Economic hardship and distancing – LGBTI entrepreneurs in COVID-crisis


“I do a lot of concerts and performances. For a long time, they could not be done at all because of the pandemic. On top of that, the clients I could otherwise work for can’t afford to pay me.”

This is how a cultural entrepreneur responded to a survey I conducted in the fall of 2020 about the meanings and effects of the corona crisis for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people (LGBTI).
325 people responded to the survey and some of them were entrepreneurs.
Out of these people, 19 defined themselves as entrepreneurs in terms of their labor market status, but some also worked as an entrepreneur in addition to studying, retirement or working as an employee.
Many of the entrepreneurial respondents work as entrepreneurs in small businesses in the fields of education, care, services, and culture. Almost half of them worked alone in their company. The incomes of many declined in the wake of the corona crisis.

“In addition to my employment and studies, I work as a part-time entrepreneur. My company carries out trainings and events that were not there at all due to the situation in the spring. As a result, this year’s corporate income will be significantly lower than in previous years.”

None of the entrepreneurial respondents reported an improvement in the company’s profitability during the corona crisis. Instead, most of them estimated that it made it difficult for the company to operate. A couple of respondents pointed out that there were no changes in this respect. Most operated in areas that were dependent on customer relationships and people-to-people contact, with corona infection prevention measures reflected in customer encounters and customer interest in using the services.

“I am an entrepreneur whose customers are largely part of the LGBT community, and sales figures do show that customers are going through financially difficult times. As a self-employed person who mainly does business online, I fortunately do not face much discrimination.”

Most of the self-employed respondents had switched to remote work, or at least increased telework. Most of them (N = 16) thought that telework will increase in the future because of the corona crisis.

“As an entrepreneur, I now work remotely. It has made it harder, but it has not stopped it.”

Nearly none of the respondents felt that telework had affected their experiences of discrimination or inappropriate treatment. However, quite a few had experienced discrimination in employment due to their sexual orientation (N = 3) or gender identity or gender expression (N = 5) in 2019, i.e., before corona.
In the corona year 2020, slightly fewer respondents had experienced it than in the previous year. Some LGBTI entrepreneurs choose entrepreneurship and self-reliance because then the normative pressures and discrimination associated with work communities can be avoided. Self-employment offers independence, but if it involves customer encounters and selling services to companies, there may still be experiences of discrimination.

“From time to time, you come across “Oh, the gay?” -comments with partners and customers, and sometimes it affects the formation of a customer relationship or partnership. However, the other way around, I use my own power and do not enter into cooperation agreements if this is the case.”

“Clients who get tattoos often also belong to a sexual minority and they know how to take me into account, but some clients don’t respect my gender but wrongly identify my gender. Because of Covid-19, I had to take a break from tattooing.”

The decrease in customer relationships in the corona year could explain the decrease in discrimination experiences. Individual respondents thought discrimination was more likely during the corona crisis and it raised fears in them.

Almost half of the self-employed respondents experienced a decrease in concentration at work (N = 9) and an increase in loneliness (N = 8) during the crisis. Quite a few (N = 7) had feared of covid-19 infection at work.
Quite a few (N = 7) felt that remote working had made living more difficult with their housemates and living partners. However, two respondents felt that their relationship with their partner had improved. Two of the respondents had considered changing jobs or ending their entrepreneurship, and one of them had become unemployed due to the corona crisis. The already weak economic situation of several respondents had been weakened by the interest rate crisis.

I have a small business that earned me about 300€ a month, now maybe 30€ a month. I have been unemployed and living with KELA’s daily allowance for a longer time now. I am studying an alternative form of treatment, which I pay for myself.”

“I work as a freelancer. So practically, I am unemployed, working part-time when there is work, and I get mediated labor market support. The teaching work, of which I usually get most of my income, is clearly going to fail this fall.”

The respondents had not been able to enjoy the corona subsidies for state entrepreneurs. Partly because they were not so well available at the time of the survey response, but mainly because the subsidies were not aimed at small entrepreneurs and freelancers.


Jukka Lehtonen, Senior Researcher, CoWeAll Research Project

Further reading:

Lehtonen, J. (2020) Equal virus? LGBTI people in the corona crisis.

Lehtonen, J. (2020) LBGTI people and organizations in the corona crisis. Helsinki: University of Helsinki.

This blog was first published on 17th of May, 2021 in the WeAll-project blog.


Originally posted on the 17th of May, 2021