These 10 queer bookstores are sure to notch a spot on your bucket list…
By Rowan O’Brien
Once I’ve chosen a vacation destination, my next step is to scour Google Maps for the local queer hangout spots, and my first search is always for LGBTQ+ bookstores. Walking into a queer bookstore in a new city is like a warm embrace from a distant relative, somehow foreign and familiar at the same time. The queer history and quirks of its hometown are nestled within the shop’s walls, happy to open up to a friendly face. Whether you are looking for some bookstores to add to your travel itinerary or want to make one of these miraculous establishments the reason for the trip itself, here are 10 queer bookstores from around the world that are sure to notch a spot on your bucket list.
Glad Day Bookshop
Not only was Glad Day the inspiration for this list, but it is also the place that made me fall in love with queer bookstores. A second home to many queer patrons, myself included, Glad Day hosts a variety of events, from erotica readings to sapphic dance parties to Indigenous burlesque shows. It is also the oldest LGBTQ+ bookstore in the world, having been open since 1970. In 2011, a collective of community members purchased Glad Day from the previous owner, and in 2016 it moved from its Yonge Street location into the heart of the Church-Wellesley Village. Glad Day also has bragging rights to Canada’s longest-running drag brunch, which you can check out every Sunday at 11 am or 2 pm. This pillar of the Toronto queer community also inspired a bop by British musician Freddie Lewis called “A Bookshop in Toronto.“
Boekwinkel Savannah Bay
Utrecht, the Netherlands
Boekwinkel Savannah Bay is a cozy bookstore on Telingstraat in Utrecht. It is the successor of Heksenkedler, the first women’s bookshop in the Netherlands, founded at a time when it was nearly impossible to find books written by any women in mainstream Dutch bookstores. When Heksenkedler opened in 1975, it was located in a basement and didn’t move above ground for nine years, at which point it was renamed to Boekwinkel Savannah Bay after the French play by Marguerite Duras. Savannah Bay is a meeting place for the queer community of Utrecht and surrounding areas, and it also hosts Pink Point, an information resource for queer organizations and activities in the city. The store also has its own podcast called Radio Savannah, where hosts Lola and Suzanne discuss books in the store with special guests.
A Room of One’s Own
I recently developed a virtual crush on A Room of One’s Own Instagram account. It started when my friend sent me a “Book Recs Based on Your Favourite Horror Films” meme created by the page, and was solidified when I saw their “Pick Your Lesbian” literary guide. A Room of One’s Own began in 1975 with a group of University of Wisconsin graduates and $5,000. Beginning as a feminist bookstore, A Room of One’s own soon expanded its focus to queer and trans literature as well. It is owned by two former employees as well as silent partner and fantasy novelist Patrick Rothfuss. This bookstore carries more than 200,000 titles and is very involved with the community, taking on initiatives such as partnering with the Wisconsin Book Festival (taking place this year from October 19 to 22) and creating the #BooksAgainstBorders fundraising campaign, where A Room of One’s Own led a collective of bookstores to donate part of their sales to legal services for immigrants in July 2019.
Eisenherz – translated as “Valiant Heart” – was originally named Prinz (Prince) Eisenherz when it was started by members of the German gay liberation movement in 1978. The name was changed to encourage gender inclusivity as more of Berlin’s women’s bookshops closed, and Eisenherz began to stock more lesbian and trans titles to support these overlooked groups. Eisenherz filled another missing niche as the birthplace of the Teddy Award (named after the stuffed animal given out as prizes), an international film award for queer films. With more than 20,000 titles, Eisenherz also has a gallery space, and hosts author readings and discussions. If you want a peek at the shop without leaving your house, you can even have your own virtual tour of the store on Google Maps!
