When I was 16, my family moved from the suburbs of Southern California to a part of Long Beach known as The Gayborhood. Right around the corner from our new residence was a coffee shop called Hot Java. All of the baristas and most of the clientele were queer; the owners were two gay men and a lesbian. LGBTQ literature, books and newsletters were scattered throughout the busy shop, and fliers for drag shows and dance parties cluttered the café’s community bulletin board.
I was very fortunate to have such a colorful influence in my life during those bitter years that brought George W. Bush into his second presidential term. The rainbow flag flew high on that corner above the coffee shop, which sat triumphantly at my major cross streets for years before I even came out of the closet. Hot Java was more than a gay café. It was where I first heard people proudly describing themselves as “queer,” and it was an invaluable resource on my journey to self-discovery and acceptance.
Fast forward to 2015. I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost a decade now, and I still miss having a place like Hot Java to hang out at. As a community organizer, I know how rare it is to find gathering spaces that are both comfortable and queer friendly, especially those that are welcoming to all ages and that aren’t centered around partying and alcohol. Walking into an establishment where you’re certain to be surrounded by other queer people is typically limited to gay bars.
When I heard last month about the opening of Triumph Coffee, a new queer café in Southeast Portland, I wasted no time becoming their most enthusiastic customer. Last week, I sat down with Emily Kerkstra, owner of Triumph Coffee, to talk about her new business for PQ Monthly.
PQ: Thanks for chatting with me, Emily! Tell me about your vision for Triumph Coffee.
Emily Kerkstra: Triumph is a neighborhood coffee shop that is also very queer friendly. My vision for Triumph is a community space for all different kinds of people to meet, work together, and socialize. I also envision this space having a lot of avant-garde art, because that’s my background. It’s something that I can’t seem to find in Portland outside of certain festivals like TBA: truly bizarre art.
PQ: Speaking of queer community spaces and bizarre art, the Radical Faerie community has been meeting at this location for a very long time. What kind of role did the Faeries have in bringing this new café into being?
Kerkstra: The Radical Faeries organized themselves in order to back me in opening Triumph. A few of them also donated a huge amount of time and energy into remodeling the space. The Faeries continue to meet here every Saturday morning, which is a cornerstone of my business. They bring fantastic energy into the space every week and we love it.
PQ: The new space is so warm and inviting. It seems obvious to me that a lot of love went into the remodel. I’ve been really inspired by the queer atmosphere cultivated here each Saturday. The Radical Faeries just hang a rainbow flag in front and poof! The café magically becomes filled with fae. It’s why I helped start a weekly meet-up for Bi Brigade at Triumph on Sunday afternoons (1-4 p.m.).
I love the idea of all kinds of subgroups in the queer community finding different times to meet at Triumph. If a trans group or an asexual group, for example, wanted to organize a time to meet regularly in this space, how should they arrange that?
Kerkstra: Groups who would like to meet at Triumph Coffee just have to email me and we can discuss the details, and our email is email@example.com.
PQ: What are some policies for groups who would like to meet at Triumph?
Kerkstra: Policy for groups who meet at Triumph is that they need to be making a conscious effort to include women, people of color, genderqueer people, and trans people. We just ask that they adhere to basic safer space policy.
PQ: Do you have any additional plans for the space?
Kerkstra: We’re looking forward to some new outdoor seating soon! The location (SE 12th and Ash) is great for people-watching and sipping on some iced coffee while soaking up the sun.
Triumph, located at 201 SE 12th Ave., is open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekends. If you like good coffee and tea, bagels and breakfast sandwiches, sweet and savory pastries, bizarre art and music on vinyl, and being surrounded by rad queers in a comfortable and casual space, then Triumph is clearly the café for you.