The Last Chapter: A Look At LGBT Bookstores Around The World

Not many places in the world can be considered gay landmarks, but certainly LGBT bookstores have played a big part in cultivating our history, serving as resource centers for the community and fostering relationships in gayborhoods beyond the bar scene. Unfortunately these gay havens are barely hanging on by a thread. Earlier this week, Queerty reported on the news that Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop (right) was for sale. Currently the oldest gay bookstore in the world, Glad Day has been a beacon of freedom of expression for more than 31 years. In 2003, the bookshop won a federal lawsuit defending its right to sell movies, adult or otherwise, without first submitting them to the Ontario Film Review Board. But despite these strides, LGBT bookstores worldwide continue to struggle against Web retailers. Ironically it was the biggest online giant of them all,, that once stripped LGBT titles like Brokeback Mountain, Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography, and The Advocate College Guide For LGBT Students, from its rankings in an apparent “technical glitch.” That happened in 2009, the same year New York’s Oscar Wilde Bookshop and West Hollywood’s branch of A Different Light closed. A year later, D.C.’s Lambda Rising and Nashville’s OutLoud shuttered. And in 2011 the last location of A Different Light (left), the one situated in the heart of the Castro, went dark. Lambda Literary director Tony Valenzuela explained to Queerty the incalculable loss:
The physical space that LGBT bookstores provided as cultural community centers, to place fliers if you were an activist, to host queer readings… this central role has been dispersed. What’s lost, of course, is an institution that serves as a meeting space, a business run by folks passionate about books who carefully curate what’s on the shelf so that we can find great queer lit.
That’s way more than we can afford to lose. When I worked at A Different Light in the Castro, I met young people from all over the world who hungry for stories and characters they could relate to. They were bewildered by the variety of books we carried—stuff they could only dream of finding back in their hometowns. Sure, resources and information are now more readily accessible than ever online, but sometimes you have to browse in person to find just what you were—or weren’t—looking for. Books have a way of finding us too, when we least expect them but just when we need them most. So if the very concept of an LGBT bookstore disappears (a frightening yet realistic possibility), who will put our queer stories front and center? Who will fight censorship? Who will foster community? Certainly not Amazon. With that in mind, we’ve put together a compendium of brick-and-mortar LGBT bookstores across the world, like Libreria Complices in Barcelona (above). Stores that, for now, are still are vital part of their local gay scenes. It’s by no means a complete list—if you’ve got a store in your hometown you want to salute, tell us in the comments. Then go pay them a visit or shop with them online. Because no one’s going to preserve our community for us.

FIRST: Outwrite in Atlanta

Outwrite 991 Piedmont Ave NE Atlanta, GA In 2011, this 18-year-old gay bookstore and café hosted book signings with Chelsea Handler, Don Lemon and Alan Hollinghurst. But Outwrite is still in trouble: After a fundraising campaign, the store is moving from its home in Midtown (in a former disco!) to a less expensive space in order to continue operations. Need proof gay bookstores are more than retailers? When the local police department wanted to mend its reputation after the botched raid on the Atlanta Eagle, it held a Q&A at Outwrite.

NEXT: Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia

Giovanni’s Room 345 S 12th St  Philadelphia, PA

Ed Hermance opened Giovanni’s Room in 1973 and is credited with helping launch the careers of literary greats like Edmund White, E. Lynn Harris and Leslie Feinberg. The shop is currently the oldest operating gay bookstore in America, and was commemorated with a historical marker in October by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission.

NEXT: Gay’s The Word in London

Gay’s the Word 66 Marchmont St London, UK

Located in the literary ‘hood of Bloomsbury, Gay’s The Word put up its own fight against censorship in 1984, when Her Majesty’s customs agents raided the store and took hundreds of titles on the grounds of indecency. The queer community  protested the raid and the charges against the 32-year-old store’s owners were eventually dropped.

Gay’s The Word’s history is explored in a fascinating short documentary, which includes an interview with noted queer author Felice Picano.

NEXT: Libreria Nuestras Letras in San Juan

Libreria Nuestras Letras Plaza Dorada San Jose, Costa Rica

This scholarly store, the only LGBT bookshop in Costa Rica, offers a great selection of queer-theory titles. But the cost of shipping books has become overwhelming, so Libreria Nuestras Letras‘ owners are considering selling off their entire stock (at cost) to a single buyer interested in opening an online store or new retail location. Note: In an earlier version of this story, the location of Libreria Nuestras Letras was listed incorrectly. We regret the error.  

