen ice cream shop opens in Empire Mall next week

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