On Feb. 10 and 11, 44 Gaukel was home to the inaugural Valentine’s Gay Market, created by vendors Charlie O’Rourke from Midnight Earth Collective, and Habbi Midnight from “Midnight Raven Studios.” The two-day indoor market featured a variety of vendors selling everything from clothing to jewelry to even handmade bongs made from converted glassware.
The event also boasted live music, a tarot card reader and a stick and poke tattoo artist who was kept busy with a full schedule. On both days, the market was packed with folks who came out to support the queer vendors and community. The amount of support was almost overwhelming, at times the venue was so packed that it was hard to maneuver, and you’d often end up stuck until the person in front of you moved ahead.
“It’s beautiful to just be able to share in a collective space. There’s nothing like being a queer human being in solidarity with people. That was what I was most excited about because I feel like the queer community in KW is like a little bit lacking and it’s like a little bit closeted. I feel like being out and here is something that we really need,” Dayna MacDonald, owner of Daydream Clay Co., said.
Waterloo’s first gay bar, the Order, closed in 2017 and Kitchener’s Club Renaissance, which was a staple in the community, closed in 2013. Since then, queer-only spaces have been severely lacking within the region. This a gap that market co-coordinators O’Rourke and Midnight hope to fill.
“[We want] to have spaces for queer folks to come and meet people, that isn’t just drinking, even though we don’t we don’t even have a gay bar in town. We want to make a safe space where people can meet friends and know that there is a community out there for them and that they can be included as well,” Midnight said.
Midnight also recounted some of their uncomfortable experiences at previous markets that have not been safe spaces for queer vendors.
“Having a queer space means there are people that you automatically have things in common with, who already accept you for who you are, and won’t be judging you constantly. It just takes the pressure off. It’s so much less mental effort,” Midnight said.
Many folks attending said the market was a great opportunity to meet and form community with other queer folks and feel safe while being themselves.
“Just not having to come out is like a big deal. As queer people we are constantly having to come out and just being in a space where we don’t have to do that feels like a much safer space, where I just feel welcomed, I feel represented, I feel like I can truly be myself without having to worry about it,” Mackenzie Belfour, owner of Mack Made, said.
The effort that Midnight and O’Rourke has not gone unnoticed and unappreciated. Attendees said they enjoyed the market as it was a truly safe space for queer folks and they knew queer folks were benefiting directly.
“Having [the queer market] exist in KW, where there aren’t as many spaces that are safe is really important for mental health and socialization and makes my community support feel larger than it might otherwise be,” Jace Schulz said. “It’s nice to know where your money is going. When you’re buying pronoun pins or queer merch, it’s nice to be like, Oh, here’s an actual queer person who’s benefiting from that. You know the person and you know that you’re spending your money within the community,” Blaze Bishop said.
The market drew a lot of interest and a follow-up two-day Queer Spring Fling is planned for Mar. 17 to Mar. 18.
As this event series continues, the vision is to keep expanding, and making it more inclusive and accessible for all queer folks. O’Rourke also mentioned they would like to include some drag artists in the future.