It's been a rough week in LGBT news. With two transgender women brutally murdered and a third thrown in jail after attempting to rent a hotel room in Iowa, the LGBT community and allies are searching for ways to protect each other.
A new startup aims to do just that, by providing a platform for LGBT users to review businesses and public accommodations based on direct experience.
Queer Review, which launches on July 27, is the brainchild of an experienced Web developer/designer and an educator with a nonprofit background who are currently funding the project out of their own pockets. Initially, the site is sparse, but the founders—Kesha Garner and Kevin Hawkins—hope that users will soon fill its pages with reviews of LGBT-friendly businesses they call "safe spaces."
"Yelp and Foursquare are excellent tools for finding the best businesses in your area," Garner told the Daily Dot. "Unfortunately, a 'good' business doesn't always mean a safe business for LGBTQ+ folks."
2015 has brought a new wave of startups focused on helping LGBT people navigate complex consumer choices in a marketplace that isn't always friendly. With transgender healthcare apps like Rad Remedy and My Trans Health, the focus is on trans-affirming medical and mental health specialists. A site like Queer Review could help same-sex couples avoid, for example, trying to do wedding business with a homophobic cake baker. The process of finding LGBT-friendly businesses—especially businesses that outright cater to the community—has long been a trial-and-error minefield.
Garner also pointed out that sometimes places that seem friendly aren't for everyone—like a Pride event where an undocumented trans woman is hissed at and heckled, or an entire gayborhood where businesses complain that queer youth of color are a "problem."
"If a trans woman, for example, sees that there are many low-rated business in an area she's visiting, perhaps she'll be able to take the necessary measures to keep herself safe," Garner said.
For now, the Queer Review founders hope to keep the focus positive, encouraging LGBT users to pinpoint accepting and affirming places so that people know where to go to be safe. But Garner said the site will "naturally lend itself" towards mapping out the places to avoid, too.
The process of uploading a review includes questions that specifically ask about things like staff diversity; bathroom labeling or ability to use one in accordance with gender identity; and whether or not the user felt discriminated against in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race, physical ability, and other aspects of identity.
"If a business has all one-star ratings, it wouldn't be considered a safe space," said Garner. "We think that it's important to build up those businesses that are safe spaces and hope that unsafe places will follow their lead."
Queer Review's launch party takes place July 29 in Washington, D.C.