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Sun Oct 6, 2019, 11:35 PM

LGBT History Month: Gay is the word: A history of LGBTQ bookstores around the world

“It was unbelievably fun,” Ed Hermance said about his time operating Giovanni’s Room, one of the first queer bookstores in the world. “You weren’t there for the economics, and it would be exhausting if you were in it for the politics. We were starved.”

Until the 1970s, when LGBT publishing first began and activists like Barbara Gittings pushed for representation in libraries, the few queer books available were limited mostly to anti-gay medical texts. So, as the first wave of bookstores like Giovanni’s Room opened, getting ahold of quality LGBT titles was a necessity.

According to Hermance, “Every book in the store from 1973 into 1976 the owners had bought for cash at a wholesaler in the West Village, where Craig Rodwell helped them pick out the few dozen titles available on gay subjects.” When Hermance and Arleen Olshan bought Giovanni’s Room in 1976, the two continued to make trips to New York and received the same guidance. “[Craig] knew everything, really.”

Rodwell, who had moved to New York in 1958, did much more than help booksellers like Hermance find stock. A longtime activist and organizer, he opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in 1967, the same year as the Stonewall Inn about a mile away. The store occupied a space on Mercer Street in the heart of New York University, and for those students and professors who passed by, everything could be seen.


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