The space is primarily meant for the queer community, unlike other cafés which make a show of accommodating LGBTQIA+ members while viewing cis-heterosexual people as their main customers.

Meet Hephzibah Smith Hyd woman who runs a caf for the citys queer communityHephzibah along with her business partner Mohammad Adam
Features LGBTQIA+ Tuesday, August 20, 2019 - 17:23

Among the many unique things that one may notice about Hephzibah Smith and Mohammad Adam’s café in Hyderabad, the first is the name - People’s Choice Café. And it is a rather meaningful label for what the café stands for. Hephzibah says that unlike the many cafés and restaurants in the city which call themselves LGBTQIA+ friendly, People’s Choice Café (PCC) isn’t just that. The space is primarily meant for the queer community, unlike other cafés which make a show of accommodating LGBTQIA+ members while viewing cis-heterosexual people as their main customers. 

Hephzibah, who identifies as a bisexual woman, and Adam, who likes to call himself an ally, opened the café in January early this year.

Hephzibah, who worked as a bartender in Taj Westend in Bengaluru, says the idea for the café was mooted almost two years ago after she witnessed a restaurant manager behaving rudely to a same sex couple.

“I was at a café in Bengaluru when I saw a same sex couple holding hands, and anxiously looking around for a place to sit. There were a couple of empty seats but the staff at the café refused, saying other customers wouldn’t like to have a same sex couple around them. Two people holding hands doesn’t mean they are homosexual and even if they are, I didn’t understand how it bothered the restaurant staff,” says Hephzibah.

However, Hephzibah says that even though she belongs to the queer community, she had never bothered to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ people or be an ally to others who faced discrimination.

“But after I decided to open PCC, I spent two whole years learning about the community and making friends among them. I think it was Adam who insisted that we take part in the Pride march and let people know about our café where they wouldn’t be looked down upon for their sexual choices and can spend quality time with each other,” Hephzibah shares.

PCC, lodged in a 40-year-old building in a nondescript lane in Sainikpuri, stands out with its decor. With compound walls painted in carbon black and neon colours splattered across the walls, the café also has a separate floor with a centre-stage for live performances. PCC even has a “pride menu”, with dishes in all colours of the pride flag. The vibrant café hosts regular events for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Even though PCC was opened six months ago, it gained attention in June as the whole world celebrated the Pride month.

The second floor of the People’s Choice Café, called the LGBTQ café, has a door painted in all pride colours and walls adorned with different quirky items of all hues. There are also catchy one-liners that welcome people with sass.

“There is also a centre-stage where people can perform and we have witnessed many couples proposing to each other and falling in love. This was also where my partner proposed to me and for the same reason, we try to make the setting magical for every other couple who wants to have a nice time,” Hephzibah adds.

Adam and Hephzibah are also passionate cooks and are happy to run around the café doing regular chores, which also includes pulling out weeds from the garden. The two of them were classmates at their culinary college before they turned into entrepreneurs. And for Hephzibah, Adam has been the friend who has supported her through thick and thin.

“Adam didn’t think twice before he agreed to start the café. He knew I was part of the queer community but he wasn't bothered that he might face repercussions for opening a place that welcomes people from the community. I revealed the fact that I have a girlfriend to my family only recently and it was only my mother who stood by my side. Luckily, I had Adam who never bothered about what the world said,” Hephzibah recounts.

Today, People’s Choice Café is one among the few cafés in India that stands for the people belonging to the community. And like many other struggle stories, PCC also had to bear the brunt of homophobia, including neighbours who tried to shut the café.

“We hold events for people from the LGBTQIA+ community and this often doesn’t go down well with the neighbours around here. Once, they entered the compound, cut down a tree and also tried to vandalise the café. We were quick to call the cops and luckily they were on our side and had the situation under control,” Hephzibah says, adding, “It still bothers me that people cannot view others as humans too and discriminate against them for their sexual preferences.”

Hephzibah, Adam and a few of their friends are now looking out to start a platform where they can assist with the education of people who are in the lower economic strata of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“We are planning to travel to places and teach as it is not possible for everyone to come to this part of the city,” Hephzibah says, adding, “Among the many things I learnt in the past two years, the most important is to treat every human being with respect. And I believe education is a great step towards bringing equality in our society.”





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