6 Fun, Funky, and Important Queer Bookstores to Shop Your Reading List
These stores offer culture, film, art, and a cool place to commune with the queer community.
Queer bookstores have played huge role in the LGBTQIA+ community for decades — and not just with literature, but also as supportive and ultra-cool places to hang out. While there may be fewer locations than there used to be, the ones that still stand give us a lot to be thankful for. If, like us, you can’t resist a stack of good books even when your to-be-read pile is overflowing, hit up one of these queer bookstores around the US.
BGSQD in New York City
The Bureau of General Services—Queer Division, or BGSQD, is an independent, volunteer-staffed queer cultural center, bookstore, and event space inside New York City's LGBTQ Community Center. The inspiration for BGSQD came from the belief that “NYC is big enough and queer enough to sustain an event space and bookstore specifically dedicated to serving the queer communities of NYC and the many queer visitors to our city.” And we’re here to say they’re right. The artfully decorated store on West 13th Street, tucked away in the vibrant West Village (an epicenter of the city's gay culture) is the place for queer books, art & poetry, readings, film screenings, workshops, and just plain ol' socializing. Greg or Donnie, partners who run BGSQD, are super friendly and will make you feel right at home. (You can get a feel for the variety of their events by taking a virtual visit to their lively YouTube channel.) When you’re done shopping, head over to Tea & Sympathy, our favorite British hideaway, where you can pour over your new stack while you grub baked beans on toast or afternoon tea.
BookWoman in Austin, Texas
At more than 45 years old, BookWoman is the only feminist bookstore in the state — and has had quite the “herstory,” as they say. The store started out as a collective called The Common Woman Bookstore (based on the Judy Grahn poem of the same name) and has moved several times, but always remains open as a home for marginalized voices through literature. With a goal of stocking titles that you wouldn’t find at big box stores, they have hundreds of queer books for people of all ages and identities. In fact, they promise no matter how many times you visit, you’ll still “find something good n’ gay to go home with!” Or better yet, don’t head home, go straight to Epoch Coffee, a hip coffee joint and local favorite, which is open until midnight — for those who prefer a caffeine fix for their nightcap.
Charis Books & More in Decatur, Georgia
The South's oldest independent feminist bookstore has been elevating diverse voices in the queer community since 1974. With a huge selection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer fiction and non-fiction, there’s plenty to keep your shelf full. If your need some inspiration, check out their book lists (which include categories like coming out, gender identity, intersex, queer studies, queer lit, and others); plus notable weekly events, including Trans and Friends, a youth-focused group for trans people questioning their own gender and aspiring allies, which meets via Zoom. The bookstore’s charitable arm, Charis Circle, is a non-profit on the campus of Agnes Scott College that works with artists, authors, and activists to deliver life-changing programs and events to feminist communities. When you’re done at the shop, take the five-minute walk to Piece of Cake, which has multiple locations for good reason. Nothing pairs better with some serious reads than the flavors of lemon, Oreo, chocolate, birthday cake, and more.
Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia
Named after James Baldwin's gay novel of the same name, Giovanni’s Room is the oldest gay bookstore in the country. After being founded by three gay activists in 1973, the store was forced to close its doors almost immediately due to a homophobic landlord. But since 1979, it’s been at its current home at the corner of 12th and Pine Streets in Philadelphia's thriving gayborhood, Washington Square West. In 2014 and after 41 years in business, Philly AIDS Thrift took over as proprietor — with its colorful window decor and lots of cool finds — to keep the shop alive. The new venture still sells both new and used LGBTQIA+ books as well as clothes, music, housewares, art, movies, and more. Hit up Dirty Frank’s after you shop (a five-minute walk) and hang at this iconic local dive bar that's been around for almost 90 years and is dripping with eclectic character. It's cash-only, but it adds to the old-school experience.
Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago
Founded in 1980, Unabridged Bookstore sits on the edge of Chicago's Boystown neighborhood, one of the most famous gay villages in the US. The store, originally occupying a single storefront, now covers three and is one of the biggest independent bookstores in the US. In addition to being known as Chicago’s go-to for LGBTQIA+ literature and an icon in the gay community, the store also hosts a monthly queer book club. When you’re done shopping, walk two minutes to The Closet, a tiny gay bar that opened in 1978, and is the perfect place to cozy up and settle in. It's known for being a lesbian pick-up joint, but all are welcome for dancing, video bowling, darts, and karaoke.
Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis
Okay, this last selection isn't quite a book store, but free books are too good not to share. Quatrefoil Library was named after a novel by James Barr, the first modern book (published in 1950) with a positive portrayal of homosexuals. What began as the owner's collection of gay-themed books in a linen closet has now grown to 30,000-plus titles, with a collection of first editions and rare books, including books in Braille. The non-profit library also hosts several LGBTQIA+ book clubs, so you don’t have to read alone. And if you don’t know what to read at all, check out their book lists, which include Coming Out Books and 12 Great Trans/Non-Binary Reads. For socializing with a cool queer group, check out their poetry readings, panel discussions, book launches, and more. While you're here, head over to the famous Midtown Global Market, to explore food, arts, and crafts from all over the world.