London's only lesbian and gay bookshop

  • What Gay’s the Word has over the chainstores is friendly, knowledgeable staff and a far greater variety of books. ‘We have literally thousands,’ confirms McSweeney. ‘I think if people have never been into the bookstore, they’d be surprised at just how many books are available. When the shop opened it was half the space we have now, and a lot of it was feminist books because there wasn’t enough gay stuff being published. That’s all changed. Now we have sections on gay parenting, spirituality, lesbian and gay politics, psychology, plays, lesbian detective fiction. There’s just so much that has come out in the past 28 years.’

    Community links remain strong. ‘When we were set up there were lots of community groups who would meet up here. We still have a lesbian discussion group that meets every week. There’s a gay writers group that meets here. There’s a new trans group that just started meeting here. And the space is free. What I like about the shop is that I have everybody from 16-year-olds to 90-year-olds coming in and using it. People stop by to pick up the free papers, or to chat. You build a relationship with them. And it’s great when they buy books as well, but it is more a sense of community.’

    Gay writers certainly recognise the value of Gay’s the Word. Over the years the shop has hosted readings by Jake Arnott, Patrick Gale, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Hollinghurst, David Leavitt, Armistead Maupin and Felice Picano.

    Named one of the 50 best independent bookstores by the Independent a few years ago, Gay’s the Word was recently voted one of the ten best bookshops in London by the London Bookfair. And gay tourists continue to flock here, just as McSweeney himself did all those years ago.

    ‘If Londoners used the bookstore the way visiting tourists use it, we’d be laughing,’ he says. He pauses, then adds: ‘So much has changed over the past 28 years. Homophobia is still out there. We still get spit on the windows. But these days when we call the police, they’re fantastic.’

    Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans History Month runs throughout February with various events organised in London and nationwide. For more information visit

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