A first-of-its-kind look into the day-to-day experiences and lives of successful queer entrepreneurs!  Thriving in Business: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ EntrepreneurOur guest today is Elena Joy Thurston, the founder of the Pride and Joy Foundation and Pride and Joy Publishing (see below for Elena’s full bio!). Come along and join Elena and Michelle for this incredible and inspirational conversation. Michelle and Elena discuss the flagship book from Pride and Joy Publishing, Thriving in Business, and also dive into the topics of code switching, masking, being true to who you are, and why all of the topics covered in Thriving in Business are so important in today’s business world as well as in our communities.

GracePoint Publishing has had the privilege of working alongside Elena and 13 other authors to launch the incredible flagship literary work by and for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs from the Pride and Joy Foundation and Pride and Joy Publishing, Thriving in Business. Thriving in Business helps readers to become their most authentic and successful self with guidance from visible LGBTQ+ business owners. The book is compiled and written by 14 successful queer entrepreneurs as they discuss their journey and the obstacles they’ve uncovered on the way. We hope this book encourages you as you take on the incredible journey of becoming a successful, visible, and authentic business owner. You can find Thriving in Business on Amazon (and anywhere you buy books) by clicking here or by copying https://amzn.to/3HdbN7a into your browser.

Elena Joy Thurston is an inspirational LGBTQ+ speaker, trainer, and founder of the nonprofit Pride and Joy Foundation. A Mormon mom of four who lost her marriage, her church, and her community when she came out as a lesbian, Elena’s viral TEDx talk on surviving conversion therapy has been viewed 40,000+ times and landed her media and speaking opportunities with

ABC, CBS, FOX, Penn State, and Michael’s. Elena Joy recently launched Pride and Joy Publishing, the only publisher of solely LGBTQ+ empowerment and business books.

To learn more about Elena and the Pride and Joy Foundation, please check her websites and social media platforms below.

http://www.PrideandJoyFoundation.org

http://www.queerbusinessbook.com

www.prideandjoyparents.com

http://www.AllyQuiz.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/elenajoythurston/

https://www.instagram.com/pridejoyfoundation/

https://www.facebook.com/PrideJoyFound

https://twitter.com/PrideJoyFound

https://www.ted.com/talks/elena_joy_thurston_conversion_therapy_almost_took_my_life_mindfulness_saved_it

Keep writing. Keep creating. Your words matter.

Find out how to begin your own book publishing journey and learn more about our amazing authors at www.gracepointpublishing.com

Produced by Number Three Productions, www.numberthreeproductions.com

 

Full Transcript

Intro 

Welcome to the GracePoint Publishing authors podcast. Join us as we discuss the challenges, triumphs, inspirations and unique aspects of our authors journey. As you listen, you will learn about how we publish our books, the ways we pivot and adjust to our ever changing industry, and how you can begin your own book publishing journey. And now, here’s your host, co founder and publisher of Gracepoint Publishing, Michel Vandepas.

Michelle 

I am so thrilled today to welcome Elena Joy thurstan, whom I first became aware of through a TED Talk, a really compelling TED talk. And I encourage you all to go view that we’ll talk about that a little bit later on. Elena has curated this amazing book which GracePoint Publishing has published through her prime enjoy publishing press. I’m so excited about this press, Thriving in Business: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Entrepreneur. Welcome to the show, you have a huge wealth of background knowledge experience, we’re just gonna jump right in. Why do we need this book?

Elena 

Such a valid question, right? I mean, business is business, money is money. Why do we need anything talking about something specific around sexual orientation or gender identity within the business realm? And for me, it started because the foundation that I ran one of our mission points is to reduce the rate of homelessness within the community. 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. A huge percentage of homeless adults are LGBTQ. And as I really kind of dived into that question, why is that reality? There’s a lot of different factors, you know, culture, parents, family, etc. But a huge factor is, especially in a time of zoom interviews, an LGBTQ person can show up. And if they’re not masking or code switching, if they are showing up authentically, with their language with how they look with how they speak, when they talk about their partners and their families, often they don’t get the job. Because we are different, we are other, and especially for gender non-conforming, corporate America is not real excited about including that. And so many, many LGBTQ people really branch out on their own, they decide I’m sick of trying to please a boss, I’m sick of trying to please a corporate culture. I’m sick of trying to mask who I am, so that I can go up the corporate ladder. And so they branch out on their own, and they start their own businesses, because the barrier of entry to that success feels lower than being in corporate America, when you’re LGBTQ.

