Arts + Culture

A Bookshop For Change

In 1970, Jearld Frederick Moldenhauer carries around a backpack full of queer-friendly books, in a time where there are only enough queer-friendly books to fit inside of a backpack. He calls his new back-pack-book-business Glad Day.

In 1973, homosexuality is removed from the official list of mental illnesses.

In 2005, the Canadian federal Civil Marriage Act is passed, and same-sex couples are given the legal right to marry nationwide.

In 2011, President Obama revokes the anti-gay, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prevents openly gay Americans from serving in the U.S. army.

In 2015, a transgender teenager commits suicide after being subjected to Christian conversion therapy. President Obama calls for an end to this dangerous practice this same year.

In 2015, Love wins. The United States Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage a Constitutional right nationwide.

That same year, I got a job at Chapters-Indigo, and on my very first day I was given a tour of the store. As my new manager and I headed over to the TEEN section, he pointed out the alphabetical order of the shelves, and the certain special subheadings. ‘Classics’ had an entire shelf, ‘Non-fiction’ had a couple more, and at the very bottom of one of the shelves, with one row designated to its content, there was a tag that read ‘LGBTQ’.

In 2016, all-gender, public bathrooms begin to make an appearance.

In 2018, the first transgender person has a signed contract to join the U.S. military. 

In 2018, Glad Day Bookshop is striving as the largest queer-friendly bookstore in North America. It is now not only a shop for books, but it is also a café and an event space; a place for voices to be heard and happiness to be found.

Now please don’t misinterpret the above message. I love Indigo, and the TEEN section of the store was my preferred place of refuge as I grew up an angsty and melodramatic teenager, who loved herself a good teen-romance story. But I wasn’t a teenager having issues with gender identity; I wasn’t a teenager confused by my romantic feelings for the same-sex; I wasn’t a teenager trying to find the right words to use, to come out to my family and friends; and I wasn’t a teenager searching for voices and stories that reflect my own.

In his sophomore year, Moldenhauer came to terms with his homosexuality and came out as a queer male. In an attempt to navigate this new and confusing world, he sought out psychological counseling at his university health clinic. In his words, it was this experience that, “pushed me down the path of activism with a radical analysis of what was wrong with the attitude towards homosexuality in my society.”

 After having been failed by the mental-health system, Moldenhauer attempts to engage in an intellectual conversation about homosexuality by turning to literature. Authors such as Nobel Prize winner, Andre Gide, and Donald Webster Cory, supplied Moldenhauer with the kind of understanding and stories he sought after. He took to New York City and Europe to find a queer community more established than what Toronto had to offer. After a year of being away, he returns to Toronto to find that more and more gay literature has begun to appear, and a new community has been formed. Groups such as the Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT), as well as the Toronto Gay Action (TGA)—of which he is a founding member—were now established and available.

Though new titles representing the homosexual voice were being released in New York and Britain, Moldenhauer had a hard time finding them in Toronto’s bookstores. Motivated by his frustration and impatience for Toronto booksellers and publishers to catch up with the changing world around them, Moldenhauer decides to set up a book service of his own. He loads his new catalogue of gay literature into a backpack and brings it with him it from meeting to meeting. He names his new business Glad Day.

Why Glad Day?

 As it turns out, Moldenhauer named his book company after a painting by artist William Blake. The painting is of a man standing nude in front of a myriad of colours that appear to be shining through him, his arms and legs out-stretched as if he is rejoicing. For Blake, the painting represents liberation from oppression and repression. To explain his reasoning for choosing the name of this painting, for the name of his new endeavour, Moldenhauer says,

When it came time to choose a name for my knapsack full of books, Glad Day struck all the right notes for the greater task at hand.

 My vision of sexual liberation goes beyond the gay rights movement and Blake’s writings resonate far more in my imagination than a mainstream queer agenda that time has shown to be one of increasing conformity. The critical power that once came with Outsider status seems to have been traded for a dull mirror through which spectral light no longer shines.

From a backpack, to Moldenhauer’s apartment in The Annex, to Kensington Market, and lastly, to its new location at 499 Church Street, Glad Day Bookshop is the world’s longest surviving LGBTQ bookstore, as well as the oldest standing bookshop in Toronto. Their collection of queer-friendly titles is limitless and their focus is to continue making these stories of representation and free speech available to all of those learning to navigate a world that may not fully understand their story. Their selection of books ranges from adult to children, and they are meant to inform on and shatter the binaries placed on the queer community.

Their growth and popularity is encapsulated by a myriad of spaces; Glad Day is no longer just a bookstore, they are also a bar, a coffee shop, a restaurant, they host dance parties on the weekend, and they offer their space for events such as book launches, a Drag Show that involves children and storytelling, and a ‘Black Superhero Colouring Day.’ Information for upcoming events can be found on their website: or their Facebook page: @GladDay.

As the popularity of this bookshop continues to grow, and its recognition in the Toronto community—queer or not—increases as time passes, other bookstores and chains may be getting the hint. In 2017 (only a couple of years later), at that same Chapters-Indigo location, that one, discreet, ‘LGBTQ’ shelf expanded into two or three. Though this may not seem like much of a change, the process of progress is forever a slow one. This is why we are grateful to places such as Glad Day Bookshop, its supporters, and of course, people like Mr. Moldenhauer, who see a piece of understanding missing from the world’s puzzle, and try their best to fill it in.

Noteworthy LGBTQA Books to look for in 2018

List curated by Michaela Wong

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