LGBTQ+ bookstores have always been special spots where our communities can gather around something other than alcohol and club music一places for the “quiet gays” Hannah Gadsby talks about in her Netflix special Nanette. Though too many have closed their doors over the years, there are still some amazing LGBTQ bookshops out there.
These six bookstores are some of the oldest surviving LGBTQ+ bookstores in the world, all founded in the 20th century. In these uncertain times, they need our support more than ever with online orders so they can continue to survive. The same is true for Bella Books, our parent site, which will be running unique sales throughout this time to promote eBooks and keep you flush with WLW fiction. (Might we suggest starting with these 6 books about coping with social isolation?)
Gay’s the Word
Gay’s the Word, the only LGBTQ+ bookstore in England, is a global destination for any book lover. Part of this store’s rich history was featured in the 2014 film Pride that shows how it was a meeting place for gay activists in the 1980s. A true community hub, the store almost wasn’t allowed to open in the 1970s when the borough’s council was reluctant to grant such a store a lease. Then in the 1980s it was hit with a raid and charges by the government who assumed that a gay bookstore must be only porn and other “indecent” materials. Gay’s the Word quickly became one of the only places Brits could purchase LGBTQ+ books which were widely considered obscene. With a dedicated following, this spot is thriving.
Glad Day Bookshop
Glad Day is the oldest surviving LGBTQ+ bookstore in the world. It has held this title since New York City’s Oscar Wilde Bookshop closed down in 2009 after a 42-year run. Glad Day was the first LGBTQ+ bookstore to open in Canada and has had to adapt with the times. The founder Jearld Moldenhauer started selling books out of his backpack before opening the historic storefront 50 years ago. In 2016 the store moved to a new location where it added food, coffee, and cocktails as well as a dance and event space. Most days you’d find something going on at Glad Day, be it Drag Bingo, Gayme Night, Drag Brunch, or an author reading. Though they might be temporarily canceled, this is a perfect spot to go for books or booze after the world re-opens.
Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room
Giovanni’s Room has been operating at its current location since 1979, even earning a Pennsylvania historical marker in recognition of its importance. Giovanni’s Room actually closed down in 2014 and re-opened later that year after being saved by the non-profit Philly AIDS Thrift. The store is now the oldest of the LGBTQ+ bookstores in the U.S. Named for James Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room, this store is a center of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ communities, situated downtown right inside the gayborhood. With 7,000 titles on the shelves you won’t run out of reading material.
Hares & Hyenas
Hares & Hyenas has been expanding its offerings since 1991, adding a cafe in 2007 and a performance space in 2012. In fact, they’ve put on over 1,000 events, currently averaging three every week between book events and performances. Their books range from children’s picture books to erotica, from comics to calendars. Their live event venue, The Hare Hole, features a diverse range of topics as well, with events including spoken word, comedy, stitch & bitch, a BDSM social and reading group, book launches, and educational workshops like Polyamory 101.
Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium
Like Gay’s the Word and Glad Day, Little Sister’s also faced issues with their imported books being seized at the border for obscenity in the early years. Little Sister’s fought back by filing a discrimination claim in 1990, a case that went all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court where the bookstore was victorious in 2000. The shop’s saga was a backdrop to a steamy lesbian romance in the cult classic Better Than Chocolate. (Little Sister’s is even thanked in the film’s credits.) Part-bookstore, part-sex shop, Little Sister’s is a unique Vancouver fixture that has survived three anti-LGBTQ+ bombings over the years. When you want to pick up a vibrator with your lit, this is the spot.
Another one of the LGBTQ+ bookstores in a gayborhood (this one in Chicago’s Boystown) with a wide variety of books from travel to children’s to poetry, Unabridged currently offers three monthly book clubs: queer, Latinx, and fiction. It is one of the oldest independent bookstores in Chicago and also one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. It’s known in part for the handwritten staff recommendations on little yellow note cards across the shelves. While it has moved from mainly LGBTQ+ titles to a broader selection over the years, this is still a queer institution. They’ll be celebrating 40 years in operation on November 1, 2020.
These history-rich community spaces cannot survive without us, so place an order online to contribute to these places we need around for years to come.