Michelle 

I’m reading between the lines here, you’re encouraging a segment of the population, to be inspired by other entrepreneurs, to go start their own business, and to not let the roadblocks or other people’s misinformation or whatever blocks there are in corporate America to stop them from being successful.

Elena 

Exactly.

Michelle 

I got to change gears here for a minute, because you threw out all kinds of terms code switching, masking, something else I couldn’t write fast enough. I just shared I’d heard the term dead name for the first time. There’s a lot of terminology out there. Is it important for me as an entrepreneur to understand all of this? Is this book for me as a business owner, even if I’m not part of this community?  Absolutely. So I think the beautiful thing about this book is that it embraces a really important concept of the community, which is the fact that language is evolving. And I think every book publisher is interested in that concept, that language evolves, the language that we use within the LGBTQ+ community is not the same language that we use 10 years ago, or even five years ago. Lesbian means a different thing now than it did 20 years ago. And that’s cool. That can be exciting. Can it be frustrating? Sure. But language is a beautiful living, personal identifying thing that can give incredible validation to individuals and to groups. And so when we consider ourselves straight, or heterosexual or cisgender, there’s another word that’s only come up in the last few years. Can we draw inspiration from the LGBTQ community and how they use language to both validate as well as unite groups of people? Absolutely. I think it’s a really exciting thing. What’s interesting to me as a business owner and as an employer, I don’t really know probably what sexual orientation or gender identity most of my staff goes by internally, however, you throw up a red flag for me, which is people masking code switch from I don’t even know what that is. So is it possible my staff is doing that?

Elena 

Absolutely. When I go into companies and teach about inclusion, I actually asked them to think about the generational makeup of their teams. Okay, so in America, our baby boomers are identifying as LGBTQ, right around 5%, you get to Gen X, they’re identifying right? Around eight to 10%, millennials tend to 12 small incremental trends, right. But then you get to Gen Z, who are currently 14 to 25. Right about and they’re, they’re identifying it 30%. So if you have a team of, let’s say, 10 people, you can take those statistics from 10 people, 100 people, 1000, people, MC, okay, I know there’s this many Gen Xers that are out, I’ve got this many millennials that are out in this many Gen Z’s that are out. And if they don’t match the national average, or at least approach it, it’s possible that there are people masking or code switching because they don’t feel comfortable at work to be authentic. So what is code switching? Code switching is a very common term that’s used both in the LGBTQ community as well as the bipod community. And that just means changing your language, changing your appearance, changing your mannerisms, to appear more mainstream. So it might be black people changing the way their hair looks just to go to work. Or it might be a gay man changing the way he gestures with his hands while he’s at work. So that’s code switching or masking.

Michelle 

It just occurs to me that in the 80s, when I was out working, I did that as a woman trying to fit in to the corporation, right?

Elena 

Yes, you did. Absolutely. Yes.

Michelle 

In what I wore, and how I presented myself, and even now sometimes I find myself going into a room that is maybe white man dominated by men over 60. Because the publishing industry is maybe what I’m doing is code switching, if I change my vocabulary and who I really am, I think that’s been going on for eons. It’s just, we’re talking about it more?

Elena 

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Especially with the employment marketplace the way it is, we really need to address code switching and masking, the more add an employee feels the need to do that, the less likely that employee is going to be your employee a year from now, probably your competitors employee where they don’t have to put that energy into masking.

Michelle 

We’re gonna get back to the book in a minute. But as an employer, I find this fascinating, what can I do? Basically, I think I’m welcoming and come show up as you are. But we’re still a professional organization, we still have dress codes and an expectation of professionalism when we talk with our clients, so where’s the line there?

Elena 

So the line actually backs up before that word professional, that word professional has been used. It’s been weaponized, quite frankly, you have black people that are told, wearing your hair natural is not professional. If you want to be perceived with respect in this industry, you need to show up professional. And that means not a natural hairstyle. As employers, I often suggest you really question that use of professional and then define it for your employees. What is professional to you, because if you don’t define it, the major culture, the mainstream culture, tells people you need to act look and talk like a white man. Because that’s what professional has been for decades.

Michelle 

So is there a different word? As we’re talking about language, because as you said at the beginning of our conversation here as publishers, of course, I’m interested in language and evolving language. So what’s the evolving language where you show up in the old professional way, yet being able to be fully yourself but still, I did have to put a dress code saying no pajamas, don’t show up in pajamas on Zoom. And to me that’s not acceptable with clients. We’re in pajamas. But is that true? Or is that changed? Is it okay to show up in pajamas? I mean.

