In Colorado, businesses cannot legally discriminate on the grounds of someone’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity — nevertheless, discrimination against LGBTQ+ …
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In Colorado, businesses cannot legally discriminate on the grounds of someone’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity — nevertheless, discrimination against LGBTQ+ people still occurs.
While many large corporations launch social media campaigns that aim to signal their LGBTQ+ allyship during June for Pride Month, the backlash those programs often receive can have the opposite effect.
For this story, Colorado Community Media asked LGBTQ+ people what their favorite queer-inclusive small businesses were, and we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of suggestions.
We weren’t able to feature all of the suggested businesses, but we spoke with some unique LGBTQ+-friendly shopkeepers to see what local small business are doing to create a welcoming environment for queer people. In addition to the measures mentioned in this story, all of the businesses featured have gender-neutral restrooms.
The storefront of Above Ground's LoDo salon.
Above Ground Hair Salon — Denver (Five Points, LoDo)
What they do: Owner Ashe Bowen was inspired to create Above Ground to provide a safe space for queer people to get their hair cut. With two locations in Five Points and LoDo, Above Ground specializes in affirming haircuts for folks of all expressions.
“I think self-expression is difficult in mainstream society,” Bowen said. “It creates space for the freedom to explore freedom of personal expression.”
What makes them queer-friendly? “We have a lot of layers of armor,” Bowen said. “The Pride Flag has come to mean if you’re not OK with that flag, don’t come in. To me, it’s an armor of protection. We have safe space guidelines posted in the salon. We’re all eyes and ears. We’re all part of the community — not all identify as queer, but all are allies and adjacent to the community.”
Address: Five Points location, 2737 Welton St., Denver, CO 80205; and LoDo location, 1740 Blake St., Denver, CO 80202
Hours: Both locations, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday
The interior of Bardo Coffee House's South Broadway location.
The Bardo Coffee House — Wheat Ridge, Denver (South Broadway)
What they do: The Bardo Coffee House is “Denver’s Late Night Coffee House,” with locations on South Broadway and in Wheat Ridge, with a new Lakewood location at Hampden Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard coming this summer.
“We just like to be a comfortable place for people to come and do their thing,” owner Chris Graves said.
What makes them queer-friendly?: “We treat people like people, and if we have people who don’t do that, they don’t work for us for long,” Graves said. “We like to deal with fully-formed human beings who are compassionate and understanding and friendly. If people are mean, you don’t want them around. It’s kind of that simple. Most people are pretty nice.”
Address: Denver location, 238 S. Broadway, Denver, CO 80209; Wheat Ridge location, 6150 West 38th Ave., Wheat Ridge, CO 80033; and Lakewood location (coming soon), 3333 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Lakewood, CO 80227
Hours: Both locations, 6 a.m to 12 a.m. Monday through Sunday.
The Disruptive Ink team at their Lakewood studio.
Disruptive Ink Tattoo Studios — Lakewood
What they do: Disruptive Ink is a female LGBTQ-owned tattoo studio in Lakewood. Founder and owner Sandra Lin said she was inspired to start Disruptive Ink in part because of her own experiences as a queer woman at tattoo shops.
“I think just having my own experience in the industry as an artist and client, this doesn’t go for all tattoo shops, but I do think it’s the norm; you don’t have that welcoming feeling,” Lin said. “As a female sometimes, especially as a member of the queer community, there’s the feeling that you’re going to be judged and not have a great experience.
“My fiance and I wanted to have a place that’s inclusive and safe for everybody,” Lin continued.
What makes them queer-friendly? “There’s no judgments that happen in the shop,” Lin said. “It’s a very comfortable vibe. We ask everybody that comes in for their pronouns. We notice that even that little thing, you can feel the weight lift off that client’s shoulders, because they know it’s a safe space.”
Address: 7625 W. Hampden Ave., Lakewood, CO 80227
Hours: 12 to 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Electric Cherry owner Ally Skiba in her shop.
Electric Cherry Shop + Studios — Arvada
What they do: Electric Cherry is a vinyl records and art shop in Olde Town Arvada founded in 2020 by Ally Skiba.
“Most of our patrons are anywhere between 11 and 30 years old, so we try to recognize that a lot of who frequents the shop are kids,” Skiba said. “We want to take care of the Denver kids and let them know they are seen, accepted, celebrated and welcome no matter who or what they look like. They are loved for simply being themselves.”
What makes them queer-friendly? “We ensure that all people feel welcome by breaking down what Electric Cherry stands for day by day with in-person interactions inside the shop,” Skiba said.
“It’s crucial for the future of the human race to embrace each other and celebrate one another for embracing their own unique individuality,” Skiba continued. “By doing so we unify each other, which goes hand in hand with art and music, the universal force behind our brick and mortar and civilization as a whole.”
Address: 5777 Olde Wadsworth Blvd. R200, Arvada, CO 80002
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed on Mondays
A workout group poses for a photo at Metamorphosis Fitness.
Metamorphosis Fitness — Denver (University Hills)
What they do: Metamorphosis Fitness is Denver’s first queer-owned functional fitness gym. Founded in 2017 by Styler Ellis, Metamorphosis aims to break from traditional gym culture and promote a more inclusive exercise space.
“I think a lot of it stemmed from my own experiences in the gym and other friends in the community,” Ellis said. “There’s a lot of things people don’t think about for queer people when it comes to fitness, especially for people who are gender nonconforming. It’s important to me to have a place where they could walk in and not be judged for how they presented, how they move.”
What makes them queer-friendly? “The queer community has a high rate of body dysphoria,” Ellis said. “It’s important to have a space with no mirrors, no feedback except for positive. You can walk in and see people of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels. We’ve rejected the whole ‘muscle body bro gym’ feel and opted into a more open minded and supportive environment.”
Ellis added that in 2020, the Metamorphosis staff completed a comprehensive appraisal of its practices to ensure the gym is providing the safest environment possible. This included emphasizing gender-neutral language at the gym, rejecting gendered ideas about fitness and instituting a pronoun practice before programs.
Address: 2890 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver CO 80222
Hours: 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday; and 8:30 to 11 a.m. Sunday
Thrive Ballet's team at a recent Pride-themed performance.
Thrive Ballet — Denver
What they do: Thrive Ballet strives to make ballet more inclusive by deconstructing the form’s traditionally limiting ideas on gender and body type, according to Thrive’s founder and Artistic Director Jill Oliver, who added that while the studio is not primarily LGBTQ+ in its focus, it’s a safe and open space for everyone.
“We’re taking a more holistic approach to people,” Oliver said. “We have a focus on ballet being for anyone and everyone, regardless of your body. It doesn’t matter what your orientation is, how you identify, your skin color. Ballet is traditionally not a very inclusive space. Traditional ballet is extremely gendered, which we don’t adhere to.”
What makes them queer-friendly? “On a more formal level, we have gender-neutral bathrooms, gender-neutral dressing rooms,” Oliver said. “In terms of taking a holistic approach, you’re a whole person, you’re not just a body taking ballet. We take into account mental health, if someone’s having a rough day.
“We’re a safe space, we have a wide range of people that take our classes because they feel safe,” Oliver continued.
Address: 120 Bryant St., Denver, CO 80219
Hours: See website for class availability
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