Charlotte, North Carolina has been something of an unlikely epicenter in the battle for LGBTQ rights for the past several years, beginning with the city’s successful passage of a non-discrimination ordinance protecting the community in early 2016, which sparked a battle with the state. The resulting law, HB2, brought national attention and boycotts, and a replacement bill that kept most of the anti-LGBTQ discrimination in place.
Now the city is preparing to have another spotlight shone upon it, as it, and it alone, has agreed to host the 2020 Republican National Convention. The controversial move has not been well received by much of the queer community, as well as other marginalized groups, and to make matters worse is taking place in a city that, despite nearing one million residents, is without many communal safe spaces.
The city hasn’t had a dedicated LGBTQ community center since 2014, for instance. So, in flew Comic Girl Coffee to save the day.
The coffee and comic book shop just celebrated its one year anniversary, having launched in September 2017 as a co-op, and has now moved into a non-profit model to help better achieve its goals.
Founder Lara Americo (above, at right, with Skyler Celeste and Allie Chudoba) told New Now Next the co-op model was difficult to maintain and that this new configuration allows them to “focus on grants and donations and creating a safe space instead of trying to attract customers that might not provide a safe space for people.”
That same ethos is evident in their “pay what you want” section, full of donated books, as well as their “pay it forward board,” providing people the opportunity to purchase magnets that can then be used by others with fewer resources to buy items in the store.
“The idea is that someone who has very little money can have the same experience as someone with a lot of money,” Americo said.
A resistance to the centering of profits over people that so often occurs in capitalist society was at the heart of her decision to open the shop.
“In most cities, there’s an issue where safe spaces and community spaces are disappearing or having to move outside of cities because of gentrification, and the only spaces that can afford to have significant real estate are corporations who can afford very expensive rent. And these places usually don’t care about marginalized people or how safe their space is, they only care about profit and making the bottom line,” she noted.
“That was no different in Charlotte, where places that used to be safe spaces, or places that would encourage community building or DIY, they were starting to go out of business, or get bulldozed, or just disappeared entirely. So, it felt like it was important in this city to have a space where people can organize, build communities, and do things that don’t really encourage profits; But they encourage positive outcomes for people who don’t usually have the resources or the space.”
So Comic Girl Coffee was born to provide a place for the queer community, and others who wish to be in an inclusive, welcoming space where voices that have historically been kept outside the mainstream are centered, as evident by the shop’s book offerings.
“We only buy books that feature stories that center marginalized people. So we only have books with people of color, femme-identifying people, disabled people, to counter the typical narrative, or the typical majority of inventory in the typical comic book shop, which is usually a cis male, hetero, white superhero. We tried to counter that in our own small way.”
Comic Girl Coffee also hosts regular events, such as fundraisers for natural disaster relief, game nights, dom-sub support groups, and shows features musicians and performances artists.
With the RNC coming to town, the need for a space like Comic Girl Coffee is even more evident.
“I think that the RNC attracts people who don’t really support our values, that don’t support amplifying the voices of marginalized communities. And I feel like phrases like ’Make America Great Again’ really mean enforcing white supremacy and pushing marginalized people even lower, and we want to counteract that in our own tiny way,” Americo said.
“We always keep this a safe space, but I feel like in that situation we need to work even harder to protect our communities, so we want to make this an RNC-free zone. And I think other shops and businesses should do the same, to encourage having a safe space for the community, instead of supporting profits.”
Whether others will answer that call remains to be seen, but Charlotteans can take comfort in knowing there will be at least one place they can go to feel empowered and seen.