NEXT: Les Mots à la Bouche in Paris

Les Mots à la Bouche 6 Rue Ste-Croix de la Bretonnerie 4e Paris, France

Located in the heart of Le Marais, Paris‘ gayborhood, this quaint bookshop—the name roughly translates to “tip of the tongue”—is stocked with new and classic LGBT titles (a nice chunk of which are in English, merci).  It’s also a good place to find flyers, gay-interest magazines like Blue and Carol’s Girlfriends and, downstairs, some risque offerings.

NEXT: Libreria Complices in Barcelona

Libreria Complices Calle Cervantes 4 Barcelona, Spain

This spacious libreria has been selling lit and non-fiction in English, Spanish and Catalan—and helping gay and lesbian visitors with handy travel guides—for over 17 years. It’s even established a press to publish queer narratives often ignored by mainstream publishing houses.

Recently, Televisio de Catalunya filmed a short segment on Complices. It’s in Spanish Catalan, but even if you can’t follow the dialogue, the visuals give you a good sense of the place.

NEXT: Calamus in Boston

Calamus Bookstore 92 South St Boston, MA

Named after Walt Whitman’s collection of gay love poems which were first published in Boston, this cozy book nook considers itself a marketplace of ideas. Steps away from South Station in Boston’s gay district, Calamus draws major gay authors like Andrew Holleran and Christopher Bram and publishes its own line of queer titles for e-readers.

NEXT: Little Sister’s in Vancouver

Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium 1238 Davie St Vancouver, British Columbia

Definitely not your sister’s bookstore—unless your sister is Dorothy Allison—this sprawling space opened in 1983, making it quite the veteran by gay-bookstore standards. Of course it’s done far more for its customers than just provide queer lit, kinky toys and ephemera: In 2000, Little Sister’s challenged the customs bureau for seizing an issue of The Advocate at the border. The owners took the case all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court—and won.

NEXT: Obelisk in San Diego

Obelisk Shoppe
1029 University Ave
San Diego, CA

Although Obelisk closed last summer after a devastating fire destroyed the historical building it was housed in, the owners hope for a grand reopening in time for Pride 2012. Located in the heart of Hillcrest, it definitely offers a wide selection of books—they’ve hosted signing with Christopher Rice (above) and RuPaul, for example—but also boutique-type fare like skin products, watches, swimsuits and designer underwear.

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  • Seriously

    Does queerty ever fact check. Anything? Ever? Outwrite hasn’t even announced its new location, let alone moved.

  • ChiGuy76

    Great list. I wish you would have included Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago. It has survived the onslaught of both Amazon and Borders. Quite amazing to do in this day and age.

  • Rik

    For half a second I was like “Nice something from Costa Rica, look here, we exists on Queerty’s map”… but that all went bitter as soon as I read ‘San Juan’ and ‘island’… SO… here’s the deal… The Store “Librería Nuestras Letras” is in fact located in San José (capital of Costa Rica), a country located in Central America (therefore part of the continent)… San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico (The island)

  • Esculapio Mitiríades Torquemada de la Cueva

    @Rik: 🙂 Yeah. It’s kind of a bewildering mistake (Costa Rica, an island? Guess we slept through geo in HS), not least because the page linked to on this article says quite clearly “San Jose, CR.”

  • Riker

    Calamus Bookstore is a lovely little shop that I have to spend some time in every time I visit Boston. The old guy that runs is is nice and always willing to make a recommendation. Plus, it is located just a few blocks from South Station, where Amtrak and Greyhound bring travelers in. If anyone lives or travels in the area, i’d highly recommend checking them out.

  • Andrew (Melbourne Aus)

    After reading this story I went to the local shop in my area – and I think the only one in Melbourne – and bought two book. The Indian Clerk and Vanity Fierce. I had already read the latter about ten years ago, but so enjoyed it I needed a copy to own and read again. Look it up and buy the Oz edition from the below link. It’s worth it.

  • scott ny'er

    what’s interesting here is that Queerty SEEMS to be doing a good deed for LGBT but really… in their good deed posts you’d think they would forgo the click throughs to 10 pages of LGBT bookstores. NOPE.

    I get (but don’t like) the click throughs for man-candy posts and even gay travel areas, etc. But for saving endangered LGBT shops… IDK.

