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Celebrating LGBTQ+ Businesses for Pride Month

Celebrating LGBTQ+ Businesses for Pride Month
June 11, 2024 Billy George

The Greater Freeport Partnership is committed to promoting equity, celebrating diversity, and creating a culture of belonging in Freeport and Stephenson County. The month of June commemorates Pride Month in the U.S. and the impact LGBTQ+ individuals have in our communities. As the business development organization for Freeport and Stephenson County, we are taking this opportunity to highlight some of our LGBTQ+ businesses and their responses to questions regarding support during Pride Month and throughout the year.

Responses were provided by Lance Ferguson (LF), Josh King-Slowinski and Dan Slowinski (J+D), Dennis Rinkenberger (DR), and Jeffrey Wall (JW).

Introduce yourself and your business.
J+D – We are Dan and Josh, owners of The Muse on Cedar Creek just outside of Cedarville. We relocated to Stephenson County in 2021 from the South Suburbs of Chicago. Our business is a wine bar and restaurant with event spaces set on a vineyard. We have a wide variety of wines and a global comfort fusion menu that has something for just about everyone. We enjoy the community and try to support culture, diversity, and growth as much as we can.

LF – Hello everyone! I’m Lance Ferguson and I own Davis & Company Productions, a mobile entertainment business and Social Medusa, a social media and brand management agency here in Freeport, IL.

DR – My name is Dennis Rinkenberger and my husband, Jeffrey Wall, and I are owners of Exchange Street Printery in Downtown Freeport. Exchange Street Printery is a small print shop that specializes in printing for small businesses that have print-ready content and need small-to-medium size printing for their business. I print and ship to locations in all 50 states and also have several accounts where vendors or contractors can order specific content and have it shipped directly to them.

JW – My name is Jeffrey Wall and my husband Dennis and I own and operate Wall of Yarn, a local yarn store. We carry a wide range of high-quality yarns and supplies for knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning and needle felting. We offer classes and have three open sessions every week where people come in and knit or crochet. It’s a great way to set aside time during the week to work on projects, get inspiration from other’s projects, and interact with others from the community.

How has your identity as an LGBTQ+ individual influenced your journey as a business owner, and what unique perspectives do you bring to your industry?

J+D – Being part of the LGBTQ+ community we know that everyone has a unique journey. We foster a space where everyone can come together at the table. The hospitality industry has been through some challenging times which are always overcome with inventive opportunities. Being open-minded to new ideas helps us grow and achieve our business goals.

LF – My identity in the queer community has influenced me mostly in terms of how I approach my clients and the process that we go through in bringing their ideas to fruition. In both of the industries that I work in, love is the driving force behind everything. Whether I’m DJ’ing a wedding, private birthday party or working with an entrepreneur or local business each person is driven by love.
Being someone in the LGBTQ+ community I’ve grown up seeing so many people fight for the chance to love freely and be who they are while being scrutinized and denied, in some cases, in the process. Seeing this in so many aspects makes me work harder to ensure that my clients are able to express that desire to love freely whether in their marriage and everyday life or their business.
In terms of a unique perspective, I sit at the intersection of two communities in which music and dancing are very prominent. Being a black person in the LGBTQ+ community, I have the pleasure of having a rich history in the musical industry which comes in handy every time I go to DJ an event. Both of these communities are largely responsible for the majority of success in the music industry giving me a direct line to tools that help me see music in a way that most others don’t. The culture of both of these communities has also helped me to tap into a much deeper version of both myself and other people during events. This ability to connect on that deeper level allows me to curate an atmosphere that goes beyond the dance floor.

DR – Our Identities as LGBTQ+ business owners make us a bit more sensitive to potential injustices in our area. Our goal is to provide printing services for every business that need printing services.

JW – Experiencing prejudice as a gay man in the corporate world led us to make the decision to move back to Freeport where I grew up to open our own business. Verna’s Yarn Shop had recently closed so the timing seemed right. As an LGBTQ+ business owner, I try to support LGBTQ+ yarn dyers, designers, and companies that treat all people equally. We try to be an open and welcoming place for people to shop and interact with others regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender orientation.

What does Pride Month mean to you as an LGBTQ+ business owner, and how can the community support you during this time?

J+D – Pride Month is a month of celebrating the struggle and achievements of LGBTQ+ individuals.  This month also brings advocacy, and awareness to inequality, discrimination, and violence that still plague our community.   You can show your support by being educated.  If you are unsure about something, ask.  We enjoy sitting down with a glass of wine to talk about hard topics and our perspectives.  All we ask for is for a bedrock of respect and a genuine intent to understand and learn without prejudice by all parties involved.

LF – For me this month is about celebrating freedom. Not only is it Pride Month but I also have the ability to celebrate Juneteenth, as well. If you want to support Davis & Company this month come see me at St. John’s Pride Picnic on June 15 from 12-3 pm and hop in the photo booth, then stop by the Elevated Voices Juneteenth Cookout Celebration at the Stephenson County Fairgrounds to hear me setting the vibe on June 22 anytime between 1-8 pm.

DR – Pride Month is first and foremost a protest. Pride highlights how far we have come to be seen as equals in our lives and as business owners.  It was not long ago that being in a same-sex relationship could cost you your job, could mean you would not have the protections that marriage affords couples, and sometimes even cost you your life.  The more we embrace diversity and social inclusion, the stronger our community becomes.  Pride Month is a movement to help start hard conversations and bring our communities together as one.  The way you support Pride Month is to have those uncomfortable conversations so you might see that the LGBTQ+ people in your lives as people who have things to offer and have a place in our community.

JW – Pride month is still super important. Even in this day and age, there are many who view LGBTQ+ as deviants or less than human, or think that we are broken, or sinners. Pride Month is a time when we (the LGBT+ community) can show others, whether they are straight, gay, questioning, or something else, that being gay, lesbian, bi, trans or something else is OKAY. That we have a right to live life and be happy and that all of that is still possible. Too many LGBTQ+ youth, and even adults, commit suicide and while having a Pride Month may not prevent all of those deaths, it will prevent some and I hope it goes a long way toward a society in which being different is not a bad thing but something that is celebrated. I hope that everyone takes time this month to think how their interactions and choice of words can affect others and be open and welcoming to all. If you know people in the LGBTQ+ community, let them know that they are loved, that they’re an important part of society and treat everyone with dignity and respect.