Rock Springs, WY, is a small city in a conservative state, and its gay community has long maintained a low profile. That began to change about two years ago, when a downtown bookstore hosted a gathering for the LGBTQ community.
“Wyoming gets this bad rap for not being very gay-friendly,” says Chad Banks, manager of Downtown Rock Springs.
So Banks felt trepidation when he posted information about the event. He worried about nasty comments on the downtown organization’s Facebook page, and perhaps worse.
The backlash never came. In fact, neighbors didn’t ostracize the bookstore; instead, they embraced the notion of being gay-friendly. Nearly 50 downtown businesses have signed on to the Rock Springs’ directory of merchants that welcome LGBTQ customers. And when Pride Month rolls around each June, more and more Rock Springs businesses display gay-friendly signage.
“There’s a lot of discussion in Wyoming about the need to diversify our economy,” Banks says. “One of those steps is to be more welcoming, not just for LGBTQ folks but for the gamut.”
And it’s hard to ignore the full crowds and ringing cash registers at the bookstore on the nights of the gay-friendly events. The owner reported “huge days,” Banks says. “It’s an important demographic for businesses to be aware of.”
More on expanding economic opportunity appears in the February issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Click to learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange and other resources for revitalizing downtowns and commercial corridors.