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March 5, 2010

Giovanni's Room

Cleofaye of Sex etc... wrote us a guest blog! Enjoy-

I moved to Philadelphia about two and a half years ago. I had grown up in a small, conservative town, and one of the things driving me towards the city was the hopes of finding an LGBT community. There was none that I could find in my town, but I moved knowing there were gay bars, gay clubs,and for me - a geek to the core - the ultimate, a gay book store.

The town I left had a small used bookstore, full of Danielle Steel novels, Tom Clancy books, and other mass market beach reads that the tourists bought and swapped all summer. To find anything beyond the best sellers list, you had to venture to Borders, 30 minutes away. I would huddle in the Gay and Lesbian section (I've since checked and it's still not trans-inclusive), tucked in the corner, occupying half of a small book case, being constantly pushed out by the Shakespeare section next to it. I would hold a copy of MacBeth in my hand looking at the rows of mostly gay men romance novels, constantly on the lookout for someone I knew, and preparing to sing the praises of Shakespearean tragedy should anyone question my motives (because I believed that anyone actually cared what section of the bookstore I was hanging out in). I was too scared to buy anything - scared the cashier would look at me funny, scared that people would notice the book I carried was about *gasp* gay people, scared that people would know.

It took me a few attempts to actually make it into Giovanni's Room. I had been in the city for a few months before finding an ad for Reading Queerly, a book group for women and genderqueers, gave me the courage to go in. After spending about 2 hours with the group I felt like I had found the smart, interesting, articulate queer community I had been searching for. From that moment on, I've been in love.

Giovanni's Room was founded in 1973 and became the oldest LGBT bookstore in the country when the famous Oscar Wilde bookstore in NYC closed in March 2009. It served as a meeting place during the onset of the gay rights movement. It has a huge collection of LGBT books, and prides itself on being able to get any book you request. Over the summer, the owner, Ed Hermance was informed that one of the walls was structurally unsound and had to be replaced, to the tune of just over $50,000.

Since then, the community has rallied around Giovanni's Room. Authors such as Terry Galloway (MEAN Little deaf Queer) and Kate Bornstein (Gender Outlaws) have volunteered their time to give readings. Ms. Bornstein revealed that Giovanni's had been where she had bought her first feminist books when she was first having inklings of thoughts that would lead to her transition. During Philly Pride's Outfest event in October, the committee moved the entire event down two blocks to be sure Giovanni's storefront (covered completely in a black tarp for renovations at the time) was included in the event. Between a bake sale, purchases, and straight donations, the community raised over $3,700 for the store in one day.

Over $35,000 has since been raised in the effort. It has been heartwarming to see what has occasionally been a indifferent LGBT community in the city rally around our cause. There is still a decent way to go to completely pay off the reconstruction, but watching people find money to support a store that has supported them since well before it was safe and accepted to do so has been an incredible experience.

The easiest way to support the fundraising efforts at Giovanni's Room is simply to shop there or visit www.queerbooks.com. If you'd rather make a straight donation, you can do so by purchasing a gift certificate and noting that it is a donation in the order. They have a huge selection of LGBT books, but are always more than happy to order any book, LGBT or not. There are also a number of store events such as author readings and book club meetings lined up, and the page is updated often when new appearances are booked.  You can also find Giovanni's Room on Facebook and Twitter.

Cleofaye grew up in a small town in Jersey. She went off to college to study sex, feminism, LGBT rights and rugby. She now spends her days as a slave to a desk, and spends her nights tweeting about inappropriate topics and discussing all forms of sex at her blog Sex etc...

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