Gay’s the Word
Gay’s the Word was created in 1979 by a gay socialist group called the Gay Icebreakers as a community space whose profits were funnelled back into the business. If you’ve seen the movie Pride (2014), you will recognize Gay’s the Word as the headquarters for Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, a real group that used the bookstore as a meeting place to organize in support of the UK miners’ strike that lasted from 1984 to 1985. This community and information resource is located in Central London and has survived homophobic attacks such as a UK Customs and Excise raid in 1984. It hosts many community groups, including a lesbian discussion group that has been running for an impressive 40 years!
Les Mots à la Bouche
When Les Mots à la Bouche was born in 1980, it was not only a gay bookstore but also a tea room and restaurant by night. It also operated as a publishing house for the magazine Masques and a broadcast studio for Frequency Gay radio. When founder Jean-Pierre Meyer-Genton passed away in 1996, his partner, Walter Paluch, accepted oversight of the store. In 2019, rising prices in the gay neighbourhood of the Marais district forced the bookstore to move to a new location on Saint-Ambroise. It has a large section of English-language books to fulfill the demand of English-speaking queers in Paris who could not find what they were looking for at mainstream bookstores.
Hares & Hyenas
Inside the Victorian Pride Centre, there is a queer bookshop called Hares & Hyenas. Since opening in 1991, the shop has organized more than 5,000 literary and performance events, hosting many in its now-closed multipurpose venue called HareHole Melbourne. This shop is focused on creating a safe space for queer and gender-diverse kids to hang out, as well as providing resources for queer families. In fact, it is the only bookstore in Australia that specializes in books for Assisted Reproduction Families.
According to Travel.Tapei, GinGin Store became the first LGBTQIA+ bookstore in the Chinese-speaking world when it opened in 1999, located in “the capital of LGBTQIA+ advancement in Asia.” GinGin Store is not only a venue for the queer community to congregate, with lots of events and activities filling the calendar, but the owner also eagerly welcomes allies who want to learn about queer history and community. GinGin Store is located beside Love Boat LGBT Shop and offers gender-affirming wear such as binders, as well as drinks and art exhibitions. The name of the shop was chosen as the characters can be broken down into six suns (日) stylized in the six colours of the rainbow flag.
Mexico City, Mexico
Created in 2005, Somos Voces is a queer bookstore and café located in the queer area of Mexico City called Zona Rosa. This bookstore hosts a variety of groups and workshops, as well as karaoke nights and painting exhibits. Originally focused on importing queer books from Spain, in 2006 Somos Voces expanded its reach to include indie writers and publishers from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Although the two companies have since separated, Somos Voces even started publishing its own books under the publisher Voces en Tinta in 2012.
The youngest queer bookstore on this list, Libreria Antigone opened in 2106 in Milan (home to the largest gay community in Italy), with a second location in Rome following shortly after. The founders chose the name Antigone because the character represents the struggle between the state and the individual, and the necessity to fight for your rights. It is also in reference to gender scholar Judith Butler’s quote, “One could simply say, in a psychoanalytic spirit, that Antigone represents a perversion of the law and conclude that the law demands perversion that therefore, in a dialectical sense, the law is perversion.” Libreria Antigone sells everything from books to DVDs to sex toys, and is located in the gay district of Milan, Porta Venezia. Its literary stock ranges from textbooks to self-published novels to kids’ picture books.
A lot of the bookstores on this list were started by queer and trans activists as a nerve centre for the queer community, a library of queer history and, in some cases, a war room in the fight for queer and trans rights. These bookstores are the perfect travel destination to engage with local queer history and community. They are all survivors of time and gentrification while many other trailblazing queer bookstores have disappeared. In an increasingly digitized world, we need to support these history caretakers and community hubs whenever we can, whether that is buying the new queer romance from their websites instead of Amazon, or dropping in for a coffee and a good chat.
ROWAN O’BRIEN is a queer writer and filmmaker based in Toronto. They love ranting about LGBTQ+ representation in media while creating their own queer stories, including their coming-of-age short film CRUSHED, which has garnered over 1.4 million views on YouTube.