Celebrating Pride

Openly gay Black man breaks barriers in entrepreneurship

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — “Barrier-breaker” is one way to describe an Indianapolis executive making history in entrepreneurship.

The newly appointed executive director at The Speak Easy downtown coworking space is the first openly gay Black man to hold the position. TJ Wright is with The Speak Easy in Broad Ripple. It’s a membership-based club founded in 2012.

“I was astounded by the welcoming response,” Wright said.

He says accepting Black gay men in leadership is a sign of progress. “This is the torch passing between the previous director and the new executive director. We had members asking questions. They wanted to know how they could get involved. What can they do, who can they call for us, and how can they help fund development and fundraising. it has been an overwhelmingly positive response,.”

But, the journey wasn’t easy.

“I can count on one hand how many hostile work environments I have not been in, and for a while, I internalized that. For a while, I thought it was me. I thought I was not professional enough. I was not experienced enough or innovative enough. I learned that it was not me but rather the structure of institutions, individuals and their prospects, and the biases of individuals who were ignorant of the issues. I found that that was contributing,” Wright said.

He wants to push against the status quo and transform the Speak Easy.

“We are a company that believes in equity, innovation, and that entrepreneurship is going to close the wealth gap, the access gap and the mobility gap, particularly for people of color, those who navigate intersections in their identity, and being an individual who has to wear those intersections themselves is absolutely a skill and a notch on the hat to make sure people are seen,” Wright said.

For years, Wright says, he felt overlooked by society and had to find his voice while navigating life as Black, male and gay. “I am done waiting for other people to tell my story and the story of my community. I have every bit of confidence, every bit of tenacity and grit to do it for my community, and it felt in that moment … it felt like my ancestors were saying, ‘You sure do. Now, go out and do it.’”

Wright says together we can dismantle distorted stereotypes of LGBTQ+ in the work spaces.

“There are people in our community who are invisible. Queer people of color exist invisibly in this state, and women exist to a level of invisibility in this state. Many identities are looking to be seen, and we are actively creating to build this place as a place where everyone is a scene, where everyone belongs, and that takes a leader who was once invisible themselves,” Wright said.

He says he is excited about the upcoming collaboration between the Indiana Pride of Color and Indy Pride. The organizations are hosting a Juneteenth celebration brunch together for the first time.