The new, accessible Church Street location of the bookshop is a place for everyone in the queer community to find belonging.
I’m a recovering alcoholic and I’ve been sober for more than five years. Ditching booze meant ditching the things in my life that I thought would tempt me to drink again: people, places, pastimes. And the queer community.
The Church-Wellesley Village is mostly bars. Sure, there are plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and sex toys at The Men’s Room, and support groups at The 519 community centre, but the rest is mostly boozing. And that’s fine for some people, but I couldn’t be around that stuff in the first couple years of my recovery. That meant I suddenly had very little connection to my community, at a time when I probably could have really used more community.
And now I hardly ever feel tempted to drink, even when I’m around people who are drinking, but the village and I are estranged. What fun is a noisy bar when you don’t drink?
So my ears pricked up when I learned that Glad Day Bookshop, the world’s oldest-surviving LGBTQ bookshop, was moving to 499 Church Street and expanding to a bookshop-cafe-bar-event space. Booze, sure, but so much more than that.
It has since become my go-to hangout in the village. And I’ve noticed that a lot of other people are treating it that way as well—though for different reasons.
For Andrew Gurza, it’s about accessibility. Gurza uses a wheelchair, and has had a lot of difficulty connecting to a community where he can’t even get into most of the bars and other businesses.
“The village generally is not accessible,” says Gurza, who works as a disability awareness consultant. “Because it’s old, and because I believe that the owners of the spaces don’t understand disability. And that’s not to disparage them—it’s just not something they think about.”
But Glad Day’s current owners, who bought the business in 2012, always regretted that the second-floor shop on Yonge Street wasn’t accessible for many people with disabilities. With the move to a ground-level space on Church Street, they were finally able to make it almost 100 per cent accessible.
“It’s a big, big change. A huge improvement,” Gurza says. “And I think they’ve really tried to have accessibility at the forefront.”
Now he has no issue accessing the space, and likes to attend the monthly Tell Me Something Good dirty storytelling event—which he describes as “the best thing ever.”
“The move means I can experience more of the community,” he says. “It’s not just a bookstore—it’s an event space or party space, too … and I can go and don’t have to worry about getting in, getting out.”
Taylor Thompson says he doesn’t really feel safe in most other places in the village.
“As a gay trans guy, I never felt like Church Street was for me,” he says, explaining that he thinks the village is geared more toward gay cisgender men, and finds that they are frequently less welcoming of trans men. “So I feel very wary being on the street.”
But in part because of Glad Day’s reputation for inclusiveness, and in part because of his positive experiences visiting its old location, he knew he had to give the new Glad Day a shot.
“When I heard [that Glad Day] was moving to Church Street I was like, ‘This is amazing,’” he says. “Because there’s so much on the street that I don’t feel comfortable sitting down in, and I finally know a place where I can go.”
So far, he’s had good experiences at Glad Day’s Brown Rice dance party for people of colour, as well as the business’s 2016 Naked Heart LGBTQ Literary Festival.
More than that, he hopes Glad Day will become a kind of meeting place, and that a kind of grapevine will develop for queer folks who feel excluded from the rest of the street.
“Maybe after going here, there’ll be people who are like, ‘You should try this other place and it’s inclusive and it’s trans-friendly and friendly to POC people and everyone,’” he says. “So for me, I guess I see this as a starting point to finding other safe spaces on Church.”
Muhammed Aboura considers Glad Day his home away from home.
The amount of time he spends there—he says it’s almost every day, between his classes at U of T and his job as an interpreter—is certainly a testament to how comfortable to feels there. (And, of course, that’s where I interviewed him.)
It took Aboura, a queer-identified Syrian refugee who moved to Canada in the summer of 2015, almost a year to find a place that felt right.
“The community here is clique-y,” he says. “I wanted to explore the community, but people would suggest I go to the Muslim LGBT group or the Arab Middle Eastern whatever. And the thing is, labels are a very North American thing. Back home, people just didn’t care.”
He says he didn’t want to be shunted off into some group—he wanted to meet different people. He wanted an inclusive environment like the one he says he had back in Damascus. He finally found it in Glad Day.
“Because Glad Day actively promotes itself as an inclusive space, people have fewer assumptions when they come here,” he says. “It’s a place where everyone can come together without a label, and I think a lot of beautiful things can come out of that interaction.”
Beyond just hanging out, Aboura can be found attending the Brown Rice party and the recurring Tipsy Knitting event (it’s pretty much just what it sounds like).
“It’s nice to come here and have it actually feel like a community,” he says. “I think that’s the biggest difference between this place and when you go to other places in the village.”
Many of us don’t feel like the village is ours. It belongs to somebody else—somebody whiter, more able-bodied, more cisgender, more whatever. We’re queer, but we don’t feel welcome on Church Street—how ridiculous is that? I think Glad Day can cut through all that. With its philosophy of inclusion, and with so many people’s hopes riding on it, the shop is well-placed to become a much-needed hub for the community—the whole community.