December might be billed as “the most wonderful time of the year,” but in 2020, Santa’s bringing a mixed bag of emotions down the chimney.
No one knows this better than LGBTQ Americans, who experienced significant setbacks since the pandemic began. Last spring, the HRC Foundation released data showing that LGBTQ people were more likely to experience a cut in work hours due to the pandemic and feel their finances are in worse shape compared to last year.
LGBTQ folx aren’t strangers to hard times — if anything, they’re masters at surviving bouts of poverty and disease. Still, with support from fellow community members, queer people can do better than mere survival.
According to a recent report by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the queer community accounts for $917 billion in annual spending power — which is enough money to make 12,226 remakes of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, in case you were wondering. But Unlike ABBA, who thinks “money must be funny in a rich man’s world,” the way LGBTQ folx decide to spend is no laughing matter.
This season, queer your holiday cheer by supporting LGBTQ-owned independent businesses. The gutsy entrepreneurs who run these mom & mom and pop & pop shops are an integral part of queer communities around the US. Buying gifts from their stores is like investing in a queer future, and after the year we’ve all had, there’s no better present than a rainbow-colored tomorrow.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some of the most fabulous retail stores for unique finds in the US.
1. For apparel, houseware, and apothecary — Otherwild, Los Angeles, CA
This queer-owned store in the Los Feliz section of LA is hipster bait for LGBTQ folx and feminists. Since opening in 2012, Otherwild has also become an event space and gathering place for multidisciplinary artists and queer people thanks to owner Rachel Berks.
Although the storefront is currently closed, you can still shop Berk’s assemblage of art, apparel, and home decor online. A couple of favorites include a steel-cut “female support system,” where a woman’s arms act as hooks for hanging jewelry, and Silvia Prada’s “Tom,” an art book that gives Tom of Finland’s rough-and-tumble sex symbols a feminine twist. Most people will recognize Berks’ much-beloved “The Future is Female” t-shirt, which caught the internet by storm in 2016. Her new designs are equally fashion-forward: A unisex cotton tee that says “gender is a drag” sells for $20 US, and a portion of the proceeds goes to The National Center for Transgender Equality.
2. For the perfect t-shirt — Homoco, Brooklyn, NY
This all-gender summerwear brand has enough versatile tops and power bottoms to turn your closet into a Tencel orgy. If you’re wondering what Tencel is, it’s a super-silky fiber made from the wood pulp of sustainably harvested trees. Homoco uses it to make their warm-weather shirts.
Homoco’s line of travel t-shirts — which flaunt queer destinations like Fire Island, upstate New York, and Palm Springs — are the perfect gifts for your favorite wanderlust fairy. They pair well with HOMOCO’s swim trunks, which feature eye-popping prints and are made from recycled plastic. A portion of the sales goes to ocean conservation and queer rights advocacy groups.
3. For adult toys — Feelmore Adult Gallery, Oakland, CA
If you’re still looking for love in the time of quarantine, it’s time to find the intimate adult toy to get you through the lonely winter ahead. Nenna Joiner (they/them), the face of Oakland’s only Black-owned sex shop, has been busy providing folx a safe place to pick out their ideal silicone device since the pandemic began. But Joiner is much more than a sex-toy seller — they’re an advocate for destigmatizing sex work and helping fellow queer folx find pleasure. The best part? If you live in the Bay Area, you can get your purchases delivered to your door via Postmates, which means it’s possible for locals to get their XXX-mas presents under the tree before Christmas.
4. For vintage homeware and collectibles — BLK MKT Vintage, Brooklyn, NY
Jannah Handy and Kiyanna Stewart are the lesbian couple behind this Brooklyn vintage shop celebrating Black history. Their curiosities range from furniture and home decor to vintage prints and vinyl. Finds like this afro pick from the 1970s or this South American textile embroidered with animals are unique items that you’ll unlikely locate elsewhere. While visiting the Bed-Stuy store is a worthy experience, you can also shop their collection online. Either way, if 2020 taught LGBTQ America anything, it was the importance of supporting queer spaces that center Black lives and honor Black culture. It’s time to put your money where your black square on Instagram is.
