From providing safe spaces for queer readers to uplifting writers and publishing houses not commonly found on the high street, these shops are vital

BY CHARLOTTE GRIMWADE, IMAGE BY PIXABAY

The moment lockdown was lifted marked a sigh of relief for independent bookshops, especially for those focused on supporting LGBTQI communities and stories. There’s a long history of LGBTQI bookshops across the UK. Whether you learned about Gay’s The Word from the 2014 film Pride or happened to wander into the Lighthouse on a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe, there are plenty of incredible bookshops dotted around the country. 

Aside from providing a platform for queer authors and publishers, crucially making LGBTQI content more accessible, bookshops like Gay’s The Word have historically provided safe social spaces for members of the LGBTQI community. Uplifting writers and publishing houses not commonly found in standard high street bookshops, talking to an LGBTQI bookseller opens doors, introducing a reader to new authors, perspectives and stories that they might not have previously discovered.

Gay’s The Word – London

It wouldn’t be an article about LGBTQI bookshops without mentioning Gay’s The Word. The UK’s oldest LGBTQI bookshop, founded in 1979 by a group of queer socialists, Gay’s The Word is based on the beautiful Marchmont Street near Russel Square. Aside from being able to buy anything from poetry to parenting books in this cosy independent bookshop, Gay’s The Word also hosts several community events. This includes groups like the 40-year-old Lesbian Discussion Group, as well as the London LGBT Book Group and further meetings organised by Trans London. Gay’s The Word’s history alone is reason enough to go visit, with their incredible range of authors and approachable booksellers adding even more incentive.

Lighthouse – Edinburgh 

Lighthouse, Edinburgh’s very own radical bookshop, is a queer-owned and woman led community space focused on intersectionality. The Lighthouse was adapted from the Word Power bookshop Elaine Henry opened on West Nicholson Street in 1994. The bookshop focuses on feminism, LGBTQI literature, revolutionary history and environmentalism, prioritising the intersectionality between these different topics. Lighthouse also hosts multiple book clubs, including the LGBTQ Book Club and Women In Translation. The shop itself is light and colourful, with plenty of gorgeous books to draw the eye. You could easily spend hours perusing the shelves of the bookshop’s two adjoining rooms.

Queer Lit UK – Manchester 

Queer Lit is an award winning LGBTQI bookshop based in Tib Street, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The shop donates around a hundred LGBTQI books each month to schools around the UK as part of their programme Free Books for Schools. Winning Best New Business at the LGBTQ+ Business Awards in October 2021, Queer Lit is looking to expand throughout 2022 to accommodate more spaces for book clubs and poetry groups in their building. Queer Lit now has a collection surmounting to over 2,500 different titles and also promotes a range of different LGBTQI podcasts on its website. It’s definitely one to visit if you’re ever in Manchester!  

The Common Press – London

The Common Press is a new LGBTQI bookshop and community space that opened in Shoreditch in 2021. The Common Press is one of three social zones in the LGBTQI venue Glass House, existing alongside a multimedia events space (The Commons) and a bar (Common Counter). The Common Press offers both an intersectional bookshop and café, promising good books, coffee and art. The space itself provides the perfect spot to work with friends during the day, buy a new book and learn about new up-and-coming creatives.

The Portal Bookshop – York 

The Portal Bookshop can be found on Patrick Pool in York. Opening in 2019, The Portal Bookshop sells everything sci-fi, fantasy and LGBTQI. Not solely focused on UK publishers, the shop also aims to import texts from the US and beyond. The bookshop’s owner, Lali, described the shop as “queer, nerdy and kind” in an interview with Repeater. The bookshop’s name itself demonstrates books’ ability to transport us into alternate worlds through new stories. This only serves to exemplify the power and importance of LGBTQI bookshops.

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