Gays the Word bookshop

I often have to go to meetings in Euston. During the lunch break, when I am supposed to be ‘networking’, I nip out and visit this shop. I always buy something, even though it is cheaper on Amazon, because it is important to keep specialist bookshops like this going. Our site is linked to it here.

Located at 66 Marchmont Street, Gay’s The Word is the only specifically lesbian and gay bookstore in the UK. 2014 marks the 35th anniversary of its founding. It which first opened its doors on 17 January 1979. Inspired by the emergence and growth of lesbian and gay bookstores in the States, a small group of people from Gay Icebreakers, a gay socialist group founded the store.

When the shop was founded, gay books weren’t generally available in ordinary bookstores. The early newsletters listed the few radical bookstores in the country where gay books were available and Gay News had a pioneering mail order service.

In 1984, Customs and Excise, assuming the shop to be a porn store rather than a serious bookstore, mounted a large-scale raid and seized thousands of pounds worth of stock. Works by Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood and Jean Genet were among the books seized. Directors were eventually charged with conspiracy to import indecent books under the Customs Consolidation Act 1876. Unlike the situation with the Obscene Publications Act, which governs literature published in the UK, the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 does not provide for a literary or artistic defence of titles that HM Customs and Excise have seized under this Act. There is thus a discrepancy between the law which applies to books published in this country (Obscene Publications Act) and books which have been imported (Customs Consolidation Act) which makes possible the apparently contradictory situation where it would be illegal to import a book which could quite legally be published in this country. A campaign was set in motion and the charges were vigorously defended. A defence fund was set up and raised over £55,000 from the public. Many well-known writers also gave their support and Gore Vidal donated £3000. Newspaper articles appeared, various MPs visited the shop and questions were asked in the House of Commons.

‘Gay’s the Word, to my mind, is the fountainhead of queer literature in Britain. I am deeply grateful that these pioneers fought so hard for our right to tell — and read — our own stories.’  Armistead Maupin

‘Truly a fine example of how an independent bookshop should be.’  Time Out London

The photo, below, is of one of our members posing, sinisterly, outside! (You’ll have to click on it to see who it is)


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