Celebrate Pride with Florence Gagnon

Being an entrepreneur can be challenging, and even more so when you belong to a minority community. That’s why this month, in celebration of Pride, we’re shining a spotlight on a Canadian 2SLGBTQ+ entrepreneur to highlight the barriers she’s overcome to find success.

When personal expression leads to entrepreneurial passion

For small business owners, personal expression often plays a pivotal role in making things happen. For Florence Gagnon, founder and creative director of Lez Spread the Word magazine  and queer-positive Montreal event space, wine bar and studio, L’Idéal, personal expression was the driving force behind starting a business in the first place.

Growing up, my father was an entrepreneur, owning his own ad agency. At the time, I was more into the arts. I feel like I knew I was different, but I didn't know how exactly. Since I didn't know really what to do, I decided to get into the fine arts. I went to Concordia to take fine Arts and photography. And I think that's a space where I started to fit in. It was really a way for me to express myself.

Following graduation, Florence started carving out a niche for herself in Montreal’s queer arts and culture scene. The more immersed she became, the more she began to see a lack of representation and role models for 2SLGBTQ+ women in her city.

I was going out a lot and meeting people in the scene. The only role models at the time for lesbians were people like Ellen Degeneres, or on TV shows, The L Word or Orange is the New Black. Which was fine, but that was all in California. And so, I thought some diversity was missing within our own community in Montreal. I started looking for ways to engage and create a sense of belonging.

Her first step to creating that sense of belonging was to start a blog, which then morphed into a local TV show, and ultimately into Lez Spread the Word—the publication that would set her on course to entrepreneurial success and the 2023 Winner of Best Magazine, Special Interests for the Canadian Magazine Awards.

How Florence broke through her barrier

Fueled with the drive and passion to make a real, lasting mark on her community, Florence decided to create  a new print magazine, a rarity in the digital age. Why print? For Florence, it was the tangible, lasting impact of print that she believed would make a real difference to her community.

After doing some research, we saw that with the arrival of the internet, a lot of queer archives seemed to be disappearing. An archive of the community was really vibrant in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, even into the ‘90s. After the year 2000, it was all just gone.

Along with friends and partners, Florence devised a plan to publish Lez Spread the Word. The magazine would be devoted to queer art, writing and culture. As positive a message as that was, her goal wasn’t without its critics.

People told us print was dead.

Still, we had the idea of creating a first issue that would be a ‘best of’, compiled from things we’d written on our blog over the past year. People ended up being so excited about it that the product evolved from what was just supposed to be a normal magazine, into something special that’s published once a year.

Lez Spread the Word is now sold around the world including at the MOMA in New York and serves as a cultural touchstone for the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

Through contacts made, Florence and her business partners also started planning their next big project—a wine bar concept that would evolve into what is now Idéal. Everything seemed to be moving ahead, until the pandemic of 2020 turned everything on its head. Still, the team persisted, found a location and got to work.

COVID happened and it was like, there was no hope for a future opening of a nightclub.

You couldn't really reinvent yourself like it was a really tough time. Still, we transformed a nightclub into a wine bar, with a private room for hosting events and a podcast recording studio with a big window. Finally, we opened, and now people can hang out in the private room, have a bite and a drink and listen to the recordings.

Top 3 pieces of advice I would give to other female and 2SLGBTQ+ entrepreneurs:

  1. Believe in what you do, and build on the power of your market

  2. Surround yourself with people that inspire you & support one another the way cis hetero men have done forever

  3. When it comes to looking for funding, be aggressive, (even though traditional gender roles might dictate that women do not act that way)

How TD helped Florence on her journey

Throughout her journey, both while launching her magazine and the wine bar, Florence often found herself in need of funds, and business advice. Thankfully, she found both through her TD Business Development Manager, Martine Roy. In addition to helping Florence secure a loan through TD Small Business Banking, Florence appreciates the service she gets, and the respect she gets as a female, 2SLGBTQ+ entrepreneur.

With TD, it’s really been more than just them lending us money to fund our business plans. When we deal with Martine, there’s an actual face to the name—they’re actual people you’re dealing with. When dealing with TD, they make us feel like we matter, and that we have the same impact, and ask for money the same way as men do.

I'm happy that with TD there's a focus on helping women entrepreneurs. It makes a difference. Traditionally, you have a lot of people saying they support us, but then they don’t give us the same power as men.

We’re proud to support you every step of the way.

TD’s products and tools

Click here to learn more on how TD supports 2SLGBT+ and if you'd like any further information.

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