Out of the Closet and Atlanta, An Advisor Finds Happiness in Rural Georgia

How Laura LaTourette chose a small southern city, where the LGBTQ+ community is accepted by most but not all families and businesses.

Laura LaTourette (Courtesy photo)

Laura LaTourette

(Courtesy photo)

Laura LaTourette’s life was following a conventional path. She was working as an insurance agent in Atlanta while raising two children with her husband. She had been in the insurance industry since the 1980s, starting as a sales rep then getting licensed as an agent in 1993.

So when she started to slowly come out as a lesbian to family, friends, and clients in 1994, and then, in 1995, decided to join her partner, Susan, in tiny Dahlonega, Georgia, her friends were a bit taken aback.

“When I moved up here, I left the comforts of a heterosexual community in Atlanta,” LaTourette says. “And I had friends of mine saying, ‘You’re going to do what? You’re moving to north Georgia as an out lesbian?’”

Twenty-five years later, LaTourette is still living in Dahlonega (population around 6,800), on an 18-acre farm with Susan – who is now her wife – their five dogs, one cat, four llamas, and approximately 15 chickens. Her kids, whom she co-parented with both her former husband and Susan, have grown up and given her four grandchildren. She has long since moved on from the insurance industry to lead her own advisory practice in the area.

“I realized that I didn’t want to be in the insurance business,” she says. “I really wanted to be in more of a holistic business.”

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When LaTourette first moved to north Georgia, she still commuted to Atlanta for her work as an agent. She launched her first independent business in Dahlonega in 1998, a general insurance agency through which she also managed investments. In 2004, she became a CFP, and her local advisory business took off.

LaTourette is now a Registered Principal for LPL Financial and runs the Family Wealth Management Group, a fee-based financial planning and wealth management firm with eight people on its team. The small practice currently has a client base of 86 households. As of Nov. 1, Family Wealth Management Group had approximately $52 million in total assets under management, consisting of advisory as well as brokerage assets.

How difficult — or not — is it to move from one life as a traditional wife, mother, and professional in a big city to another as an out lesbian advisor in a small southern community? And what advice does LaTourette have for advisors working with members of the LBGTQ+ community?

Below is our discussion, edited for length and clarity.

When you opened your own practice, did you plan to focus on women and the LGBTQ+ community specifically?

Yes. There were so many women I would meet who did not understand how to take care of themselves financially. And I thought I would become that person who would help build trust first. And then I would help guide them to the type of life they wanted to live fully.

When I opened my own business, I worked with small business owners, women going through life transitions, and the LGBTQ+ community. I found there was a real need in my community for what I was offering, which was financial services and understanding how to do planning. I established myself as an expert in things that nobody had up here.

You left Atlanta and went to a much smaller city that would seem to be more challenging for an openly gay advisor who wants to focus in part on an LGBTQ+ client base. Why make that kind of move?

I think it’s important to be authentic and live an authentic life. And I’ve been that way since I was born. The reason I wanted to move here was really because of the setting. We live right at the Appalachian Mountains. And I wanted to be on a small farm. I wanted to have the experience of this, and not wait until I was 70.

I guess I’ve never taken the easy road, anyway. I think of my role in life as a bridge, and I help people understand some things that maybe they didn’t before because they were afraid to ask.

How easy or difficult was it to find an LGBTQ+ community, and clients, in your new home?

In the LGBTQ community, we know who we are, and we know each other. It’s not hard to find us. When I moved up here, Susan was an established massage therapist. She was out on day one that she moved here. She introduced me to a lot of the gay community as her life partner. So I have always been out in the town. And I was the only financial planner the other residents knew.

And then I went to get my CFP, because I thought, I really need to have some strong credentials, some really good education, to make sure I’m doing a good job for my friends and family not my formal family, but the community. And then I was the only CFP they knew.

I also become an ally for clients who had LGBTQ members in their families and didn’t know how to communicate with them.

What percentage of your clientele is part of the LGBTQ+ community?

I would say I can count the straight people easier than I can count the others, because of all the factors. For example, I have clients who are straight, but might have a gay brother. So they make sure to talk to me about specific issues their brother is going through, and then they pass on advice from me to their brother.

So I have very few entirely straight clients. Maybe 15 percent of my client base. And my straight couples are so important to me, too. If they come to me, they know I’m gay to begin with.

What are some of the largest challenges your LGBTQ+ clients face? How is financial planning different for that community?

I have found that financial guidance for the elderly has a special importance within the LGBTQ+ community. In some cases, my older LGBTQ+ clients have been rejected by their families. Several of my clients have had difficulty finding a welcoming elder care facility where they can find acceptance and support. Or they discover that hospitals do not always recognize their partners as family.

There is no nursing home, personal care home or anything in my area that would accept openly gay people. LGBT elders are worried and scared. And not all of them have the assets to support themselves.

Older LGBTQ+ generations may have wealth gap issues because they have either been in and out of work or had issues with being terminated because of their gay lifestyle. Or they were afraid to let anyone know they were gay, so they would change jobs, or there just wasn’t a lot of job stability. So you may not have a lot of retirement. Or you might have a lot of debt, especially in the trans community, because of the state of health care in our country.

Do you feel the younger generations in the LGBTQ+ community will be in a better financial position when they are seniors than the silent generation and boomers may be now?

Yes. You don’t have the issues with the millennials that you have with the silent generation. And elder care is where a lot of my work is. That’s where my focus and passion is.

