Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Closing of Oscar Wilde Bookshop

When Martin and I travel we love to check out the local LGBT bookstores. One of our favorites has always been the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York City. Oscar Wilde is an amazing store filled with history, and has been influential to several generations of LGBT people. This last summer longtime manager and current owner Kim Brinster stopped in our bookstore, Common Language in Ann Arbor. She was very impressed. I was weak-kneed to hear her praise.

Here's a newsflash: Oscar Wilde Bookshop is closing.

This is alarming news for at least two reasons:

Gay Businesses Support Gay Causes

A separate African-American economy began in the late 18th and early 19th century and flourished in the early 20th century. Though invisible to white America, it was a thriving retail and service economy. However, all that economic activity was slowly absorbed into the greater economy from the 1950s to the present. On the one hand, that is a victory. Economic activity, like schools and marriage, should not suffer from a "separate but equal" status. On the other hand, it was that alternate economy that helped to fund traditionally black colleges, the NAACP, Freedom Rides, and more. Unless you believe we are in a post-racial world the loss of those businesses is the loss of funding for change.

An LGBT economy is a much more recent phenomenon. Public admission of homosexuality meant certain ruin for businesses as well as individuals. It was only as the LGBT movement made it possible for people to venture out of the closet that such a thing as "Gay-Owned Gay-Operated” was created. But it has become integral to our social change movement.

Check out sponsors of national LGBT events and organizations and you'll see names like PlanetOut, Inc., the Advocate, Arcus Foundation, and the Gill Foundation. Even when you see the Ford Foundation as a sponsor (for example) that funding has been the result of lobbying by LGBT workplace organizations and other funders and activists. Without that support, those "non-gay" funders would melt into the woodwork.

Check out local organizations and you will see a similar pattern. WRAP, Affirmations, Triangle, HARC and more are funded by Pride Source (publishers of Between the Lines), Pronto, the \aut\ BAR, and more. And again, what about those Ford or Paramount Bank sponsorships? That funding exists because of strong LGBT advocacy within the organization.

Unless you believe we live in a post-gay world, the loss of LGBT businesses will mean the loss of funding for OUR change.

LGBT Bookstores Provide Information and Culture to our Community

LGBT and independent bookstores are the primary advocates for LGBT fiction and non-fiction literature. Think how often you hear about a Library Board banning books like “Heather Has Two Mommies”, “The Sissy Duckling”, and most recently the incredible “10,000 Dresses”. The big chains focus on Best Sellers, not LGBT literature. The last bastion of diverse free speech is the independent bookstore.

This weekend I was talking with author Sal Sapienza who described how important Oscar Wilde had been to him when he was a college student in New York and struggling with his identity.

When the last independent bookstore disappears the only voice you will be able to read will be the voice that corporate America wants you to hear. It may not be the voice that you want to hear.

As Christopher Rice pointed out a couple of years ago, if you liked “Brokeback Mountain” and want more like it, head to your LGBT bookstore, because it is the health of those bookstores that will allow the next story to be presented to the public.

What can you do?

I have already heard many people meet the news of Oscar Wilde’s closing with sadness and nostalgia. It is not a time for sadness. It is a time for resolution.

Resolve to buy your books at LGBT bookstores. Even if you do not buy books, you can support them with your purchase of lube, magazines, and DVDs.

Resolve to do as much business as you can with LGBT businesses. When you use an LGBT lawyer, realtor, doctor, therapist, auto dealer, or any other business you are “Buying Gay” in a profound way.

The LGBT community was recently reminded that it is within the power of the larger community to limit and take away our rights. The Change WE believe in must be supported within our communities.