York’s LGBT+ bookstore that’s making a difference

A YORK bookstore is working to support the city’s LGBTQIA+ community during its Pride Month celebration.

Portal Bookstore, located in Patrick Pool, near Shambles Market, specializes in LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual or allied) books.

Owner Lali Hewitson said that since opening in late October 2019, the store has become a safe space for queer people in York.

“Even if they don’t buy anything absolutely good, they just need a space where they can let their guard down and be themselves,” Lali said.

York Press: The Portal Bookshop in Patrick Pool specializes in LGBTQIA books Photo: Dylan ConnellThe Portal Bookstore in Patrick Pool specializes in LGBTQIA books Photo: Dylan Connell

The store aims to support all genders and sexualities.

The books are identified with the pride flags they represent, and the pride flags decorate the store.

York Press: Each book is identified with the pride flag they represent Photo: Dylan ConnellEach book is identified with the pride flag they represent Photo: Dylan Connell

Lali explained that it is important for people to see their flag displayed in public.

Lali said: “I keep a box of tissues behind the counter for when people come in and see your flag and start crying because they’ve never seen it displayed before.”

York Press: Pride flags decorate the Portal bookstore in York Photo: Dylan ConnellPride flags decorate the Portal Bookstore in York Photo: Dylan Connell

The store supports people across the LGBTQIA+ community.

Lali said: “Many people come and ask questions while they are discovering themselves – it is a privilege to be able to help. I think I help with that.”

Upstairs of the store is a free donated clothing rail for anyone who needs gender-affirming clothing but feels like they can’t walk into a store and try on items.

“It’s basically a trans clothing swap,” Lali said.

Lali works to support many causes, such as the Time to be Out charity working to support LGBT+ refugees with items like cell phones.

The store made an appeal on social media to help the charity, which garnered a huge response.

“If you want something done, ask the gays!” joked Lali.

York Press: Flags of pride line the street outside the Portal Bookstore in York Photo: Dylan ConnellFlags of pride are spread across the street outside the Portal Bookstore in York Photo: Dylan Connell

Lali also has funds to send books to people who might not otherwise be able to buy them or feel they can’t have Portals showing up on their receipts.

Along with this, Lali also helps to provide chest folders for male transgender individuals (people who were designated as female at birth but do not identify as female) so they can securely strap their breasts.

Despite the positivity surrounding the store opening, there was also some backlash.

Lali said she has received hate mail and negative comments online, with some asking, “Why can’t people just go to a regular bookstore?”

The community, however, was quick to defend the store.

One day Lali arrived at the venue with a sign on the door saying “You are loved and protected”, with proud hearts inside.

“I think I proved that there was a need for it,” Lali said.

York Press: A message of support for Livraria Portal.  Photo: Dylan ConnellA message in support of Livraria Portal. Photo: Dylan Connell

Livraria Portal will have a stand at York Pride, at the hippodrome, on June 18th.

Portal is an affiliate of the ethical online bookstore Bookshop.org.

To learn more about the Portal, visit: https://theportal-bookshop.square.site/page

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