Elena 

Well, you own the company and you decide what client facing people will present as however, you can take the focus from, “this is how we want clients to perceive you” to “what is your authentic self?” If you have someone show up with a rainbow colored ratty t shirt, that’s one thing. If you have someone show up with a dynamic, beautifully put together outfit that might have African print to it, or might be designed by a beautiful queer designer. There’s a difference between button up, tie, quote unquote, professional and embracing who you are, and being proud of who you are. Where is the focus and that communication.

Michelle 

You’ve given me tons to think about here, I guess I gotta dump the word professional. Because there is a difference between how somebody might present to me, I’m pretty vocal, I’m over 60, and how someone might present to Mark, who is going to be editing and producing this podcast for us who’s the least two to three hours? It’s food for thought. But let’s get back to the book. This is serving as inspiration, I think for people who have felt like they couldn’t show up as their authentic self.

Elena 

Absolutely.

Michelle 

Was it a challenge to curate and get the stories and get the articles in this book from people who felt like they could show up as their authentic self? Is that changing? Are people actually able to now?

Elena 

The biggest challenge I found, and this ties in exactly to the conversation we were just having, this is a compilation book from many different authors for many different experiences. And we were very intentional in wanting it to be, we wanted to include people of color, we wanted to include people of lots of different gender identities. And yet, as I sat down as the editor, to go through these different stories, I had to find the line between what is a well written chapter, and what is not authentic chapter to their voice. I realized I had these preconceived ideas of what a business chapter should sound like. And I had to really challenge those. I mean, I could almost insert the word professional into that I had these preconceived ideas. And so I really had to dig through what is, you know, this is not just for me, I’m a white cisgendered woman, this needs to be for the entire community. So how do I edit the chapter in such a way that it brings out their authentic voice, while still clearly giving the information that’s needed to be given? That became probably the most challenging, but also the most rewarding part of the publishing experience?

Michelle 

Did it stretch either yourself or your authors to have to really speak, write down, which is a whole different thing, when you put something on paper? You’re owning it? How did that stretch your authors do you think?

Elena 

It for some of them, they’re natural born writers, for others, they were embracing this experience, they had it on their bucket list to become published authors, and I was so excited to help them have that opportunity. But they were not natural born writers. And so for some, they actually worked with a speaking coach, and created a speech because that came easier to them. And then from that speech, they transcribed it, and they built the chapter off of that, I feel like that was probably one of the best hacks that some of our authors used, was to take it verbal first, and then make it written. And that was the best transition for them. That was a really great workaround that we found for success there.

Michelle 

I love that that’s a great hack. And we’ve used that to. What is the one most important things a new emerging entrepreneur might take as inspiration from your book.

Elena 

You know, especially in America, I’m not gonna speak for other countries, but so much business knowledge is actually handed down generation to generation. If you have a dad who started his own business or a grandpa that started his own business, you grow up, knowing the ins and outs, the tips and tricks, you have a built in network. So when you hit your 20s 30s 40s, and you’re ready to start that business, you have a lot of privilege walking into that. When you’re an LGBTQ person, you don’t necessarily grow up with that. Oftentimes, we’re disconnected from our family networks. Oftentimes, we don’t have those close knit experiences as we grow or go through college, to get that kind of downloaded information. I think that was a huge part of what we were hoping to provide for our community. We might not be blood related, but we are all that we have sometimes as each other. We really wanted to fill that gap of, there’s a lot of information out there for like dating in the queer community or even education right, what are the good schools to go to where you’re going to feel really welcome and what are the schools you want to avoid? If we have a lot of information with that, but not a ton of information of how to make it through your first year of a startup, that was the kind of information we wanted to make sure we provided.

Michelle 

The rules aren’t really different, based on your gender identity, or sexual orientation is just being able to be yourself.

Elena 

There’s a few things that are specific, like, for example, there’s a trend in the queer community that when we enter into new friendship or new relationship, oftentimes what starts us into that connection, is what we call trauma bonding. And we’re going to exchange the stories of how did you come out to your parents? And how did they react? And what was your first relationship like? So we kind of go through all of that. And unfortunately, it’s just, it’s based in pain. Oftentimes, we take that into like our marketing for our businesses that we don’t, we end up using trauma bonding in our marketing, which is a huge barrier to people feeling like they want to commit to working with us. And we don’t even realize we’re doing it because we do it every day in our relationships. So it was little things like that, that once we recognize that we as a community often do that in our marketing or in our business skills, then once we recognize it, then we can remedy it.

