Gay Business Comfortable in R.I.
Providence Business News,
June 25, 2001
300 Richmond Street, Suite 202, Providence, RI 02903
By K. Alexa Mavromatis, Staff Writer
With national recognition as an accepting, liberal place to live and work,
Providence is developing a reputation as a welcoming place for gays.
The citys combination of education, art and a community that is
accepting to gays is attracting entrepreneurs who are enhancing the retail,
service and high tech industries, among others.
Angie Mackey, owner of Hairspray Salon and co-owner of the Alternative Body
Day Spa on Wickenden Street, said that to her, doing business in Providence is
about different kinds of people working together.
While Hairsprays staff is equally divided between gay and straight
("about 50/50," she said) Mackey said the majority of her clientele
is straight on a given day you can see older people, parents with their
kids coming in to have their hair, makeup or nails done.
"I just dont think anybody cares that much anymore," she said.
Last winter, for the second year in a row, Providence was designated among
the top ten "Best Lesbian Places to Live" in the U.S. by Girlfriend
Based on standards including cost of living, job growth, unemployment,
crime statistics, municipal anti-discrimination laws, a recently repealed
state sodomy law and the number of gay and lesbian-friendly businesses,
organizations, entertainment venues and spiritual organizations, Providence
was ranked fifth in the sixth annual Best Lesbian Places to Live edition of
In 1999, the city tied for tenth on the same list.
Mackey finds Providence a radical contrast to Oklahoma City, where she grew
Shes participated in Gay Pride parades in Oklahoma City met with
protesters, but in Providence, Mackey said "people line the streets and
cheer you on everybodys got their little Straight but not narrow
pins on. Its amazing, really, that its so different."
"Providence has always prided itself on its eclecticism," said
Pamela Padula, who co-owns the Castro coffeehouse with partner Lorianne Green.
"Its a divided state, a divided neighborhood."
Both Padula and Mackey commented on the high concentration of gay-owned
businesses on Fox Points Wickenden Street.
"The gay community tends to do better in a minority climate,"
Fox Point is a traditionally Portuguese neighborhood, with a third of its
population claiming Portuguese ancestry.
"The same thing happened in the South End of Boston," Padula
said. "It was the gay community that revived that area. I think the East
Side of Providence and Fox Point are moving in the same direction."
The location of the Castro, near the east end of Wickenden Street, could be
a potentially difficult one for a gay-owned café. The Castro (named for a gay
neighborhood/business district in San Francisco) is across the street from the
Fox Point Boys and Girls Club and the Fox Point branch of the Providence
Public Library. Vartan Gregorian Elementary is just around the corner, and its
closest neighbor to the south is Fox Point Manor, a housing development for
Still, Padula said she hasnt had any major problems.
"This business has been embraced by the community, our
neighbors," she said. "Elderly people from the Manor come in, kids
from the school come in theyre either beyond prejudice or before
The Castro, which opened two years ago, is expanding, and Padula credits
"the growth of Providence the mall, the hotels, the trolleys"
with helping her business find its audience.
There are no hard figures on the number of gay-owned businesses in the
state or even in Providence, but the impact of Providences gay population
is significant enough that four years ago, a liaison to Providences gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, W. Fitzgerald Himmelsbach, was
appointed by Mayor Vincent A."Buddy" Cianci Jr..
Himmelsbach said that Cianci (who served as Grand Marshal for the Gay Pride
parade on June 16) is the first Providence mayor to incorporate such a
position into the citys administration.
Laws regarding hate crime and a repealed sodomy law are part of what makes
the city attractive to gays, said Himmelsbach.
In addition, "Providence is one of the only cities in the country that
has domestic partner benefits for police and fire workers," he said.
"Even Boston doesnt have that."
That Providences next mayor could be gay does not seem to be out of the
State Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-Dist. 4 of Providence) who is openly gay,
expects to make an official announcement this fall regarding a run for the
office, and said that he sees the City of Providence and Rhode Island in
general as a place "where people understand that a persons sexual
orientation has nothing to do with what they can contribute to the community.
We as a community and as a city have progressed so far."
Cicilline is a highly regarded lawyer who has already been elected and
re-elected to the General Assembly. In political circles, he is indeed a
strong mayoral candidate.
Cicilline said he feels that the states - and Providences
relatively small size has figured largely in creating a place that is
welcoming toward gays.
"One of the advantages is that you have a greater opportunity to build
professional and personal relationships," he said. "Im not sure
you can have that so easily in larger cities."
Where are gays working in Providence? Himmelsbach said that lately the citys
high tech industry has been attractive to gay workers because "companies
havent had a lot of trouble asking them to relocate to Providence," he
GTECH, ranked in the April 30 edition of the Providence Business News
"High Technology Monthly" as one of the states largest IT
employers, has offered benefits for same-sex domestic partners since December
Robert Vincent, GTECHs vice president for corporate communications, said
that the initiative has helped attract workers in what is a tight labor market
in the high tech industry.
"We strive to provide an inclusive workplace, and this initiative
helps us do that," he said.
When he visited Providence to address the Rhode Island Technology Councils
annual meeting earlier this year, Richard Florida talked about how Providence
ranks with the rest of the country in regard to its attractiveness to IT
professionals. Florida is the Heinz professor of regional economic development
at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and writes a monthly column,
"Brave New Workplace," which appears in Information Week.
Out of 273 cities ranked by Florida, Providence ranked 34th for diversity
(gay population) and 57th on the "Boho Index" (artists, actors,
Floridas premise is that there is a distinct correlation between the
areas where gays choose to settle (along with artists, immigrants and other
factors) and the regions of the country that are attractive to IT workers.
In a previous issue of Providence Business News, Florida said:
"What really drives economic growth and development in cities and
places is people, and those places that attract the people win and those that
For her part, Padula agrees with Florida that the combination of art and
education is a huge component of what makes Providence so gay-friendly.
"My partner and I are not in the closet, but were not
separatists," she said. "This is a safety zone space and were
happy to be a part of that Providence. This is not a narrow-minded
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