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From Struggle to Success

By |2018-12-12T22:53:57-05:00December 12th, 2018|Michigan, News|

Melinda Phelps did not initially set out to be a certified public accountant. Born and raised in Detroit, and a product of Michigan colleges, Phelps first started out as a stockbroker. But as a proud African-American lesbian woman, Phelps said she could only go so far.
“I kept hitting the proverbial glass ceiling for black, gay women,” Phelps said. “I was even told that gay people are not supposed to have management positions. So, I kept getting fired because of who I am.”
At one firm, Phelps made the ultimate mistake – she asked a co-worker out on a date.
“I thought the signs were there for me to approach her, but I guess I scared her off,” Phelps recalled. “She faked like she was engaged, even put on a ring that I didn’t see before. She shared my text conversation asking her out to all our peers at work.”
Immediately, Phelps said, she was shunned.
“We went to a week training where, by then, all of my peers knew I had asked her out,” said Phelps. “No one wanted to sit next to me on the plane. People were commenting about how disgusting I was to my face. … It was clear that my career there was over.”
Phelps then moved to Houston, but she couldn’t get away from the alleged scandal.
“My reputation followed me,” she said. “The accounting industry is very small, especially when you are known for highly specialized tax experience like I was at the time. From that point on, I knew that my career as an accountant would always be tainted by this experience.”
Phelps moved on to other firms, but she kept facing the same problem and kept getting laid off or fired because of her openness about her sexuality.
“Because of so many layoffs back-to-back, it’s even hard to this day to get a corporate job because my resume has all these short-term, but progressive, tenures at jobs,” she said. “It makes it look as though I’m not trustworthy, or unstable, and jump job to job on purpose.”
Feeling she had no other option, Phelps started her own practice, M.S. Phelps, CPA, PLLC. Initially, she started it in Texas, but shortly after she decided to come back to Michigan because of a close support system of family and friends she had built. Back home, Phelps built a practice catered to her specialties.
“I’m not your typical accountant,” she said. “I’m more of a corporate tax accountant. Businesses like General Motors, Ford, they need people with my expertise to help them manage their tax situation because they are exposed to tax filing requirements in every city, state and country that they do business. That’s what I primarily specialize in. Or small business owners who don’t want to handle their accounting and tax situation so they outsource it to people like me to handle their bookkeeping and tax filing.”
After starting her own business Phelps didn’t have to worry about discrimination due to her sexuality, but she said she still faces difficulties associated with being a black, gay, female business owner from the outside community. She said in many ways she feels isolated and heartbroken.
“The reason why I say it’s isolating is because you have no support from any community,” Phelps said. “The African-American community believes that gay people are evil and will go to hell, as they are influenced by their churches who teaches them this. All the other communities not only shun gay people, but they see blacks as inferior. Especially black women. We’re looked upon as being angry, aggressive, almost ape-like.”
But lack of support aside, Phelps said she has learned that in many ways she’s a “fighter.” She added that her difficulties in business have only spurred her on to work harder.
“I couldn’t let them win. I may have lost many battles, but I didn’t lose the war,” she said. “I would advise anyone: don’t give up on yourself. Stop listening to people. Believe your own instincts. When you fail, and you will, take it as a learning experience and strive to do better the next time around.”
Today Phelps strives to find balance in life. In addition to her business Phelps also teaches accounting at Clair University as an adjunct professor, is in law school at Loyola University Chicago and is an avid golfer and networker.
Happy to be back home, Phelps said the best thing about being back in Detroit is “the authenticity of people,” she said. “People here are real about it. They keep it real and that’s what I like and that’s what I missed.”
To find out more about Phelps’ services, visit msphelpscpa.com.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 25th anniversary.