Michelle 

Trauma bonding, I think happens across all kinds of communities. And often, not just friendships, but life partners come together because of trauma bonding, that they may not have even known that that’s why they came together. I think it’s fascinating that you’re talking about these things, which a decade ago, weren’t being talked about at all. And now partly because of the last couple years of COVID, I think and also all the school shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing and Vegas shooting it. There’s a lot of trauma out there right now in our world, right?

Elena 

There absolutely is. And it’s predatory practices to financially benefit off those traumas. And yet, oftentimes, we’re so stuck in them that we don’t see ourselves as doing that.

Michelle 

Is there a blind spot here? Because I don’t see quite how bringing it back to the LGBTQ+ community, how someone might benefit or profit off trauma from someone in that community, is it because they hold themselves down because they see themselves as victimized and so then there’s always predatory.

Elena 

Absolutely. Just real quick example, if you have someone who is a coming out coach, okay, so they own their own business, they’re coming out coach, and they are marketing, telling their own worst stories of coming out that they have not healed from using their audience, as therapists. To me, that is profiting off trauma. And that’s not doing our community any favors.

Michelle 

This is fascinating. And I could talk about this with you all day because you make it so okay to talk about. And sometimes I don’t feel like it is okay to talk about it, because I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing or putting my foot in my mouth. And so I appreciate your openness to just allow me to ask questions. But I want to move on to the book, Pride and Joy Publishing, you started your own press, you started your own publishing, I’m thrilled for you. What are you hoping Pride and Joy Publishing is gonna do? What are your goals and dreams?

Elena 

First and foremost, it is a way of sustainable income for the Pride and Joy Foundation. We are a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce the rate of suicide and homelessness in the community. And we don’t want to subsist off donations of people in our own community. We want to provide value, and we want to be able to succeed in that way. In every programming decision that we make, we are trying to figure out how is this going to create sustainable income? And how is this bringing value to our community, and creating pride and joy publishing really filled both of those. The other part of it is that I myself after I gave my TED talk that you talked about in the beginning, I was approached by a major literary agent, which was awesome, worked with them for almost a year trying to get a proposal ready, trying to get some sample chapters ready. Really excited to write that book based on the TED Talk. At the beginning of the year, I was told, okay, you know, you need at least 15,000 followers and we’re gonna sell this book. By the time we got to the end of the year, she told me, times have changed. Now you need 50,000 followers, and you don’t have anywhere close to that so we don’t have a deal and I was dropped. And I thought, you do not understand that the queer community. We are a different breed. We are starving for our own content made by our own people like Ru Paul’s Drag Race, look at just so many different media content out there. So it just felt like a massive barrier of entry in order To get the visibility that I needed to continue my career trajectory, and I realized, if I’m going through this with a viral TED talk, then there must be hundreds, if not 1000s of other queer people that are struggling with the same thing. They have incredible content, but they can’t get it out to the masses, because there are gatekeepers that don’t understand their market. Well, I can fix that.

Michelle 

You removed your barrier for entry by doing exactly what we talked about, at the beginning, you felt like you’ve hit a corporate wall, a corporate block that didn’t have anything to do with sexuality, or gender identification, or the value of my message or the value of your message, but some kind of expectation about what the publisher wanted. But what you did is you did exactly what we talked about the beginning is you created your own solution, rather than go up against the corporate wall.

Elena 

Right, which was fabulous. In doing the research for it, I found quite a few publishers that would do LGBTQ fiction, all the romance novels. So that’s lovely. And I’m so glad that they have that option. But I was looking for how do I make my life better? How do I make my kids lives better? How do I understand the cultural references, I didn’t come out till I was 38. I have a lot of education to do. Those were the books that I was looking for. And they were very hard to find. There was one press up in Canada, I think it’s still going. They’re an LGBTQ press, but they are heavily subsidized by the Canadian government. To me, that’s lovely, but it’s not by the people for the people. That’s what I really wanted to create a press that would do nonfiction, prescriptive self empowerment, or business books that would truly move the needle on the financial success of people in the community.

Michelle 

I love that. So if someone has an idea or manuscript or a proposal, can they reach out to Pride and Joy Publishing?

Elena 

Absolutely.

Michelle 

I love that. So the book proposal that you were working on for the major publisher, are you working on that book now yourself?

