Is being out of the closet good for business? An enterprising Portland lesbian might soon find out.
The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has named Noma Hanlon, president of Portland-based graphic-design firm Hanlon Brown Design, “LGBT Business Owner of the Year.” Hanlon was bestowed this auspicious honor at a Washington, D.C., dinner on Friday, Nov. 2, where she was given the award (plus a $5,000 check that she plans to share with Outside In) by out tennis icon Martina Navratilova. Big news, huh?
But something bugged me after I read about Hanlon on gaywired.com: I’ve never heard of her before. Realizing I might be out of the all-powerful fruit loop, I contacted local queer civil-rights champions including Terry Bean and Roey Thorpe. Guess what? They’d never heard of her before either. So, what gives? How does someone no one’s heard of before in the gay community take home such a big prize?
“In business, as well as in life, being gay has been a non-issue for me,” the 52-year-old Portland native told me over the conference table in her industrial Northwest Portland office building. With a staff made up primarily of female employees (including her “wife-band,” Gail Snow), and design work with gross revenues of $5 million for clients like Adidas and Intel, Hanlon believes the biggest hurdle in her career is just being a woman in a male-centric field. Recognizing the irony that her D.C. dinner was called “An Evening of Courage,” Hanlon says, “I hadn’t been the most courageous about coming out.”
That changed three years ago at the encouragement of a client who asked Hanlon to join the 5-year-old—but increasingly powerful—NGLCC. Ever since then, Hanlon, through her work with this national group, has slowly seen her visibility and involvement in the gay community grow.
“I guess I am really out now,” she said, laughing, about receiving her award. But she couldn’t always laugh about it. Like many women of her generation, Hanlon followed a tried-and-true course: She married a man before she came out. Although she’s still friends with her ex-hubby, the marriage lasted only five years.
“For me, life has been a lot of little coming outs,” says Hanlon, who’s been open and honest that she is a lesbian to whomever—clients, friends and neighbors (including Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto)—wants to know. But still, why hasn’t the local gay community heard of her before? “My real passion is education,” says Hanlon. She recently started a scholarship fund through her firm and believes that one of the reasons she hasn’t done that much work with the queer community is that—like many LGBTers—no one’s ever asked her. Hanlon realizes that’ll probably change now, and she embraces the new role. And, like any good designer, she even has a plan on how to do it.
“I am one of the most normal people I know,” says Hanlon. “I want to be the face of normalcy.”
Noma is normal. Who knew? ￼