The Bookshop Darlinghurst, Australia’s oldest LGBTQI bookstore, turns 40 this month.
In recent years, The Bookshop has weathered the impacts of COVID, economic and political uncertainty and inclement weather, and for a while its future was precarious. However, its investment in online selling and the support of the community has helped it to weather the storm.
“After the last few years it is something of a miracle that we are still here – so reaching our 40th birthday is certainly something to celebrate,” a post on the bookshop’s official Instagram said.
In The Beginning
The seed for The Bookshop Darlinghurst was planted in the 1970s while founding owner Les McDonald was on a holiday with his then partner in the United States.
Seeing LGBTQI books advertised in the gay press, McDonald saw an untapped market in Australia.
On his return to Sydney, he started importing LGBTQI books and selling them via mail order.
Soon the business was getting too large to operate out of home so they set up a bookshop on Crown Street in Surry Hills and then to their current location on Oxford Street.
As A Gay Man Growing Up, The Bookshop Was Important To Me..
In the 1980s during the AIDS crisis, the Bookshop became a centre for information and community support as well as a safe space.
Speaking to Star Observer, Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, welcomed this milestone anniversary, saying, “The Bookshop served as a hub of information and support through the AIDS crisis and has remained a constant since, despite the advent of eBooks and the devastating impact of the pandemic – longevity that is testament to the community’s regard for Les MacDonald and his place.
“My sincere congratulations on this milestone achievement and best wishes for many years to come.”
Independent Sydney MP, Alex Greenwich, revealed what the Bookshop has meant to him and to LGBTQI communities, saying, “as a young gay man growing up in Sydney, the Bookshop was important to me.”
“It has been a safe space and community hub that to this day fills a void where everyone from young queer people to parents of gay kids and our allies can find materials that reflect their lives, to learn from and share.
“I always get gifts for new parents from the Bookshop to make sure their kids have stories that reflect diversity and inclusion.”
A Beacon To LGBTQI People For 40 Years
Dr Christopher Pepin-Neff, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney who focuses on LGBTQI politics, discussed how vital LGBTQI bookstores are to the community, saying, “Bookstores play a central role in story of queer and trans liberation. More than just gathering places, they serve as a material asset for community trust by generating social networks that share information.
“The Bookshop Darlinghurst has been a beacon to countless marginalised LGBTQI+ people for 40 years.”
Greens Councillor for Sydney Sylvie Ellsmore believes that “as one of the oldest LGBTQIA+ bookshops in the world, the Bookshop Darlinghurst’s work to promote LGBTQIA+ authors and stories over decades has been trailblazing, and so important.
“From the early days, when attempts to silence, censor and shut down queer voices were State sanctioned, to today, when sadly the community still faces attempts to deny the diversity and beauty of LGBTIQA+ communities – the whole Sydney community owes [The Bookshop Darlinghurst] a great debt.”
In celebration of its milestone, the bookshop is hosting celebratory special events and promotions throughout August.
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