Meet Queer Fort Wayne: An organization celebrating and uniting local LGBTQ+ businesses

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month in the U.S.—a time to celebrate people who identify as queer and bring together the community. Queer Fort Wayne, an organization run by Casey Stanley and Lagoon Myers, is working to do just that.  
 
Queer Fort Wayne's Instagram account (@queerfortwayne) entered the hands of Myers and Stanley in May. Since then, they’ve been using it as a space to acknowledge and celebrate LGBTQ+ owned and inclusive businesses in the Fort Wayne area. 
 
“There are so many talented individuals in this area,” says Myers. “The idea is to bring them together, so that we all feel less alone.” 

Queer Fort Wayne aims to highlight “safe” spaces in Fort Wayne and surrounding areas.
 
Queer Fort Wayne aims to uplift “safe” spaces in Fort Wayne and surrounding areas. Among the “highlight” reels on its Instagram profile, it has a list of the safe businesses that have been shared with them by followers. It also regularly updates its Instagram stories with upcoming Pride-related events in the Fort Wayne area. The city’s own Pride Fest will be held July 22-23 at Headwaters Park. 
 
One of the first business owners to be featured by Queer Fort Wayne was Olive the Hairapist. Olive Huffman is a nonbinary hairstylist who is dedicated to making their salon an inclusive space for all and taking gender out of hair. 
 
“A haircut can be such a powerful moment, especially for queer people, but it can also be stressful and intimidating,” says Huffman. “I aim to exist as a safe space, so people of all genders and sexualities can come to me and relax and be validated.” 

Olive Huffman is a nonbinary hairstylist who is dedicated to making their salon an inclusive space for all and taking gender out of hair. 
 
Huffman incorporates inclusivity in their work, not only by existing as a proud queer stylist, but also by pricing haircuts based on length, rather than gender and by affirming clients' gender identities and pronouns. They work out of an independent studio to allow for more privacy and less overwhelming stimuli, too.

Olive Huffman works out of an independent studio to allow for more privacy and less overwhelming stimuli, too.
 
Huffman aims for inclusivity beyond the LGBTQ+ community, as well. They have a salon chair that can accommodate a variety of body sizes and can support a much higher weight limit than the standard chair. They’ve learned to work on a variety of hair types and textures, and they offer fidget toys or silent appointments for individuals who may be easily overwhelmed during an appointment.  
 
“Being inclusive is about more than just including one group,” says Huffman. “We are all trying our best to exist happily. I don’t want to add any stress or fear to someone’s experience, so I try my best to include everyone, which should be the standard.” 

Huffman incorporates inclusivity in their work, not only by existing as a proud queer stylist, but also by pricing haircuts based on length, rather than gender and by affirming clients' gender identities and pronouns.
 
The Sassy Vegan, a vegan and gluten-sensitive bakery also featured on Queer Fort Wayne, preaches inclusivity as well in their industry.  
 
“I’m already vegan, extending that in my baking to include being gluten-friendly, so more people can enjoy my food was an easy decision,” says owner Rachel Smith. “I think the same thing applies to me being pansexual, so I obviously want to welcome people of all genders and sexualities, as well.” 

Rachel Smith, right, owns the Sassy Vegan.
 
Smith grew up in a community where being anything other than straight wasn’t an option. As a result, she is dedicated to ensuring her business is a safe space for all. 
 
“LGBT youth see my booth at the market with pride flags and stickers and know it’s a place they can be themselves,” she says. “Any negative reactions I may receive for being so open are worth it to keep being a place where anyone can feel safe.” 

Stickers by the Sassy Vegan, a vegan and gluten-sensitive bakery.
 
Beyond identifying safe spaces, like Huffman’s salon and Smith’s bakery, Queer Fort Wayne wants to begin hosting a larger event in Fort Wayne to connect members of the LGBTQ+ community called QUEEIRD. 
 
QUEEIRD is an art market “that welcomes all the weird queers of Fort Wayne, comprised entirely of LGBTQ+ vendors and entertainment.” From live musicians to indoor and outdoor booths run by some of the same local businesses mentioned on their reel, QUEEIRD is designed by LGBTQ+ people to support other LGBTQ+ and to create a place to be free and happy. 
 
“There needs to be more low-pressure places for queer people of all ages to be free,” says Myers. “Gay bars exist, but we need more. Hopefully, QUEEIRD is the beginning of something like that.” 

Pride cupcakes by the Sassy Vegan, a vegan and gluten-sensitive bakery.
 
The upcoming QUEEIRD market is designed to be the first of many. It’s scheduled to occur the day after Fort Wayne Pride, July 24th from 2-7 p.m. at Wunderkammer Company, a contemporary art center in Fort Wayne. 
 
“All said and done, Queer Fort Wayne is a reminder that queer people have always existed and will always exist,” says Myers. “We just want to promote places where we can exist and experience queer joy.”