We know “why” sober LGBTQ+ spaces are needed. How do we create them?

Nine ways we cultivate a safe queer space

By Cheri Ellefson and Morgan Roddy, owners of Queer Chocolatier

Morgan and I had no intention of opening a chocolate shop – at first. We wanted to start small: a food truck maybe, or an online store to sell Morgan’s high-end chocolate truffles after 10 years of recipe tinkering and testing. I was entrepreneurially driven; she inspired to be a maker and chocolatier full time. We found a perfect spot for a small chocolate shop near the local university and decided to jump in. Read more about our beginning story.

“LGBTQ+ cafes have also long been a large part of our history, of course, but they’ve also often been harder to sustain than nightlife venues, especially considering how much alcohol brands spend on courting the valuable pink dollar.”

https://www.them.us/story/sober-queer-spaces

Prior to our shop opening, locally, Mark III Taproom was the only place that offered a space for the LGBTQ+ community. As Indiana’s oldest gay bar, they work hard to foster an atmosphere of acceptance. But the age restriction (21+) keeps younger queer and trans folx from interacting with elders in our community. LGBTQ+ individuals are also more likely to deal with substance abuse than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

We wanted to build a shop that was highly visible, community-driven, intentionally sober, inclusive, educationally-focused, and in solidarity with marginalized folks. Read the nine ways that we cultivate and work hard to maintain – a safe+sober queer space.

Family Wall

Our ‘Family Wall’ in the Chocolate House is slowly becoming covered with a curated collection of framed photos of queer and/or trans folx, both locally and historically. Being able to connect visually with other queer and trans individuals, couples or throuples, siblings, parents/offspring builds solidarity and provides a sense of comfort especially as the photos cut across the decades. Even for those who are not yet up on the wall themselves, simply seeing this collection reduces isolation. Considering how our community often has struggles or conflicts with family members they are related to by blood only reinforces the need for people to have a strong support network, or what can be called a chosen family.

Intentionally Sober Nights
“Gayyyme Nights” that are intentionally sober and attended by people of all ages, including those who are either underage and/or purposefully avoiding alcohol. Hearing them express a deep appreciation for events that are not centering alcohol is indicative of the need for such environments within our community.

Nametags

A barista friend shared how they were constantly misgendered by customers. We wanted to avoid misgendering as well as engage in conversation about pronouns. We approached a local, small company to create our name badges. Our nametags include the names our employees wish to be addressed by as well as their pronouns and get noticed every day by customers who are impressed that this small gesture is a part of our business.

Fundraising for GC surgery, community causes
We uplift our community through our Gender Affirming Clothing Takeaway as a part of the East Central Indiana (ECI) Trans Alliance and have informally connected individuals for short-term housing. Various individuals and organizations fundraise throughout the year and we do our best as a business to partner, contribute, or signal boost these requests. To date, we have held events to contribute percentage of proceeds to Planned Parenthood, gender confirmation surgeries (GCS) for individuals in the community, and student conference fees coverage. 

Pay employees above minimum wage
We pay employees above minimum wage while also giving them the full amount of tips earned. We communicate regularly and often and allow for employees to take mental health days without punishment. In turn, our employees give us their very best and they are some of our biggest supporters in terms of word of mouth promotion. 

Allow employees ownership of skill sets to utilize and showcase
We have artists who illustrate and take photographs. We have LGBTQ+ advocates who moderate panel discussions. We have social media influencers who weave our story in with their own. We have education majors who develop events that have a “curriculum” and writers and editors bring some of their projects to display on our bookshelves. We craft job experiences for them that allow for their resume to be filled with meaningful opportunities to grow in the field they are aiming to join upon graduation. Most recently, our employee Sydney Teare created the featured illustration for my upcoming podcast creation, 1985 The Podcast.

Education – building a queer library
An important part of creating a safe space is including resources to allow for a person to grow and learn. We have an extensive, evolving, and growing library of queer and gender literature that allows for an exploration for anyone who has questions or interest in these subjects. For folx who are discovering more about what pronouns fit them to parents who are learning how to engage a child who has come out and to those who are already out but want to connect to more of our history or past research, we have a range of books that can address those topics. 

Education – tastings for entire community
Making high-quality food accessible to all is a goal we have had from the start of our business. One part of this is through our guided chocolate tasting events that we have been hosting for two years on a monthly basis. We invite people to attend and taste chocolate while using note cards to jot down their perceptions and engage one another in a light-hearted but genuine way. 

Solidarity with vegans
Everyday we have someone come into the shop to ask us which of the chocolate offerings is vegan. Surprise! They all are! After a friend asked me to try to make a dairy-free truffle that she could enjoy, I redesigned all of my truffle recipes to be vegan in order for her and others to enjoy each of my flavors rather than a subset of offerings. As a result, we are able to delight vegans with our delicious truffles and have had generous reviews by those who attended Indy VegFest or have ordered from us online. 

Morgan Roddy is the Chocolatier and Head Queer at Queer Chocolatier.

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