By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com January 26 2010 5:55 PM ET
As President Barack Obama makes his final preparations to address Congress and the nation on his accomplishments in office and the year ahead, Indiana business owner Trevor Yager is making preparations of his own to head to Washington, D.C. Yager will be in the crowd for the president's first State of the Union address, where Obama will outline his plans for the economy, health care reform, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is expected to address the military's ban on openly gay troops.
Yager is a principal of Indianapolis's TrendyMinds, a marketing and advertising agency with several national and local clients. In the past year Trendy Minds has grown 200%, doubling its number of employees, gaining 15 new accounts, and renovating its space to accommodate such growth. The company is certified as a gay-owned business by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which suggested TrendyMinds be acknowledged by the White House.
Yager talked to Advocate.com about how being an openly gay business owner in a conservative state can make him a little nervous and exactly what he thinks of Obama's progress on gay rights.
Advocate.com: How did you find out that you were invited to attend the State of the Union address?
Trevor Yager: We're a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and they have a long-standing relationship with Obama. He invited them to the White House one week after he became president. So the White House reached out to them, and said, "We would like to profile some of your members." So they reached out to various groups, and we were one of them. We wrote a three-paragraph statement on our company and what we've been doing over the last year and sent that on to NGLCC, and they took it up the ranks and over to the White House. The White House liked it, and they asked for more information from me. They asked for my name, date of birth, social security number, and then I didn't hear anything. So we were just kind of waiting, and then I got a call from [White House staffer] Brian Bond on Friday night, saying that the president and first lady had extended an invitation for me to come out to Washington. It's been neat to be a part of it and to gear up to go.
Do you know where you'll be sitting?
I'm going to be seated with the first lady in the box, but I don't know where.
We've been informed that the president will likely address "don't ask, don't tell" during his address. What else do you expect to hear from him on Wednesday night concerning gay issues?
I don't know — if we look at what's happening right now, across the playing field, we know that the economy is going to be a major focus. As far as the other things, I'm not sure if he is going to address that or overarching civil rights issues, and more than just "don't ask, don't tell." We're all fighting for equality and equal representation, so it's hard to say — I think it's impressive that we do have a president in office who does care about us, despite what some may think as far as the speed with which some things are happening.
Just looking at the relationships that the White House has built with NGLCC should show that they definitely care about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. It's a big deal. With everything, things do take time. I can't imagine the job that he has, as far as moving everybody forward and getting so many different things done. Sometimes things going forward may not be quick enough for some.
From a business standpoint, what are you expecting or at least hoping to see from Washington in the year ahead?
I'd like them — from a certification standpoint, as being certified as a gay-owned business — I would like to see that reach out even into legislation. Right now, it's great that [the NGLCC] has a lot of certification with businesses, but I'd like to see that more with some states are actually looking at it. Some smaller corporations will look to the states to see who their approved vendors are, and hopefully, they'll pick them from the same list.
As far as other businesses, also making sure that the money is still flowing and that there are loans that are available. Not just to start businesses, but to keep businesses going. It's the cash flow that kills. Without cash flow you could totally cripple a business. I think those things need to be looked at.
From a personal standpoint, I have a sibling that has been displaced from the auto industry. ... There are a lot of people who have been laid off from their jobs that are trying to figure out what's next, when their [particular job] is all they know. That's a tough things that businesses can do to help individuals get on their feet, too.
Are there any initiatives or policy changes that the Obama administration has made that help small businesses?
Loosening up lending has helped a lot, because, again, it's more cash flow in.
What are some unique challenges or advantages that you face as a gay business owner?
I think there's always the potential of being stereotyped or being discriminated against. Especially living in a conservative state, it can be an issue. I've been fortunate that we have some amazing clients, and they've been really cool. People can be horrible, or they can be great, so it just depends on the person. But you can always get a little nervous when you meet a new client for the first time. They don't have to want and love to go to Gay Pride with me — I'm not asking for that, but you also don't want them to be the total opposite.
Lucky for me, I was raised in a conservative Christian home and have been brought up in private Christian schools from seventh grade all the way up through college, and I've been fortunate not to have anyone turn against me, even when coming out. I've had a good experience. Even with friends who say, "Well, I don't agree with that," I can just say, "That's OK, I'm not asking you to. That's your issue there."
I've done a lot of educating other people about being gay, telling them it's definitely not a disease, not a choice — you didn't choose your hair color, and I didn't choose my sexuality. It's just who I am. I've had to embrace that, and it's something that I haven't hidden. So when I go into meetings, I get a little tentative, but as I get a little older, I'm just a little more free to be like, "I have a partner of seven years." So, no, I'm not always like, "Hey, by the way, I'm gay!" Sometimes the conversation doesn't really need it, but I do wear a wedding ring, so one time I had a client ask me, "I see you're married. What does your wife think about ... " and I've had to say, "Actually, I have a partner," and they had no problem, and they keep talking.
You have a lot of national and local clients — what are some of the more interesting initiatives that you've taken on recently?
One of our latest accounts is Cincinnati Bell, and we're helping them with moving into this market and expanding into Columbus and Louisville. It's been really exciting to see their business grow. We're going to be a part of doing their PR and marketing for them. Another group is Author Solutions. They're based down in Bloomington, Ind. They're the world's largest self-publisher, and they've been growing a lot, and we've been doing publicity campaigns with some of their authors.
Recently, since we've been doing well, this is our 15th anniversary, and we've always done a grant program, where we give out $50,000 in in-kind services to nonprofit groups — this year we've upped it to $150,000 to celebrate our 15th anniversary. We've awarded it to 12 different nonprofits. That's been really cool and really rewarding for us.
My goal is that there are gay businesses out there that are doing great things, and we have a National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to enable us to do great things on an even greater level to the greater society. I hear it all the time, that when people think that because we're gay, we're at the right hand of Satan and that we're horrible individuals who aren't there to help anybody. I know that my friends who are gay tend to be some of the most generous people I know.
Can you reveal some of the organizations you'll be helping?
There's one called School on Wheels, which has three locations, one here, one in Boston, and one in L.A. School on wheels helps provide tutors to underprivileged children. A lot of that is after-school education, and they're trying to work in some health education as well. It's a pretty exciting group, since they're all children-based. We're also working with the Madame Walker Theatre, which is one of the longest-standing here in town. We're helping them with branding positions, and to get them more established. We had another one called Indy Hub, which is a young professionals association, which is a nonprofit, and their goal is to let people know about Indianapolis from a YP standpoint, because a lot of people are looking at where to live based on that. We had dozens and dozens that applied.
Your business has actually been able to flourish during one of the most difficult economic climates in decades. What would you attribute to your success?
There's multiple things going for us. We've built a strong foundation over the past 15 years. There are things that Obama's put into play, and we're seeing more jobs being created. Some people say he's spending too much money, but in my business, and in any business, you have to spend to make. That's a philosophy that people share.
Also, having organizations like NGLCC out there helping with advocacy has really helped small businesses to recover and add jobs and move forward.