Lamenting the loss of LGBTQ Sections in bookstores and libraries

On vacation last March, my husband said, “I haven’t been able to buy a gay book since Lambda Rising closed.”

The funny thing is, it is true. Lambda Rising was our local gay book store, six metro stops and 25 minutes away. We could skip down there and spend an hour browsing through thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, AIDS, STD, and sexuality books. Then there were the videos for sale and, of course, the porn magazines. Don’t forget the gay-oriented greeting cards that you couldn’t get anywhere else. That list too much of a mouthful for you? Well, that’s kind of the point. The great thing was that, in other cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and even small towns, there were LGBTQ specific bookstores, too.

Everyone went there. Now, the bookstores are almost all gone.

These bookstores were places where we’d meet friends before going out to dinner. They were easy places for anyone, and that especially included the deeply closeted, to go and safely meet friends and get a book or magazine that they could take home and read in the privacy of their own home and remember that there were others like them out there. I’m talking the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. I don’t say that as a date range because each of those decades had their special challenges and if you don’t know what they are, I suggest you do a little homework.

There aren’t that many physical bookstores left, much less gay ones. So how does one browse the gay literature anymore? It is becoming next to impossible. Why? Because bookstores don’t believe they need to set aside sections just for LGBTQ folks.

We make a point to duck into any bookstore we run across because, well, it’s just what we like to do. We poke around and then have to ask, “Do you have a section for LGBTQ books?” The answer is always this, “We have lots of gay books. They are shelved with all the other ones. What author are you looking for?”

“Someone or something new,” we say.

“You’ll have to be more specific.”

Macintosh Books on Sanibel Island in Florida had a huge rainbow flag out front so we were hopeful and excited to check it out. The clerk said of the sprawling stacks, “They (LGBTQ books) are scattered throughout all the different sections.” So I asked if they could recommend any authors, and that confused him. Then I asked why he had a Rainbow Flag flying out front. He just looked at me funny and then refused to tell me if he was the owner or not.

We are undergoing a loss of tribe these days. I call it dilution. Here is another example. I was a member of River Road Unitarian Universalist Church for many years and coordinated the LGBTQ group there, organizing brown bag lunches, gatherings, rally participation, and area coordination meetings for marriage equality, and served as a congregation liaison under Reverend Scott Alexander. I eventually hit volunteer burn out and left the church. Years later, I ran into a friend from there in the local library parking lot. I asked her how the old LGBTQ group was doing.

“Oh, we don’t need a group,” she said. “We’re just a regular part of the congregation.”

I cried nearly the whole way home.

We have lost a sense of community. We are losing the cohesive ties that helped us combat GRID, then AIDS, then other discrimination that eventually led to marriage equality. Yes, there is burnout associated with all this work, but many hands make the work light. Where are our hands for the transgender fight? Where are the living networks we need to protect what we have gained? How can we protect and teach our hard fought history? How do we support our community if we don’t think we need it anymore? I am not, and never will be, just a regular part.

Not having LGBTQ specific sections in physical bookstores is just further intimidation for the curious, the closeted, the shy. It is a subtle form of discrimination and it should be stopped.

Not having LGBTQ specific sections in PUBLIC LIBRARIES is just further intimidation for the curious, the closeted, the shy. It is a subtle form of discrimination and it should be stopped.

So go into a bookstore and ask to see the LGBTQ section. If they have one, make sure you buy a book.