A Look into How Austin is Advocating for LGBTQ Rights Through the Support of Queer Businesses
Local queer businesses in Austin, Texas, are shining a light of hope upon the LGBTQ community by using their platforms to advocate for Human Rights and gender equality. Despite the most recent Supreme Court victory, revising Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to enact federal protections for the LGBTQ community, there still have been acts of violence and discriminatory behavior against Trans women of color, non-binary individuals, and many others within the community. According to a recent Human Rights Campaign analysis titled, Fatal Violence Report 2019, over 91% of trans and gender non-conforming murders were Black Women, another 81% were under thirty, and over 68% lived within the South.
A community that has faced the Stone Wall Riots, Aid Marches, and now, a Global Pandemic faces another hardship when it comes to inclusivity in a public and professional setting. Refusing to be shut back into the closet, they are finding alternative ways to support their cause.
Patricia Olszewski, a social media marketer for queer networking website Molly Tommy, uses her platform to advocate for LGBTQ rights while providing a space for local Austinites to share and promote their queer-friendly businesses, employment opportunities, and events. On our zoom call, she spoke about the vision behind Molly Tommy and why it was essential to have a queer-friendly space that promotes relationship building, self-expression, and unity within an online forum,
“Our website is for people to interact with one another openly, kind of like Market Place on Facebook where people within the LGBTQ community could share resources,” Patricia said, “we want people to know that they have a place that they can come to, one where they can openly communicate and ask questions without fear of being judged.”
Patricia then talked about Ask Molly, a queer blog she is currently working on for people new to the community or those genuinely inquiring about language and culture associated with the LGBTQ community within a safe and accepting online space.
“Another big thing within our community is that many people do not have other (like-minded) people who talk about these things,” she explained, “There were all kinds of terminology and language that I just would not have known if it was not for meeting other people in the community, this is like a full circle kind-of-thing.”
Ru, whose preferred pronouns are He, has been a professional barber in the Austin area for a few years now. Currently working out of The Barbashop, Ru provides a trans and non-binary inclusive space where people can enjoy getting a trim and a nice-cold beer.
“My business provides high-quality haircuts tailored to each person’s style, texture, and expression,” Ru described as we discussed the importance of queer spaces and how they advocate for the communities rights and protections, “my brand QueerFriendlyBarber makes it known to anyone sitting in my chair, or entering the shop, that this is an all-gender inclusive space.”
Ru then went on to say that the reason Austin must have more queer-inclusive spaces has little to do with claiming territory but more to do with the importance of supporting local businesses that share values of acceptance and provide safe spaces for everyone in and outside of the LGBTQ community.
“With the statistics on violence on Black Trans bodies, fighting to keep queer spaces open, and running, can save many lives.”
Some limitations that hinder the opening of inclusive spaces include the lack of federal and state LGBTQ protections, but mostly revolve around the lack of queer-inclusive language and a societal factor known as “toxic masculinity.” Though these restrictions may seem insignificant, opening our communities toward inclusive language has led to successful progressive movements like the Greensboro sit-ins and the March on Washington.
A couple from New York, surprised by the lack of queer representation and language in Austin, decided to open The Little Gay Shop, a glamorous store for all Austin’s queer and quirky needs. Filled to the brim with collectible queer art, educational LGBTQ books, and so much more, Justin Galicz and Kirt Reynolds are waving the rainbow flag high within the liberal South.
“We moved to Austin from New York about two and a half years ago, and when we moved here, we were so surprised by the lack of queer representation in business, media, books, and magazines.” Justin, co-owner of Little Gay Shop, clarified as he spoke on the shop’s origins. “Things we found so commonplace to us up there, we could not find for like hundreds of miles, like not that was a unique problem to Austin, but it was unique to Texas and the South, so we wanted to change that.”.
Sharing pride and representation in the Lone Star state, the quaint shelves of The Little Gay Shop hang colorful stickers, mementos, and history books of legendary LGBTQ heroes like Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, two Trans women of color that ignited the fight toward civil equality in the 1969 Stone Wall Riots. Through the pandemic, Justin and Kirt have been providing their platform to local queer artists whose primary income has disappeared due to COVID.
“We were excited to be able to support them by creating a diverse space that no matter who comes in they can see themselves reflected in something somehow, so we make sure that we carry artists who identify under the different sexual orientations, who are trans, non-binary, black, brown, or indigenous; because, there is so much more to the gay experience than the white-cis, gay male narrative.”
In providing queer-inclusive spaces and businesses like Molly Tommy, The Barbershop, and The Little Gay Shop, Austin’s Queer community can unify, acquire, and flourish without fear of persecution or violence. It strengthens all communities when every individual is seen and recognized regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. We all gain when we support local businesses because communities are stitched from many different fabrics, colors, and experiences. A notion that these business owners wish to expand in the hopes of connecting, educating, and advocating the Austin LGBTQ community.
Reflection & Sourcing: I chose to write this story because it is important that ALL individuals have the right to representation & equality. I wanted to provide Austin with a few local queer businesses to check out and support because there are many creative ways to advocate within people’s neighborhoods and lift-up communities in addition to protesting. As a queer woman and ally, it is my responsibility to lift the voices of my community so that we all gain the benefit of basic human rights, as we rebuild our humanity for a better tomorrow.
The Little Gay Shop – https://thelittlegayshop.com/
The Barbashop – http://thebarba.shop
MollyTommy – http://mollytommy.com/me/
“Fatal Violence against Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People Reports Archive.” HRC, www.hrc.org/resources/fatal-violence-against-transgender-and-gender-non-conforming-people-reports-archive.