Weaving between a basketball game, face painting and a lively chess match, Sam Koshiol-Wright stopped to check in with people at a free downtown Minneapolis arts festival for youth as summer began.
Without her black t-shirt with "Sequeerity" emblazoned on the back in white block letters, it would have been easy to mistake Koshiol-Wright for an event organizer as she stopped to dance with attendees or drop a few disks into a giant game of Connect Four.
Koshiol-Wright and a colleague were working security at an event called Outside Vibe put on by the Hennepin Theatre Trust and Kulture Klub Collaborative, an arts group for youth experiencing homelessness in a downtown alley last week.
At a time when some communities are wary of interacting with police, security companies like the queer women of color-led team Sequeerity are filling a void around the Twin Cities, from Pride events this month to protests at the Capitol.
Formed in 2020, when many people in underrepresented communities sought more friendly forms of safety and security, Sequeerity trains its staff and local organizations in de-escalation. They say their friendly demeanor and quirky t-shirts help build rapport and reduce crimes of opportunity at events.
"We keep our wits about us and we treat everybody as we would want to be treated, even if they may be saying things that are harmful and hurtful," Koshiol-Wright said.
Josiah Ballard, who said he was formerly homeless, stopped to chat with Sequeerity to see what was up. The security team was unlike any he'd seen around town, he said after he shook their hands.
"I've seen security at events take out their bad days on other people," Ballard, 21, later explained.
Sequeerity is the brainchild of Kimmy Hull, who started the firm and runs it alongside Koshiol-Wright. The longtime security professionals saw a need for community-focused safety led by a diverse staff not often seen in the security industry.
"I really felt that a lot of the security that we see in the bars and venues, they're more bouncers, they're not what I would consider security," Hull said. "They don't make you feel comfortable, they don't welcome you in. They're not being proactive, they only react if they see something happening."
Sequeerity trains its staff to interact with crowds and proactively de-escalate tension through verbal communication and body language without using physical force. If you only react to something once you see it, its already too late, Hull said.
The security workers carry only flashlights at events, knowing that just the presence of a holstered gun can escalate tension. They teach permit-to-carry courses aimed at women and queer people in winter months.
Though large events typically require a police presence, some people and businesses feel uncomfortable having off-duty police officers working in a venue, Hull said. When Sequeerity staff are at an event, they are focused on setting a positive tone.
They talk to people while keeping their head on a swivel, joking that they sometimes act a bit like therapists. Even at tense political protests at the Minnesota State Capitol this spring, letting people be heard and reminding them of their humanity went a long way, Koshiol-Wright said.
"We understand what it's like to live a hard life and go through a tough time and not be treated like a person, and we also understand what it's like to go through all that and be treated like a person," she said.
They pass out snacks and treats when tempers get a little heated and accept hugs from people who were screaming at one another only moments earlier, she said.
They are proud to interact with police on behalf of people who aren't comfortable doing so. By now, officers are familiar with them and let them do their work.
"I think they appreciate the fact that we want to handle things and we want to get ahead of things," Koshiol-Wright said.
Demand for their services has exploded through word-of-mouth recommendations from clients, they said. The team of 30 has worked more than 100 local events in the last year. For large events, they train volunteers in de-escalation, too.
Kulture Klub Executive Director Siddeeqah Shabazz said the nonprofit continues to hire the firm because of the comfortable vibe they set by integrating themselves into a space.
"They are great at what they do; they are positive," Shabazz said. "Instead of just rushing to, OK, let's tackle this person, or let's meet this aggression with aggression, they really show alternative ways of de-escalating and handling a situation where everybody is safe."
Their presence helps debunk the security guard stereotype of a big, burly man in sunglasses that can leave some feeling unwelcome, Hull said. Often, women assume they aren't well-suited to the security field.
Sexual harassment experienced by female-presenting security staff can make it difficult to train and retain them. Sequeerity has a no-tolerance policy for harassment and often those who try working for them — some from the counseling or education fields versed in de-escalation — end up enjoying the job, Hull said.
"All you have to have is that really good eye contact — like, really? Give them the mom stare and most people will be like, 'I'm sorry' instantaneously," Hull said.
In some communities, it can be really helpful for people to see a reflection of themselves in event staff, Koshiol-Wright said.
"If somebody's experiencing something, they may have tried to get help from somebody who doesn't look like us in the past and didn't get that," Koshiol-Wright said. "We hope to change that narrative a little bit, and allow people to reintroduce themselves to the idea of security and us actually being helpful."