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A Safe Haven in The Woodlands

Conduit Coffee is the suburban LGBTQ-affirming spot.

Robin Farrar (l) and Christina Reece (Photography by Alex Rosa for Outsmart)

Christina Reece, 34, and her life partner, Robin Farrar, 40, opened Conduit Coffee in 2021 in The Woodlands as a conduit to better understanding between people and as a safe and affirming space for all.

“I want everyone to feel seen and loved and celebrated, because I don’t know if that’s happening when you leave my doors,” says Reece.

The LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood coffee shop boasts Pride flags and cute bathroom signs depicting a stick figure in a skirt, a stick figure in half a skirt, an alien, and a two-headed stick figure. “It’s just a fun way to show who we are,” Reece explains. “We’ve never hidden the fact we’re a queer business. It’s not a secret.”

But not everyone in The Woodlands, a bucolic and conservative township north of Houston, is a fan. On April 8, Reece posted this message to her Instagram account:

Well y’all, just another day of someone NOT minding their business. I had this guy open our door today and shout very aggressively, “If you took down your flag maybe you’d get more fucking business, this is the fucking Woodlands.”

That wasn’t the first time, and, as Reece says, it likely won’t be the last time her business faces pushback for being queer-friendly. And while they’ve also received hateful messages on social media, the April 8 incident brought an outpouring of support and an influx of business.

“I hate that this is happening at Conduit. They are good people with really good coffee,” says Jason Rocha, founder and president of The Woodlands Pride organization. “Anti-queer protests are pretty passive in the ’burbs. I can count on one hand the number of protests we’ve had at the festival.”

Last year’s Woodlands Pride event garnered around 7,500 festival-goers with only about three protesters who were harassing some of the booth operators. Rocha asked them to leave, and they did leave the park but stood outside with signs for a while. “Most queer people leave the ’burbs for the city, but there are still some of us here.”

“I think sometimes the universe can use a bad situation for a good purpose,” says Farrar. After the incident in April, she and Reece had T-shirts made up that proclaimed, “I became a lesbian at Conduit Coffee.”

“They’ve been selling out,” Farrar adds. “A lot of white men buy them, and the printer said he even printed up an extra one for himself! If they want us to be less gay, we’ll just be even more gay.”

Conduit Coffee recently celebrated its second anniversary, and the place was packed with supporters. At the time it opened, it was one of only three LGBTQ-affirming entities in Montgomery County. Ranch Hill Saloon, a gay bar in Spring, moved out of the county in late 2021, leaving just Conduit Coffee and The Woodlands Pride organization. Conduit Coffee is a family-friendly place with games for kids and the occasional visit from the couple’s 2-year-old half lab, half golden retriever, Hendrix (who is also known as Henny).

“We keep dog treats for him here,” says Farrar. “He was born on the day we opened the shop, and he was supposed to be the store dog but he’s young and still a bit rambunctious, so he only stops by occasionally.”

The shop has built connections with other local businesses to sell their products, including pastries from Chic Sweets Fine Desserts, ice cream from Luliet Creamery and Bake Shop, and homemade coffee syrups. Reece says the community has been supportive, but it’s not uncommon for people to make remarks like the one from April 8.

“We had a woman come in here once as her husband was parking the car,” Reece recalls. “I was sitting outside with some friends, and he came up and saw our Pride sign, ran in, and grabbed his wife and dragged her out. He couldn’t get her out of there fast enough—like he was going to catch the Gay.” She’s also had derogatory comments posted on Google, but those unusually get taken down.

“Most of the staff is queer, and they want to keep the flags up. But they are young, and I hate it when people come in and yell at them.”  —Christina Reece

“Most of the staff is queer,” Reece says, “and they want to keep the flags up. But they are young, and I hate it when people come in and yell at them. We are a family-friendly place. We have a community of LGBTQ people and allies, but it’s not easy.”

When asked why she stays, her answer is simple.

“Somebody has to!” Reece says. “It’s beautiful here; I love the trees. And our community here is beautiful. Not everyone is cut out to build bridges, to talk to people with different beliefs, but that’s my purpose.”

That’s a purpose Farrar also believes in, and she’s grateful that her partner is such a fearless advocate. “Christina has known she was different since she was 5 years old,” Farrar explains. “I’m 40, and just discovered I was queer four years ago. We built Conduit Coffee as a safe space where people can just be themselves. I didn’t know that I needed it just as much as anyone. Now, I feel that Christina and I have a fairy-tale life. She changed my world.”

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and, among others.
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