The movement, more specifically Pride Month, was started to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, which occurred fifty years ago this week in Greenwich in New York City. However, in the UK, it all started with, among others, Gay’s The Word, a bookshop specialising in LGBTQ+ fiction and non-fiction. Not only has the store been a must-go attraction for any LGBTQ+ people in London but since its opening in 1979, it has been a base for activism and support for those who need a community of people like them.
The bookshop itself was a meeting place for both the initial organisers of the first ever Pride parade in London as well as being the headquarters of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group, formed in 1984 to support the year-long miners’ strike from 1984 to 1985. Subsequently, the store has become a landmark in London, featured in the film Pride, depicting the story of the above group and their work.
However, the shop has not been without its ups and downs. Last year, the iconic store had its window smashed-in by vandals. However, within a few hours, they had put into action plans to keep the shop open in the interim, with a donation from an anonymous author aiding the costs of repairing the damage.
This shop, and this is not a sponsored or promotional article, has been the heart of LGBTQ+ activism and support networks for the last 40 years and, regardless of it being a shop, deserves recognition for that.
In 1984, five years after its foundation, the shop was raided by Customs and Excise Officers who proceeded to seize all its imported books as part of Operation Tiger. Under Operation Tiger, there was an effort to prosecute Gay’s The Word for obscene literature, despite its insistence that it was London’s Serious Gay Book Shop. This was meant to indicate that it sold books regarding LGBTQ+ culture, not pornographic material, as was suggested had previously been the case with other shops.
This was a significant change and the shop continues to be a forum for LGBTQ+ issues to this day. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, it has overcome many challenges, just as many of those who come through its doors from the community. At every hurdle, even its possible closure due to the age of internet shopping and rising rents, there have always been those who stood up for its importance to the community as Britain’s only LGBTQ+ book shop.
So as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, lets remember another key part of LGBTQ+ culture which has been a vital outlet for discussion and literature, and which educates not just the community but anyone who wants to find out more about the sexuality or gender spectrum. Gay’s The Word has gone from covering just one sexuality to a plethora of them over the years, and the progress it has helped the community make is something that should be highlighted this Pride month among the many stories of and by LGBTQ+ people.