When I moved to New York City from Atlanta, one of the first things I wanted to do was visit the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in Greenwich Village, believed to be the country's first bookstore dedicated to gay and lesbian authors. I was dismayed to find a sign on the door announcing the store was closing, citing the down economy. Soon after, A Different Light Bookstore in West Hollywood, where I also used to live, announced it, too, would close. I was angry. It felt to me like these stores were giving up too easily, especially as we continue to fight for gay marriage and equal rights for gays and lesbians. Gay bookstores have always been more than just places to buy gay books. They're often centers of their communities, where locals gather for coffee, where gay visitors head first before exploring a new city and where gay teens can seek refuge from rambunctious classmates and bullies. Philip Rafshoon's Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse in midtown Atlanta is one of these gathering spots. Crowds pack the store each week for readings and signings by well-known writers, celebrities and local authors. It's a comfortable place where gay locals and visitors can feel safe and welcome. However, just a few weeks after the launch party for my book, The Out Traveler: Atlanta, at Outwrite this past winter, a young man was attacked leaving a gay bar not far from the bookstore, his teeth broken after being kicked in the face when the assailant asked if he was gay. Even with everything Outwrite and the authors who read there have done to create awareness and promote tolerance, there's still a long way to go.
Aside from creating safe spaces, the book industry also needs to produce more gay literature that appeals to mainstream audiences—especially younger readers, who are more likely to accept and buzz about these kinds of books to friends, family and teachers. This is how change happens. Where are the Gossip Girl and Twilight series of books about gays and lesbians that young adults will want to read? To be fair, there have been a few popular gay teen books lately, like Alex Sanchez's Rainbow Road, So Hard to Say and The God Box. I was surprised when I learned the ages of readers who'd been drawn to the books. Sanchez told me, “I hear from a lot of middle school teachers and librarians who say they desperately need these types of books for students ages 10 to 14.”
Books, and the librarians who took me in, saved me. But my school's library didn't carry any books for gay teens, and at that age, I wasn't comfortable going to a gay bookstore...what was I going to do, ask my parents to drive me? Today, as students come out younger and younger, books like Sanchez's can only help.
Aside from finding refuge in welcoming bookstores and reading appealing books, young readers also need to be able to consume books about being gay that tap into their tech-savvy lives. Unfortunately, there aren't many gay-themed books available for Amazon's Kindle. Downloading a book about how to deal with being gay, whether on the Kindle, iPhone or Internet—and then being able to quickly delete it—might just save a life. The Trevor Project, the nation's only LGBT suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth, takes 20,000 calls a year. Think about how many kids don't call in. Gay publishers must make more of their books available across these new digital distribution channels, especially with so many young people embracing the technology. Stop rejecting these formats because they're different. Isn't that what we ask people to do for us?
Gays and lesbians are coming out younger and younger, and will always want to hear from voices that represent them. Booksellers and publishers: give this new generation of readers books they want to read and in ways they want to read them.
|Jordan McAuley is the founder and president of CELEBRITY | PR and coauthor, with Matt Burkhalter, of The Out Traveler: Atlanta (Alyson Books).|