Earlier this month, 66-year-old Laura Ann Carleton — the owner of clothing store Mag.Pi, in the San Bernardino mountains of California — was shot and killed.
The man who shot her had made disparaging remarks about the Pride flag displayed outside the shop. This was not the first time Carleton’s flags had seen hatred; every time someone ripped down a Pride flag, she would hang a bigger one, the New York Times reported.
But this time, her allyship cost her life.
Of course, the mother of nine and beloved community member represents so many Americans who operate small businesses and use their spaces to remind other community members they are welcome as they are.
And there are indeed other business owners who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and face ongoing threats to their safety for merely existing in a brick and mortar shop.
(Carleton did not identify as LGBTQ+ but spent time helping and advocating for the community, and Mag.Pi was listed as a “business ally” by Lake Arrowhead LGBTQ, a local community organization.)
Ladyfingers Letterpress, a stationery and gift shop in Colorado Springs, Colo. is no stranger to such experiences.
The store, which is owned and operated by LGBTQ+ couple Arley Torsone and Morgan Calderini, responded last year after a fatal shooting in the Club Q nightclub in Colorado Springs took the lives of five people and injured 18 others.
The duo organized mutual aid fundraisers immediately, but they also did something more visible: distributing and displaying Pride flags throughout the city, to “wrap us in rainbows.”
Pride flags were collected in conjunction with monetary and gift card donations that could immediately be distributed to community members reeling from the tragedy. Working with national flag-flying companies, as well as the local Bread and Roses Legal Center’s “Queers For Q” mutual aid fundraiser (which ultimately raised and distributed over $35,000), the shop gathered over 3,500 donated flags.
“The idea that we could be a conduit for covering the town in rainbow flags and giving people what they are asking for is a very small thing that feels pretty huge,” an Instagram post from the shop read.
Now, Ladyfingers is at it again. This time, they’re wrapping Lake Arrowhead in rainbows.
“We are so deeply saddened and sick for the loss of Lauri’s life. And the lives of all people to violence motivated by hate for LGBTQIA+ community that occurs everyday, everywhere,” the business shared on Instagram. “Can you help wrap the Lake Arrowhead community in rainbow Pride flags?”
The post continued to share where people could donate flags — and funds — including a memorial fund created with Carleton’s family and Mountain Provisions Cooperative, a farm-to-table co-op in Lake Arrowhead, which Carleton led.
Ladyfingers also reached out to other area businesses in Lake Arrowhead to serve as a distribution point for community members, connecting through networks of friends and creative businesses.
They landed on Rustic Arts Cabin Outfitters, which will act as a home base for flag deliveries and will distribute them throughout the community.
Donors can mail Pride flags to Rustic Arts Cabin Outfitters at the following address:
32088 Highway 18 #813
Running Springs, California 92382
“Prior to the attack on the queer and trans folks in Colorado last November, we were often the only ones who had a flag up. We issued a request for the world to Wrap Us In Rainbows in the aftermath,” Ladyfingers continued in their Instagram post.
“Over 3,500 rainbow flags were sent to our shop, we gave them away to anyone in town who wanted one. It is now just over nine months since, and our town is still wrapped in rainbows. You know which businesses are ‘safe,’ who is an ally, and who is not. That is a powerful thing in the face of terror.”
The Colorado shop, though over 1,000 miles from the Lake Arrowhead community, knows what it’s like to be taken care of in the aftermath of tragedy.
“Thank you for this,” a gift shop, this one located in New York, commented. “Our package will be on its way.
“I love the connections here,” another Instagram user said in the comments. “I will definitely be helping with this effort.”
Although this is an amazing act of solidarity among small business owners — and the LGBTQ+ community — it should not have to happen. Ladyfingers said it best:
“Let’s not stop our work at sending flags. Please move beyond shopping as support and allyship. Connect with the community you live in (in real life) and listen. How can you show up? What gifts can you share?” the business shared on social media, closing their call for donations with one last plea.
“We don’t want to do this work again – please.”
Header images courtesy of Lauren Memarian, Mountain Provisions Cooperative, and Ladyfingers Letterpress