© 2024 KUAF
NPR Affiliate since 1985
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Big Gay Market continues to support local queer makers year-round

When Big Gay Market co-founder Amanda Arafat moved to Northwest Arkansas in 2021, she didn’t know many other queer people. Through her work, she eventually met a fellow queer creative named Grayce Holcomb. The pair started to work to form a community that Arafat says was lacking in our area. A community that she says, was being attacked.

“Some really, you know, upsetting and just unfair, horrible bills were being attempted to be passed in Arkansas in 2021, it was just the most natural thing in the world to reach out to each other,” Arafat said. “And the other link that we had was that we were both creatives in some sense. Grace is an artist and graphic designer, I am a chef and baker. And so the most natural way to manifest to try and mobilize to try and gather was to do some sort of maker's market. And it started as a very, very small idea, like something very DIY [do it yourself]. And that's exactly the budget we had. That's exactly the resource we had, was just backyard DIY. But the response to the market, especially at a time post COVID, when the NWA equality markets were no longer going to feature vendor markets, the Pride celebrations, for COVID concerns, and just complications, we kind of just took it upon ourselves to put it together.”

Arafat said they received an overwhelming positive response to the market, despite their small expectations.

“We had something like one to 1.5 thousand people attend this market that maybe we expected, like 100 people to show up for,” Arafat said. “And the economic impact was immediately obvious with most of the vendors selling out, just straight up. And a lot of vendors, you know, noted to us after that they started making products on the scene just impromptu to fill the demand because there's still so many people coming. So that just kind of explosive, sort of reaction to something we had a lot of good intentions for but little expectation for was just such a catalyst for us to just look at each other and say, ‘Oh, we have to do this again.’”

And they did. Since the first Big Gay Market, there have been several events that continue to support small, queer business. And they continue to get bigger. Cirro Studio’s Jessy Duque has been involved since the first market. She has now taken on a larger, organizational role, and is already making plans for the future.

“From the very first market, we just, we loved it, the vibe was awesome,” Duque said. “We just felt like all one big family like, you know, it was just a safe space where you could be yourself, let your hair down. It felt fantastic. So I was lucky that Grace and Amanda welcomed me with open arms. And turns out, we work really well together. We all have different backgrounds and experiences, and I think that adds to our team dynamic. I think it was 2022 we formed an LLC, we decided to make things official. And since then, we've had the goal of doing one market per quarter. And we'll continue doing so and we have plans for the future. So we'll see where we can go with it.”

June is recognized as gay pride month, and can be a polarizing time for the queer community. Duque said she actually prefers markets that are outside of that timeframe.

“During pride I feel a lot of pressure, and I think a lot of folks in the community may relate,” Duque said. “But there's just concerns about security and safety and all of everything around LGBTQ gets heightened. People have a heart attack over a rainbow shirt at Target, you know, so June on Pride Month… I know for us, I don't enjoy it as much just because of those concerns. So it's really nice to be able to celebrate ourselves and to be ourselves year round. But with that being said, we love being able to do this once a quarter. If we could do it more, we would, but we all have full time jobs or you know we have to pay rent and things like that. So we'd love to, in our long term future plans, have Big Gay be something that's more permanent and not just a spectacle in June.”

The next Big Gay Market is called Spring Awakening, and it’s taking place on March 16th at the Fayetteville Town Center. Duque said she is hoping that the location will make the market more accessible.

“People don't have to deal with weather,” Duque said. “Normally our markets are outdoors, so we're either freezing or incredibly hot. We have returning vendors and we have a lot of new vendors. We try to keep our markets diversified as far as the product categories that we offer and you can have at our markets. We're very excited to start off the year with this market at the Fayetteville Town Center. Fayetteville has been incredibly welcoming and just really opening their arms for us.”

Some Fayetteville sponsors for the Big Gay Market include Experience Fayetteville and the FORGE Fund. Arafat said any money provided by sponsors goes directly to the vendors. 

“All of the support we get is intentionally and very deliberately then forwarded on to the vendor community,” Arafat said. “Those sponsorships that we get have been so amazing, because we've been able to do things just like Jesse said, keep this a very accessible operation. If this is your first market that you've ever done, Big Gay is still the place for you. If you don't have a table, Big Gay is still the place for you. We can figure this out. And keeping this accessible has been one of the best parts of seeing it grow, is not seeing it become too far away from what it started as.”

For more information on Big Gay Market, you can visit their Instagram. Vendor applications for the Spring Awakening close on February 16th, 2024.

Ozarks at Large transcripts are created on a rush deadline by reporters. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of KUAF programming is the audio record.

Stay Connected
Sophia Nourani is a KUAF producer and reporter.
Related Content