Do you work with any trans clients? I would imagine that community has particularly tough challenges that even the gay and lesbian community does not.

I have some trans clients, and I also have clients who have trans kids. Planning for the cost of gender-affirming surgery, using personal credit cards or income to pay for medical support, lacking access to good medical care and saving for retirement are all sensitive issues for this community. As with all LGBTQ+ people, it’s so important for advisors working with them to truly listen to them and develop a clear understanding of their needs.

This is something a lot of advisors may not have much experience with, even as trans issues have become increasingly understood.

I have friends who are financial advisors, who have clients with trans kids. The advisor might say, “I have a client who has a daughter who has transitioned to become a son. Do they still have to pay for the wedding?” And I will tell the advisor, “The first advice I would give your clients is to sit down with their child and communicate what they want to do to offer love and support for the wedding.”

What I’m trying to help the advisor understand is, the client should realize the wedding is important because this is their child. The client should look that child in the eyes and say, “What can I do to love and support you?” That’s what you need to focus on.

How has your experience as an LGBTQ+ advisor in a small southern community changed over the past 25 years? Has there been a big shift, along with the overall shift across much of the country, when it comes to awareness and understanding?

I found community here right away. A lot of neighbors in the Appalachians work together. We have to. We do so much together that we have to overlook things. So I really feel like, for the most part, I was brought into the community. And as long as you’re a good person, you do what you say and you help others, then there’s a place here for you. So the small town part of it has really worked out for me.

Some people might find it surprising that there was a lot of early acceptance of your sexuality in a small town. Have there been any major challenges with being an out advisor there?

I did have struggles, such as in the school system. I had trouble there because there were people who believe differently, and they were worried because I had children.

And I have clients who don’t agree with me politically. We do things as friends as well. This is a small community, so it’s not all just business. We socialize.

In 2018, a client of mine turned to me at a fundraiser and said, “If you didn’t wear this lesbian thing on your sleeve, you would have more clients.” Meaning, if I didn’t talk so much about it, it would be better for my business.

He said, “You have a chip on your shoulder sometimes.”

Well, I have a chip on my shoulder because my sexuality seems to be uncomfortable to some people. So I would rather make people uncomfortable before they walk into my office and I spend any time getting to know them as a person. If they’re that afraid of me because of who I love, then they’re not a good fit for me as a client.

And this client said, “You know, I never thought of it that way.” And I said, “Because you’re not that way. You are a person we would consider an ally.”

So you consider him an ally, even though he made that remark?

I’ve had him as a client for over 12 years. I’ve done hourly planning for his kids. And the thing about it is, that’s the kind of client I love. I want honest, good conversation. I’m not interested in having someone ask, behind my back, questions they might feel I would be uncomfortable with. So I love those conversations.

It sounds like these talks, even if uncomfortable, can be a learning experience for some of your clients.

People can say terrible things and just not even know what they’re doing. And if they’re not trying to be cruel, and if it’s a learning opportunity, I’m all for it. But if it’s somebody’s way of thinking, then that doesn’t work for me.

I’m sure I’m not getting some clients because I’m a lesbian. I am sure that’s true. But that’s OK with me. That’s the wrong client, anyhow.

Do you look to continue your advisory relationship with the children of clients who have died or otherwise moved on?

Yes, I like to have relationships with clients and their children, just because they’re important to me as my people. So it’s a natural progression. If I don’t have the children as clients, it’s probably because the kids and I just didn’t fit well.

A lot of advisors try to have something of a personal relationship with their clients. But it seems to be on a whole other level when working in such a small town.

They are my family. I am often there at the end of their life, and I may be the only gay person they ever knew.

You may be smashing some stereotypes people might have about a small town in Georgia and how progressive it may be when it comes to certain issues.

What happens in our small town is, I think we try to find a way to work together first. And I think we work together knowing that we’re human beings first, and then the rest of it comes into play.

What are your thoughts on diversity in financial planning overall? Do you think the industry has come a long way with not only nurturing more diverse planners but serving a more diverse clientele?

Much more needs to be done. LGBTQ+ has been underrepresented and underserved in the industry. We need to be an advocate for them, because they need us.

One bright spot is the CFP Board’s efforts to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work. I am championing these efforts. For example, I am encouraging younger people, particularly women, LGBTQ+, and people of color, to become CFP professionals and join us in serving others.

Can you suggest any professional resources/groups/support for LGBTQ advisors in general?

The Financial Planning Association’s Pride Planners and the CFP Board have excellent resources and are great places to start.

What kind of client base do you have as far as wealth levels? Is it a real mix?

I work with people I like, and I really don’t care how much money they have to begin with. I have some clients who are very wealthy, and I have some who are not, and I still give them attention and time.

And one of the commonalities is that I have very charitable clients. Even the non-wealthy clients are very charitable. You can create a donor-advised fund for a lot less money than you might think. And then that way, if you have no one to leave your money to, or if you don’t want to leave it to your family, especially be the case as a gay person, you can pass it on to the LGBTQ+ community or another charity you really want to work with. So we have a lot of those covenant conversations.

Planning can be such personal work. It sounds like the relationship you have with your clients means a lot to you, well beyond the professional.

It’s humbling to be that important in someone’s family, that you’re the one making the funeral arrangements, or you’re the one calling in the long-term care claim or ensuring clients can die at home. I’m just a regular person, trying to do good work every day not the biggest producer. But I have to believe there are a lot of people like me out there working hard every day to make a difference in people’s lives. Sounds sappy, but that’s what I believe.

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