  • the other Greg

    How do you say “cu-u-u-ute” in Catalan? I definitely get the urge to go to Barcelona (#1).

    @scott ny’er: But you’re right, I probably won’t click thru #2-10!

  • QJ201

    What is sad is that there are no NYC bookstores mentioned…because all THREE that we did have are long since gone (Different Light, Oscar Wilde and the one whose name I can’t recall that took over DL old location on Hudson St.).

  • Jack

    Just a small error: the video link about bookstore in Barcelona is mostly in Catalan, not Spanish (just the woman who was interviewed spoke in Spanish).

    @the other Greg: it’s “maco” (pronounced: MAH-koo). 😉

  • Bob

    You people have obviously never been to Prinz Eisenherz bookstore in Berlin. They have every gay book you can imagine, old and new, as well as a good selection in several languages, plus they send out a very nice and complete catalog of new publications four times a year.

  • Eric

    Gay’s The Word is an AWESOME book store. I go there every time I visit London and usually walk away with a book or two (which is all I’ll permit myself to buy).

  • Hephaestion

    Atlanta’s Outwrite Books has been the best gay bookstore on earth for a good 15 years, so I am very sorry to hear they’re having to move to a smaller space. They have been the heart of the gay community in Atlanta since they opened the 10th & Piedmont shop.

  • Hephaestion

    Gay people everywhere need to make sure their local public libraries buy some gay books and DVDs. If you pester them about it, and make good suggestions to them, they WILL buy them. Remember: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Stand up for your right to have books of relevance to your life in your local library.

  • Tone

    Little Sister’s has been one of my fave shops for many years. The way they stuck it to Canada Customs for their horrendous discrimination has changed forever how federal agencies deal with us. Now I live in Davie Village less, than two blocks from them and it has become a regular stop on my way downtown.

    Great article and great list!

  • Bob

    There’s also a lesbian-feminist bookstore in Paris run by a lesbian couple and a must-stop shop for visiting queer women — Violette & Co.

  • Kergan Edwards-Stout

    Sadly, just before Christmas I queried Provincetown’s NOW VOYAGER bookshop about stocking my new novel, but found they had been forced to close, due to online competition. So many LGBT havens, gone…

  • James

    @ChiGuy76: I concur.

  • Drake

    Let me also plug The Gay and Lesbian Review originally a Harvard publication since book-types are reading this item. See its web site . Available in hard copy or online, or both. I love it.

  • Michael

    3 cheers for Little Sister’s!!!!!!

  • Jimbo

    Don’t forget The Bookshop, Sydney, in the heart of what was once the gay ghetto.

    Sadly, Amsterdam’s great Intermale bookstore recently closed.

  • Wes Tattinger

    This “last chapter” is a sad chapter in the course of our history…but who says it must be the last chapter? A part of our soul is on the line with the closing of these bookstores. I remember Giovannis Room being there for me when I was just coming out to myself as a teenager (I’m now 41 years old). Just knowing that there was a place like this in the world was a comfort. Growing up in small towns, I imagined what it would be like to walk around a bookstore that spoke to who I am in a personal way…being able to pick up books and flipping through the pages is so different from surfing through a listing of them online. All things change but I feel that we could be letting a part of our sould slip through our fingers. LBGT bookstores are cultural centers that allow us a special kind of place to express and experience ourselves. This may sound sappy to some but do you remember the movie Sleepless in Seattle with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Meg’s character ran a family bookstore called The Shop Around the Corner. It was such a warm and spirited kind of place that was swallowed by an enormous retail bookstore that moved in down the street. When bookstores around our corners (that cater to us) close a part of our soul really goes away when the lights are turned off for the last time. We all need to stand together to keep the lights on in our community where they really count.

  • sangsue

    I used to go to Lambda Rising all the time. Then I got diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and it was easier for me to order from one of the gay book clubs (I don’t remember the name) or Amazon. But when Lambda rising closed, I was so sad. When I could go there, its neon blue sign was like a beacon for me and being in there was like being in GLBT heaven. The staff was wonderful and before I was comfortable with admitting my bisexuality, they were welcoming. RIP Lambda Rising.

  • Matt

    Raymundo implies that Amazon’s removal of rankings intentionally targeted LGBT titles, when in fact it was due to a cataloging error and affected titles from multiple product categories. The error was resolved within days.

