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, Amazon.com, 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.”
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.
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