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

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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