    There are many reasons why LGBT readers would choose local stores over Amazon, but unfounded conspiracy theories shouldn’t be among them.

  • Sebs


    Lol keep believing that. Like amazon would ever tell the real reason. You should try and do a search online to read some of the replies customers got.

  • Ed Hermance

    Thanks for the mention. But I did not found the store. The store had three founders in 1973, who sold it to a woman, who in turn sold it to a woman and me in 1976 for $500.

    Maybe you’d like to know a little about the store in recent years:

    The store raised the $50,000 to rebuild the wall in 2009 to 2011. Hundreds of people put on a wide variety of events–raffle, organ-choral concert, publishers’ row of vendors, read-a-thon, poker tournament,comedy night, women’s publishing forum (out of which came a new queer publishing company, Tiny Satchel Press), benefit dinner with Edmund White, benefit cocktails with Christopher Rice, bake sale, more events, and most importantly “purchases” of bricks ($50) and lintels ($500).

    This massive effort which drew support from some thousands of people reminds me of the days 30 years before when the community lent the store the downpayment for its first building and a hundred volunteers renovated that building. People have demonstrated that the store is very important to them.

    A bricks-and-mortar showroom for books has obvious advantages over online browsing–someone has selected and displayed the best of the new and backlist titles for you to survey in a few minutes, before you narrow in on what interests you most. By contrast, look up “homosexuality” on amazon and you will find that the first book is “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality,” which title has been first for three years at least.

    But gay stores, including ours, are also available online. The American Booksellers Association has made it possible for us to offer any of millions of books and ebooks online. And we are able to create and display unparalleled selections of books. For example, you will find every 2011 book published about black gay men that we have found in one place: You can sign up to receive periodic announcements of new books and movies, the most up to date and complete such lists in our specialties to be found online or off.

    Some people take our information (because it is the best) and buy elsewhere. They are stealing our work as surely as a shoplifter, and we of course cannot do this work for nothing.

    Thanks for your support.

    P.S., I don’t think anyone in the store ever claimed the store is the oldest in the world, though we are clearly the biggest, the best, and the most beautiful.

  • Ed Hermance

    The books, worth about $10,000 at wholesale, seized at Gay’s the Word had been sent by Giovanni’s Room in the days before any distributor thought it worth its time to market LGBT books overseas. During the two years it took to resolve the case by sending all the books back (all stamped with “The Queen’s Warehouse”)to Giovanni’s Room, Giovanni’s Room was out the $10,000. If you would like one of the books stamped with “The Queen’s Warehouse,” please email [email protected].

  • ed hermance

    Giovanni’s Room sent some of the books Canadian Customs seized from Little Sister’s. Some of the books were paid for and others were simply destroyed. We thought we were so smart by routing books for Little Sister’s through Librarie L’Androgyne in Montreal because customs officers in Quebec were not so easily embarrassed by gay and lesbian books.

  • Drake

    Our book club in DC just read “Moffie” by Andre Carl van der Merwe – the best book I’ve seen in ages. A must read.

  • Stefan M. Weber

    Where is the gay bookstore “Prinz Eisenherz” (one of the first in the world, the first in Germany!) in Berlin?? “Erlkönig” in Stuttgart? “Männerschwarm” in Hamburg? “Vrolijk” in Amsterdam? And I’ m sure I forgot some more in my anger… Please do your homework correctly!!

  • Stefan M. Weber

    Where in your list is the LGBT bookstore “Prinz Eisenherz” (one of the first in the world, the first in Germany!) in Berlin?? “Erlkönig” in Stuttgart? “Männerschwarm” in Hamburg? “Vrolijk” in Amsterdam? And I’ m sure I forgot some more in my anger… Please do your homework correctly!!

  • Buchalden Maennerschwarm

    Some addresses in Europe:

    Boekhandel Vrolijk, Amsterdam (
    Eisenherz Buchladen, Berlin (
    Buchladen Maennerschwarm, hamburg (
    Buchladen Erlkoenig, Stuttgart (
    Libreria Berkana, Madrid (

  • Buchalden Maennerschwarm

    Some addresses in Europe:

    Boekhandel Vrolijk, Amsterdam (
    Eisenherz Buchladen, Berlin (
    Buchladen Maennerschwarm, hamburg (
    Buchladen Erlkoenig, Stuttgart (
    Libreria Berkana, Madrid (

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