Yes, Gay is Indeed The Word

For many of those who have seen Pride the film, Gay’s The Word very much appears as one of the characters of the film and the shop was definitely a significant part of the LGSM story. So it seems appropriate to share this with those who visit our website, as Gay’s The Word enters its 38th year of trading – and exists now as the only exclusively LGBTQ+ bookshop in the UK.

The bookshop was founded in 1979 by members of the Gay Icebreaker collective – a socialist group who ran a helpline and held discussions at the bookshop. Before Gay’s The Word, a gay bookshop was usually a place that had some books but was where men went to buy magazines. As a lesbian, gay and feminist bookshop founded with strong political principles Gay’s The Word couldn’t have been more different. And of course it was always more than just a bookshop. There was a coffee area with notice boards advertising accommodation, personal ads and community notices and from the very start it was used by a range of groups including Gay Black Group, Gay Disabled Group, Lesbian Discussion Group and from the early 80s, the Gay Young Socialists.

The bookshop quickly established itself as an alternative space and by 1984 was thriving and even thinking of moving premises. Then in April 1984, Customs and Excise, assuming that the bookshop was a porn shop, raided it and seized thousands of pounds worth of stock. All of the staff and directors faced criminal charges and a defence campaign was set up. For further info have a look at a wonderful blog by Colin Clews who also happens to be a member of LGSM.

In March 1984 the National Union of Mineworkers had gone on strike. At Gay Pride that year Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson collected money for the striking miners and the very first LGSM meeting took place in the home of founding member, Mark Ashton – at 160 Claydon, Deacon Way, London SE17. It was agreed that meetings would be held weekly and as numbers grew, we secured a free meeting space at the Greater London Council’s County Hall, near Waterloo. When that space was unavailable we would meet at Gay’s The Word and LGSM remain truly grateful to Paud Hegarty and the staff who made this space available to us and a range of other groups. Eventually, LGSM secured a relatively permanent home upstairs at the Fallen Angel, a newly opened gay café/bar at the corner of Graham Street/Coombs Street, off City Road, near Old Street. With average attendances of 45-60 people, Gay’s The Word was simply too small for our weekly meetings.

One of our ways of collecting money and raising funds was by shaking buckets outside clubs and pubs including The Bell in King’s Cross which was the alternative lefty gay pub and had a hugely popular disco run by Icebreakers at the time. We also collected outside Gay’s The Word every Saturday and it served as a collection point for food parcels. We consistently raised more money at the bookshop than from individual nights in pubs. We would sometimes get harassed by police when collecting outside the shop but as long as we stayed on the pavements lights which was shop property rather than on the footpath which was public, we stayed within the law. If it all became too much we could retreat into the shop for a cup of coffee until the police had moved on.

Watching the documentary All Out - Dancing in Dulais you can see members of LGSM collecting funds outside the bookshop and some of them being interviewed inside.

When Pride was in production Gay’s The Word was contacted and asked if the bookshop could feature in the film. The director and designers visited the bookshop to check it out as a location. The shop has been modernised in the intervening years and was too long and thin to accommodate cameras, cast and crew so instead, they used a mock-up in a terrace of shops in Kilburn, North West London. The shop used was 80 Kingsgate Road NW6. The designers had detailed discussions with Gay’s The Word as to how it would have looked in the 80s and they recreated the cafe/seating area with all the notice boards and even included the piano. Many of the books used in the film came from the bookshop’s secondhand section and posters, flyers and badges were recreated.

In these times of e-books and Amazon, it is amazing that Gay’s The Word has survived, but survived it has. It stocks a huge range of books and attracts a wide range of customers from academics and students to teens just coming out. One of the biggest sellers in the wake of the film were the Pits & Perverts t-shirts and posters as well as LGSM badges. The staff were astounded by the demand and very grateful as they were still reeling from a 25% rent increase. T-shirts have been sent as far as Durham and Glasgow to Moscow and Sydney. At a special event before Christmas, original LGSM members attended a signing event at the shop and the shop was packed with some very enthusiastic customers. The current staff, Jim and Uli, have a wealth of knowledge on lesbian and gay literature and are known for the relaxed friendly atmosphere which they create. They run a rich array of events and the shop also hosts a weekly Lesbian Discussion Group as well as the monthly meeting of TransLondon and a Gay Book Group. Gay’s The Word is a precious resource so do swing by and pay a visit sometime.

The address is: Gay’s The Word, 66 Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AB. Nearest tube is Russell Square and it’s a 2 minute walk from there. They open 10.00 – 18.30 Mon-Sat & 14.00 – 18.00 Sun. Tel: 020 72787654. Mail order available and enquiries at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..