The building in Uptown where Queermunity will be located.

Make Uptown Fabulous Again: The Story of Queermunity

Not so long ago, the streets of Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood were bustling. Storefront windows enticed sidewalk shoppers with the latest trends and fashions, flashing marquee signs promised excitement beyond their doors, and the late-night lines into clubs and bars spilled out onto the neighboring streets.

But there’s no denying the pandemic did a number on our beloved Uptown. Many of those businesses have since closed their doors, and the sidewalks are no longer filled with eager foot traffic. Now, with Hennepin Avenue construction underway to build the Metro Transit E Line, Uptown businesses that managed to survive face yet another challenge to overcome. Onlookers are left wondering: What is it going to take to bring Uptown back to life?

Construction at Hennepin and Lagoon outside the Uptown Theater in Uptown. A bus is navigating an intersection congested by construction cones and barriers.
Construction at Hennepin and Lagoon in Uptown, two blocks north of the new Queermunity site. Photo by J.D. Duggan, Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal

Flash back to 2022. Twin Cities residents Hilary Otey and Kayla Barth shared a vision: an accessible and vibrant community space for local LGBTQ+ folks to gather, connect and belong. Of course, Otey and Barth were not the first to express such an idea. Secret societies and university student groups, underground clubs and coffeehouses, comprise the over 300 LGBTQ+ centers currently operating throughout the U.S. LGBTQ+ folks everywhere — including the Twin Cities — have persistently created community spaces for centuries. But like the storefronts of Uptown, most of these spaces within the Twin Cities have gone dark, leaving many in the community feeling disconnected and isolated.

In April 2023, Governor Tim Walz signed the “Trans Refuge” bill into state law, securing Minnesota as a safe haven for LGBTQ+ people to live openly, receive life-saving care, and be protected from the anti-LGBTQ+ legal attacks affecting individuals and families throughout the country. Today, 522 of these discriminatory bills are still moving through U.S. legislatures, and a massive wave of LGBTQ+ domestic refugees are escaping enforcement of these laws in their home states. With Minnesota’s groundbreaking legal protections in place, it’s no surprise that many LGBTQ+ folks have made the Twin Cities their home.

Governor Tim Walz at the signing of the "Trans Refuge Bill," surrounded by supporters of the legislation.
Governor Tim Walz signs “Trans Refuge Bill” Executive Order, April 27, 2023. Photo by Ben Hovland, MPR News

But Otey and Barth, like so many other LGBTQ+ Minnesotans, were left wondering: What are we going to do with all these people in the growing community? 

Eventually, with the help of focus groups, community surveys, a year-long fellowship with Finnovation Lab, and an advisory team of 11 local LGBTQ+ leaders, the business plans were drafted and the vision of Queermunity began to take shape.

Queermunity is determined to be an accessible and lively community space for LGBTQ+ people in the Twin Cities, with special attention given to the unique wants and needs of people with intersecting marginalized identities. Queermunity will offer its own programs and services, as well as host and collaborate on initiatives with partner organizations. The space will include a full-service café with a rotating seasonal menu of locally sourced food and beverages directed by June De, James Beard semi-finalist and sous chef of Union Hmong Kitchen, in addition to coworking desks, meeting rooms and event space rentals. 

Queermunity is incorporated as an LLC and set up as a social enterprise, meaning it is a community-oriented and mission-based small business. Café sales, space rentals and memberships will be the primary sources of revenue, with members committing to a tier of monthly dues that works best for their budget in exchange for discounted goods and services and the joy of sustaining an essential resource for our local LGBTQ+ community. This model removes some of the restrictions and limitations of the nonprofit system, which allows for greater flexibility in generating and distributing resources.

But the process of finding the perfect space proved more challenging than anyone had anticipated. The Queermunity team brought a host of deal-breakers into their search (not the least of which being “no homophobic landlords”). Physical accessibility was an absolute must, so it was essential that the space either sit at ground level or include a functioning elevator. Transit accessibility was also a crucial factor, alongside proximity to bike paths and reasonable parking accommodations. The team was also adamant that the space should have single-stall gender-neutral bathrooms, or at least the capacity to build them.

Queermunity team standing together in two rows, against a wall.
The Queermunity team tours potential locations earlier this spring. Photo by Queermunity

After touring dozens of spaces, Otey and Barth have officially secured a lease. Queermunity is projected to open its doors in mid-September 2024 in the vacant former offices of an advertising firm at 3036 Hennepin Ave., right in the heart of the Uptown neighborhood.

3036 Hennepin Avenue comes equipped with a working elevator, sits on many high-frequency bus routes and is two blocks south of Midtown Greenway, includes four sizable single-stall gender-neutral restrooms (plus a shower!), and, through an arrangement with the garage across the street, Queermunity members will have access to secure and discounted off-street parking. Metered on-street parking is also available throughout the neighborhood, with free parking found on nearby residential streets.

The building in Uptown where Queermunity will be located.
Queermunity has secured space above Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Uptown. Photo captured from Google Earth, edited by Micheala Sharp

Despite its for-profit model, Queermunity doesn’t really have “competition” in its vocabulary. Otey, Barth and the dynamic crew of organizers they have rallied believe strongly that community resources should be abundant and shared freely throughout our networks. There is no shortage of demand for LGBTQ+ spaces and organizers in the Twin Cities, and Queermunity happily seeks collaborative partnerships with any new or existing organization that might seek the same from us. If you are interested in getting involved, please connect with us through our website.

Queermunity and Youth & AIDS Project leaders standing together around a table.
Leaders from Queermunity tour the new space at 3036 Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis with leaders from Youth & AIDS Project (YAP). Photo by Queermunity

With keys now in hand, we will begin construction soon on the space’s interior, including building out the café, upgrading the bathrooms for ADA compliance, and installing a sound-masking system to soften excess noise and increase privacy. In celebration of Twin Cities Pride this coming weekend, now is a great time to contribute to Queermunity’s crowdfunding campaign to make these final improvements.

Then, keep an eye out for two preview parties scheduled at Queermunity on July 18 and 20. These events will include special presentations and community conversations geared toward care workers, educators, clergy, artists, seniors/60-plus and families with children to learn more about what these affinity groups might want or need from the space. If you would like more information about these preview parties, please sign up here.

And maybe when you come to check it out, you could also visit our new friends across the street for a roll at Twin Cities Skate Studio, or enjoy some of the Twin Cities’ most delicious Thai food at Amazing Thailand, or grab a slice of the mouth-watering croissant loaf at Black Walnut Bakery, or search the stacks for your next summer read at Magers & Quinn, or see a local band at the Uptown Theater. With a little love, a few dollars and maybe a little glitter, there’s no doubt we will make Uptown fabulous again.