How Austin is advocating for LGBTQ+ rights through support of Queer businesses


Kennady Basdekis-Morin

Customer Noah gets a stylish fade from The Barbashop founder and owner Ru. Customers who support and visit The Barbashop are greeted with cold beer and conversation during a trim.

Local queer businesses in Austin 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, which revised the 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 transgender women of color, non-binary individuals and many others within the community. According to a 2019 Human Rights Campaign analysis on fatal violence, over 91% of transgender and gender non-conforming murders were Black women, another 81% were under the age of 30 and over 68% lived within the South.

The community that has faced the Stonewall Riots, AIDS Marches and now, a global pandemic, faces another hardship of finding inclusivity in a public and professional setting. Refusing to be shut back into the closet, the LBGTQ+ community is 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 also providing a space for local Austinites to share and promote their queer-friendly businesses, employment opportunities and events. In a recent interview, Olszewski 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 Marketplace on Facebook where people within the LGBTQ community could share resources,” Olszewski 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.”

Olszewski also runs Ask Molly, a queer blog 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 said. “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/they, has been a professional barber in the Austin area for several years. Currently working out of The Barbashop, Ru provides a trans and non-binary inclusive space where people can enjoy a trim and a nice, cold beer. In a recent interview, Ru discussed the importance of queer spaces and how they advocate for the community’s rights and protection.

“My business provides high-quality haircuts tailored to each person’s style, texture and expression,” Ru said. “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’s small business offers an all-gender inclusive safe space for customers and hairdressers. The Barbashop can be found off Springdale Rd.


According to Ru, the reason Austin must have more queer-inclusive spaces has little to do with claiming territory but more 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.

Tucked away on 828 Airport Blvd., shoppers can find The Little Gay Shop. The shop sells art solely designed by those in the LGBTQ+ community.

“With the statistics on violence against Black transgender bodies, fighting to keep queer spaces open and running can save many lives,” Ru said.

Some limitations that hinder the opening of inclusive spaces include lack of federal and state LGBTQ+ protections, but they mostly revolve around the lack of queer-inclusive language and a societal factor known as toxic masculinity. Though these restrictions may seem insignificant, opening communities toward inclusive language has led to successful progressive movements such as the Greensboro sit-ins and the March on Washington.

A couple from New York decided to open The Little Gay Shop in 2019, 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 South.

Founders and owners Justin Galicz and Kirt Reynolds stand before their business with pride and spirit. The Little Gay Shop can be found on Airport Blvd.

“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,” Galicz said.  “Things we found so commonplace to us up there, we could not find for like hundreds of miles. Not that 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. Customers can find books on people like Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, two trans women of color who ignited the fight toward civil equality in the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Through the pandemic, Galicz and Reynolds have been providing their platform to local queer artists whose primary income has disappeared due to COVID-19.

“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,” Galicz said. 

In providing queer-inclusive spaces and businesses like Molly Tommy, The Barbashop 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 each and every individual is seen and recognized regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Everyone gains when supporting 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 with, educating and advocating the Austin LGBTQ+ community.