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(Morgan M. Hurley is a Contributing Editor of San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, Editor of San Diego Downtown News, and Assistant Editor of Gay San Diego and San Diego Uptown News.)
When Talonya Geary and Dr. Wendy Ochoa first decided to launch FlawLes Media in time for San Diego Pride 2007, they had a mutual vision: to increase the visibility of the lesbian community. As FlawLes became a reality, that vision soon became their mission statement, and now, as they prepare to celebrate their sixth anniversary, nothing has changed.
This sounds like a perfectly noble and acceptable mission, but there have been a lot of bumps along the way.
Geary, a member of world-renown motivational speaker Anthony Robbins’s staff, will be the first to say carrying out that mission caused her and Ochoa to experience a great deal of backlash from their own community. That backlash centered on the pair’s definition of where visibility needed to be increased, and they decided it was not Hillcrest.
“I don’t need to convince the Chris Shaws of the world,” Geary said, because venue owners like Shaw, who owns the Mo’s Universe restaurants, are already associated with the LGBT community.
“We were very intentional about the places we wanted to host the events. … People thought that we were just [being kind] of pretentious and not supporting the community … [by] doing our own thing, which couldn’t have been any further from the truth,” she said.
“The intention was to really scout the nice venues in San Diego that were outside of the gay community, because we felt like our mission with FlawLes was to always increase the visibility of the lesbian community – strategically, the lesbian community – because the LGBT community … does a pretty good job, already standing together to increase the visibility of us as a whole, but we felt there was [a lack of] significant leadership in the lesbian community to get us out and about, especially when it came to the mainstream market.”
Their first event was in September of 2007 at Stingaree.
“We approached them with benevolence on some level and confidence on another, and said, ‘We want to do a lesbian event here.’ They were kind of shocked as well, but if you put a credit card down and you guarantee a food and beverage minimum with it, you can pretty much go anywhere,” she said. “We definitely were met with resistance.”
When they approached their next “conquest,” The Ivy, Geary said the management tried to call her bluff, but according to her explanation of events, she called theirs.
“The Ivy had just been open maybe six months,” she said. “We approached them [and] they thought we were crazy. Geary then said they were forced to put their money where there mouths were.
“I remember the marketing manager saying, ‘As long as this is a $100,000 buyout,’ and I said, ‘Here’s my card. Do whatever you have to do, but take a risk with me I’ll take a risk with you.’”
That second big event at The Ivy, over Easter weekend in 2008, is what Geary said she believes put them on the map.
“We’ve always had an intense commitment to quality, and we believed our community and the people we represented deserved the absolute best,” she said.
Despite the naysayers, each FlawLes event has been a smashing success, including their Tie Parties, which last year expanded to San Francisco.
“We’re not going anywhere,” she said.
They had to put production of their FlawLes Magazine on the back burner two years ago due to costs, but to celebrate their sixth anniversary this month, the company is launching a digital-only version of their popular magazine during Pride weekend.
“[The magazine] is something we are still passionate about and the one thing we miss the most,” Geary said. “It gives us a way to celebrate the six-year anniversary and bring back a part of our business history. It will have the same quality and set-up you expect to see of FlawLes on [the] shelf, but online.”
Recent personal struggles have also been a challenge, Geary said. Just last year, the San Diego resident dealt with a significant loss in her life; her 37-year old brother took his life after a long struggle with his sexuality. The loss, although painful and very impactful on Geary’s professional aspirations, slowed her momentum; but the tragedy also filled her with a stronger resolve to reach LGBT people.
“In the lesbian community, [especially] in the older segment above a certain age, there is an enormous amount of shame and it breaks my heart,” Geary said. “It is definitely one of my driving triggers with FlawLes.
“I want people to enjoy who they are,” she said. “I celebrate being gay every single day. I love walking into meetings and taking the opportunity to be out and I wish that upon other people.“
Today, Geary is back on track and forging full speed ahead. She promises two FlawLes events in 2012, the always-packed Pool Party at this coming Pride celebration, as well as a new Tie Party in San Diego this Fall.
She said there will also be big announcements at the Pool Party, including the digital magazine launch, a membership program, a FlawLes mobile application and a new nonprofit initiative, called “FlawLes Gives Back,” to support lesbian youth, lesbian entrepreneurs and lesbian free-thinkers.
“I was talking to Wendy [Ochoa] last night about … the meaning of FlawLes,” Geary said. “It is not just about being lesbian, it is about being out, about being strong, about being successful on your terms, and it’s about making a difference. [It’s also about] having people feel included and giving people a voice, a name and a direction.”
Now that’s flawless.
FlawLes Rooftop Pride Pool Party
WHEN: On Sunday, July 22
WHERE: Andaz Hotel, 600 F St. in the Gaslamp. The Andaz Hotel, now owned by Hyatt, was formerly The Ivy.
WHEN: 12 Noon until 8 p.m.
TICKETS: $25 for general admission and $35 VIP (includes VIP bar with dedicated servers).
ENTERTAINMENT: Fortune Feimster from Chelsea Lately, who will host the event and participate in a meet and greet; DJ Amara (Los Angeles) and Josh Kane (drummer for Pink and Uh Huh Her); live dance performances by Lipstik, Inc Dancers. At 7 p.m. there will be the anniversary celebration and announcements.
To read the original story or to visit Gay San Diego, a media partner with SDGLN, click HERE.