Queer-owned or friendly small businesses in Ottawa say they’ll continue to offer safe spaces for all despite protests over gender education in Ontario and pronoun use in other provinces.

And they say they want to offer role models, promote inclusivity and diversity through queer products and create opportunities for customers to educate themselves about the challenges faced by the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. 

“I think it’s important to have a diverse range of businesses, but also business owners,” says Stephen Crocker, co-owner of The Spaniel’s Tale bookstore, which opened in 2022 and curates books that represent the 2SLGBTQIA+ community of Ottawa. 

There are more than 100,000 queer-owned businesses in Canada, generating over $22 billion in economic activity and employing more than 435,000 Canadians, according to Canada’s 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC). Ottawa boasts several, though exact numbers were not available.

The 1 Million March 4 Children protests, and Saskatchewan’s pronoun policy which comes into effect later this year, have worried members of the Ottawa’s 2SLGBTQIA+ community, many of whom feel the need for more safe spaces. 

The Spaniel’s Tale Bookstore is a queer-owned bookstore that offers a variety of books to all members of the community. [Photo © Savannah Lawrence]

The Spaniel’s Tale bookstore is one such spot.

“We want to make sure it’s a safe space where people can read the books that they want,” says Crocker. “People are just looking for access to information and we just want to make sure that we are providing a space where people can do that comfortably.”

Crocker says the community’s reaction has been “overwhelmingly positive” and encouraging of acceptance and inclusion. 

As a queer business owner, Crocker hopes younger members of the community can see themselves owning a business, regardless of race or sexuality.

“We are really proud to serve this neighbourhood, and to be able to serve the community and to be a safe space where people can come to buy a book, or even just to come in and chat,” says Crocker.

Susie Pearson, owner of Hintonburg Kids, carries a variety of books and toys to support 2SLGBTQIA+ families and promote inclusivity.  [Photo © Savannah Lawrence]

Along with Crocker, Susie Pearson, owner of Hintonburg Kids, is happy to provide an inclusive space for 2SLGBTQIA+ families. Since the shop opened in 2002, Pearson says its retail habits have evolved with parenting trends. She says she is happy to cater her business practices and products to accommodate Ottawa’s queer community.

“I opened the business to supply new parents with products I found helpful, now I stock products that keep kids engaged,” says Pearson. 

Four per cent of Canada’s population, age 15 and older, identifies as 2SLGBTQIA+, according to a 2018 Statistics Canada survey.

Hoping to promote diversity, and provide insight on the challenges faced by the queer community, Hintonburg Kids has a 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive book selection. 

“It’s nice to see stores that cater to all members of the community,” says Pearson. “The quality of books is so much better than when my own children were young. It’s nice to stock books that reflect all types of families, and that educate people about gender and sexuality, and acceptance.”

While Pearson hopes queer businesses will continue to provide opportunities for people to educate themselves, she is concerned that recent anti-2SLGBTQIA+ education protests will breed hostility and misconceptions.

“There is a lot of misinformation spread by the anti-2SLGBTQIA+, so it’s more important than ever to ensure that our community has the resources to support its 2SLGBTQIA+ members, and that means helping ensure that everyone (children and adults) is well-educated, and that we strive to create a supportive, inclusive space,” says Pearson.

Little Jo Berry’s is a queer-owned shop that also works to create an inclusive space and provide support for all members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. [Photo © Savannah Lawrence]

Other queer-owned businesses, such as Little Jo Berry’s, have also expressed their concerns for the community as a result of the anti-2SLGBTQAI+ education protests and Saskatchewan’s new policies on gender-affirming pronouns.

“We are a group of people that are pretty classically targeted so there is always that worry,” says Raymond Gauthier, a sales associate at Little Jo Berry’s.

Members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are more likely to experience unwanted inappropriate conduct in public and online than non-sexual minorities in Canada, with 263 reported hate crimes targeting sexual orientation in 2019, a 41 per cent increase since 2009, according to Statistics Canada.

Though the vegan bakery has received positive reactions from the community, Gauthier is worried that protests will hinder the safety and support of queer folk, especially for the younger demographic.

“It’s the unfortunate thing that we are seeing more institutional places removing safety, which is obviously a problem,” says Gauthier. “It puts even more emphasis on having queer spaces outside of school.”

In addition to being queer-forward on social media, Little Jo Berry’s hosts the yearly Pride Night Market at Parkdale with about 50 vendors, prioritizing queer and transgender vendors, and inviting members of the community to seek support and inclusion. 

“There is always a very nice turnout. It’s a very good space and the energy is very nice. It’s pretty infectious as everyone is having a nice time, which is great,” says Gauthier.

Employees of Little Jo Berry’s like Raymond Gauthier work to create a safe space for all members of the community and satisfy cravings with a variety of vegan pastries. [Photo © Savannah Lawrence]

Many members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community depend on Ottawa’s queer businesses and pride events for support. For the younger generation of the community, they provide opportunities to meet others with similar experiences, and foster safety and understanding. 

“Being able to see and meet other queer people just living their lives really made a positive impact for me,” says Wyatt Owens, a local queer artist. 

For Owens, Venus Envy, a queer-owned adult shop and bookstore, has become a familiar safe space. Here, they were able to purchase their first gender-affirming binder, as well as pride pins and flags. 

Wyatt Owens, a local queer artist, says that queer businesses have acted as a safe space for them to seek support, as well as for other members of the community. [Photo courtesy Wyatt Owens]

Owens says that in-store access to gender affirming items and pride apparel provides a safe space for folks who may not be able to shop online, or have non-discreet packaging delivered to their family household.

Along with other members of the community, Owens hopes that more people will support queer businesses and safe spaces so both queer and non-queer people can learn, foster support and live authentically.

“For a lot of reasons, at 16, I didn’t see myself getting too far into adulthood, if at all. One of the first times I went to Venus Envy, the staff were so friendly and most, if not all of them, were queer,” says Owens. “I got to see people with similar identities and similar struggles as me thrive and move through life despite each and every kind of obstacle that comes our way.”

Learn about some of the queer-owned and queer friendly businesses in Ottawa. [Photo © Savannah Lawrence]