5. For last-minute stocking stuffers — Show and Tell, Oakland, CA
Look no further for great stocking stuffers that cover 2021’s must-haves. With a Bauhaus-inspired soap set, tye-dye socks, holiday-themed face masks, and this Boifriend candle, you’ll be ready to weather whatever storm comes your way next year. Founded in 2011 by Alyah Baker to celebrate the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities, Show and Tell is an Oakland-based retailer that sells a selection of sustainable, ethically made goods at reasonable prices.
6. For hip threads — DfrntPigeon, Portland, OR
This Portland-based brand isn’t all about clothes — they’re all about community; the hip threads are a happy byproduct. The business, run by New Avenues for Youth, helps at-risk young folx develop their creative skills by paying them to design and manage DfrntPigeon with mentorship from creative professionals.
DfrtPigeon’s message of radical inclusivity is evident in its everyBODY tee, which celebrates all sexualities, genders, abilities, and ages. Queer folx will get a kick out of their homage to the mythic first brick thrown at Stonewall, included in the store’s extensive Pride-themed collection.
7. For gender-neutral clothes — The Phluid Project, New York, NY
When the Phluid Project opened a Soho shop in 2018, it became Manhattan’s first gender-neutral retailer. The clothes were divided by “tops” and “bottoms” instead of “men” and
“women” to ensure everyone knew the unisex styles were for everybody with every body. But the storefront became too expensive for founder Rob Garrett Smith to maintain, and it moved to an online-only shopping experience in late 2019.
Luckily, this was just the beginning for Smith’s store. The Phluid Project is now expanding its line of beauty products in addition to clothing and offers everything from a comfy “Be Kind hoodie” and multi-color knit harness to a glittery lip gloss called Unicorn Snot. Even as a virtual store, this is a necessary addition to the fashion market. The Phluid Project is a space where trans, nonbinary, and queer individuals can shop for products that give them a chance to feel comfortable in their skin.
8. For comics and collectables — Zeus Comics, Dallas, TX
Fans of Batwoman, Hulkling, Loki, and Northstar should head to Zeus Comics — a specialty shop in Dallas with a sizable LGBTQ following. The queer-friendly staff regularly hosts experiences that amplify the voices of marginalized communities in the comic book ecosystem, including women and LGBTQ folx. Although these indoor gatherings are on hiatus due to COVID-19, you can support the business by shopping online. If you’re unwilling to wait for the next LGBTQ mixer or book club, check out Zeus’s original web series, The Variants, to get a feel for owner Richard Neal and the community he created.
9. For books — Outwords Books, Gifts, and Coffee, Milwaukee, WI
There are only a handful of LGBTQ-specific bookstores left in the US, and this Milwaukee literary lab is one of the lucky few. Outwords carries the type of books and gifts you’ll be hard-pressed to find in Barnes & Noble. Calendars featuring the Bel Ami boys aren’t regularly lining the shelves next to this year’s steamiest queer romance novels in a corporate book emporium. If you’re less a novel Nancy and more a podcast queen, you can still support the shop: The space boasts a cozy coffee bar with baked goods where patrons can sip lattes and listen to whatever their heart desires.
10. For more books and online events — The Bureau of General Services, Queer Division, New York, NY
Although gay bars abound in New York City, there’s only one queer bookstore, and its site at the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village is temporarily closed due to the pandemic. The Bureau is an all-volunteer project that relies on sales and donations to cover the cost of business, and this year, they could use extra help from the community at large. You can either donate to the organization, order books online, or attend their TELL events on Zoom, which highlight the voices of LGBTQ storytellers every month.
Much like a gay bar, the Bureau provides a safe space to connect — only here, connection doesn’t end with a hangover. According to its website, the Bureau aims to “excite and educate a self-confident, sex-positive, and supportive queer community by offering books, publications, and art and by hosting readings, performances, film screenings, book discussion groups, and workshops.”
11. Support small-scale shops and artists on Etsy
Get witchy with this queer tarot deck by jcaress Studio, redecorate your wall space with Pittsburgh-based designer Mundania Horvath’s retro rainbow prints, or gift someone Felix d’Eon’s erotic LGBTQ Loteria cards. You can get a reasonably priced bespoke suit from Jean Pierre Nugloze’s N’Kossi Boutique or 3D printed earrings designed by Xiomara Lorenzo, too. The list goes on for pages — search “queer artists” on Etsy and you can go down a queer k-hole of your own.