Elena 

Oh, my gosh, I’m so glad you asked that, because we just wrapped up a beautiful course called keynote queers. And it was a public speaking course for LGBTQ people. And it was ridiculously successful. Now we’re going to repeat the process, but for writing memoirs, and nonfiction books, we’ve hired this incredible queer book coach, and she’s gonna use me as the sample student, basically, so that everyone can see how do you set up the book the right way? How do you do the outline the right way? How do you create an actual proposal with the comparative market analysis? Like the whole thing? So yes, I get to do that. Yeah, class starts in March. Can’t wait.

Michelle 

Oh, I love that. And then hopefully, you’ll be publishing a whole pile of books next year in the year after, right?

Elena 

That is the hope, especially because there’s a documentary that was filmed that I’m a part of, it’ll be released to one of the streaming services in 2022. So it feels like okay, if I’m ever going to publish this book, it needs to be in 2022. So that I can take advantage of that momentum.

Michelle 

I have dedicated my life to going down the rabbit hole of discovering how to best share my own purpose and inspiration and message and therefore helping others share their purpose and inspiration and message. I know, it’s not always easy to get to. Without barriers and roadblocks. You went through a huge life transformation that people can find on the TED platform, Elena Joy Thurston, go watch the TED talk. Do you feel like you withheld your own purpose or mission for many years? Did you have to break through yourself some barriers to get to where you are authentic now and sharing your Free Self? What was that process like?

Elena 

It’s so funny to look back at the timeline and see, course Hindsight is 20/20. I went to college as a theater major. I knew I was good on stage. And then when I got to college, I realized, actually, I can’t lie. And so if I think the script is horrible, or the director is horrible, it’s all over my face. So I ended up I didn’t get an acting degree, I got a Production Management degree, because I didn’t feel confident that I could be on stage and at now, it’s 20 years later, and I’m realizing no, I am damn good on stage as myself only as myself only when I’m authentic. And the 20 years in between was I doing public speaking? Absolutely. But none of it was very powerful. None of it created impact or change because I was playing a role of straight Mormon mom, instead of my authentic self and once I was able to truly come out, both publicly and privately with my family. With my church with the world, then I was able to find my power. And when I get on stage, it’s a beautiful experience for everyone involved. But I couldn’t get there until I embraced every authentic aspect of myself.

Michelle 

What’s the one thing that you would tell all of us because I think all of us have pieces of ourselves that we don’t express?

Elena 

All of us have pieces of ourselves, we don’t even know about. I tell everyone, I tell everyone, you know how like, you get a new, maybe coworker, or a new sister in law or someone new in your life. And your first impression is oh, okay, not impressed. Right. But then whatever happens, maybe you spend every day together at work, or you have a lot of family gatherings together, whatever happens, you actually get to know that person. And you get to know what makes them tick, and what their motivations are, and what their background was like and X amount of time into it. Maybe they’re not your best friend. But you actually really respect them. And you really understand who they are, and they increases your love for them. So we’ve all experienced that. And now turn it around on yourself. If there’s any kind of a lack of self love, it’s because you don’t know yourself well enough. So the more we can get to know ourselves through a process of self awareness, the more we get to really love ourselves, and anything we love grows in power, and impact and strength. And that’s how we can access that higher level of ourselves. I actually published way before we found each other I self published a journal that was all about, you can increase your Self Love by getting to know yourself. And here are some different questions that you can really question. Is this part of me something I absorbed from the outside? Or is it truly coming up from the inside? And that’s when we can find that power, access it and create change in the world?

Michelle 

That’s beautiful. The book is Thriving in Business: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Entrepreneur. I encourage everyone to get this it’s 10 authors. Do I remember that correctly?

Elena 

I think 14.

Michelle 

14 authors, great takeaways. It’s a great book. It’s available everywhere books are sold. And if you feel like you have a proposal or a thought for a book, please reach out and go watch Elena’s TED Talk. Last question. Who is your inspiration?

Elena

Um, me, to me I was five years ago, who just needed to stay alive. Like I wake up every day and work for her.

Michelle 

So beautiful. Thank you. Thank you for being a guest on the show today. Thank you. You can find out more at pride and joy foundation.com. And of course pride and joy publishing. Go watch Elena’s TED Talk. Thank you so much.

Outro

Thank you for joining us on this episode of The Gracepoint publishing authors podcast. We can’t wait to talk more next time as we introduce you to another one of our amazing authors. Make sure you hit subscribe on your favorite podcasting platform, so you never miss a single episode of The Gracepoint publishing authors podcast. To find out more about our authors and to see how we can help you publish your book. Head to Gracepoint publishing.com. Keep writing. Keep creating your words matter.

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