Glad Day Bookshop is the world's oldest LGBTQ+ bookstore in not only Toronto or Canada - but the world! You'll find Glad Day in Toronto's Church-Wellesley neighbourhood downtown. You can purchase books from Glad Day online. Outside of the pandemic, head on in to their local shop in Toronto to see Glad Day's events, such as book launches and brunches for local authors, publishers, and readers alike.
Glad Day Bookshop is the first queer-focused Canadian bookstore, and the oldest queer bookstore worldwide. Serving the LGBTQ community since 1970, we offer the widest possible selection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, and queer literature.
Check out our interview with MJ Lyons, the Bookstore Manager of Glad Day Bookshop. MJ is a sci-fi fantasy and graphic novel nerd who is also a local queer author and publisher in Toronto. MJ takes us on a journey with this fifty year old bookstore in Toronto and its role in the wider LGBTQ+ community in our city.
What is Glad Day Bookshop?
Glad Day Bookshop is the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore, a title we sadly inherited when the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York closed in 2009. We’re also Canada’s oldest independent bookstore, I believe. On top of being a bookstore we’re also a café, a restaurant, and a bar. We become a dance club on the weekends. We’re an event space… we do it all!
How did Glad Day Bookshop begin and what were the early days like?
We actually celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2020! Some celebration, huh? Glad Day’s been around since the modern wave of queer liberation in Canada, and has gone through a number of different manifestations. For a while the founder, Jearld Moldenhauer, ran the bookstore out of a backpack, or a shed in Kensington Market, or an apartment that also acted as the offices of the queer liberation magazine Body Politic.
In its early days Glad Day Bookshop was very much based on the tenets of radical queer liberation - upholding challenging and "controversial" work. I don’t think people realize how precarious things were as Glad Day was forced into a decade long court case over censorship. This could have easily resulted in legal fees bankrupting the business.
It’s incredible the early owners were able to hold on. Eventually, Moldenhauer sold the business to John Scythes, who managed Glad Day's store until he decided to retire in 2011. At that point a group of local activists, artists, and entrepreneurs pooled their resources and money and bought the business.
How does Glad Day Bookshop support the greater Toronto community?
Aside from being a community hub now at the heart of Toronto’s historic LGBTQ community, and providing essential resources for LGBTQ people, especially youth and people recently out, we have a non-profit arm. Glad Day Lit organizes our annual Naked Heart LGBTQ Festival Words, the world’s biggest LGBTQ literary festival.
During the pandemic Glad Day Lit has been doing absolute incredible work, fundraising for precarious workers, artists, live performers, especially burlesque, drag and gender performers, sex workers, tip-based workers - any LGBTQ person whose work has been seriously impacted by pandemic closures. You can apply for money from the Glad Day Lit fund, no question asked.
Recently, Glad Day Lit also started a fund for Nina Arsenault, an incredible powerhouse trans writer and artist who needed some financial support. Nina decided the fund would support her next artistic project with a portion going to other trans and non-binary artistic projects. The community support has been absolutely astounding, and really shows the kind of incredible people that support Glad Day in general.
How does Glad Day support LGBTQ+ authors and how can other bookshops accomplish this?
Glad Day Bookshop is a very DIY, grassroots business, for better or worse. The difficult side of that is that it's a lot of emotional labour on a very small, very passionate team. Like with any hard working organization it's a challenge to avoid burnout.
The amazing thing is exactly how much incredible work our small team can accomplish. Our employees, both in store and on the non-profit side, quite literally and materially make the world a better place.
Glad Day feels like a very human place to work, we have regulars of all ages who stop by every day just to chat, especially elderly LGBTQ people who may not have family to visit. We have parents or family friends coming in looking for resources for kids who’ve come out recently. Sure, the store needs to make money to stay open, and that’s a constant challenge, but Glad Day’s the first place I’ve ever worked where it feels like we put people over profit in a very concrete way. A lot of companies and organizations claim to be progressive or diverse, but that can often feel very shallow and surface. Glad Day strives to put those values into practice in a very real, human way.
What do Torontonians love about your bookshop?
Two words: Drag Brunch. During non-pandemic times, Glad Day is the flagship Toronto drag brunch destination. We have people who come every week, especially families of adorable gender diverse kids. We almost always pack the place. I think the really cool thing about our drag brunches is that even if the drag queens are who started it, we also have a kickass community of drag kings who have offered equally dynamic and hilarious brunches.
What is your favourite book of all time?
Oh, wow. The big question. I’m a huge graphic novel and manga (Japanese comics) nerd, and I’ve been proselytizing this incredible series called Our Dreams at Dusk. It’s about an ensemble cast surrounding a magical LGBTQ drop-in centre in the hills of Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture. It’s the first book series I’ve ever read, let alone manga series, that really captures what it feels like to be a LGBTQ teenager, that intense emotional turmoil where even the wrong word can shatter your world, and then the indescribable joy of discovering your community.
What is your favourite book you’ve read in the past year?
The Art of Drag, from Nobrow Press, it’s like a mix between a history and comic book. I think RuPaul’s Drag Race is an important cultural moment, but it’s not for me. It’s a little too much about churning out polished “high” drag. The thing I love about the drag community is the likes of Divine or, more locally, the House of Filth. This is a celebration of drag’s weird and wacky history from all sorts of cultures and histories, with absolutely stunning art.
Tell us something cool about the neighbourhood Glad Day Bookshop is in!
Within a five minute walk of Glad Day, through the Church-Wellesley LGBTQ Village, you will find the world’s largest and longest-running queer theatre, Buddies in Bad Times! There’s actually a lot of similarities, Buddies, on top of being a theatre becomes a dance club on the weekends, and has a mandate to uphold art work that’s sex-positive and dedicated to queer liberation.
What’s another place in Toronto the Glad Day Bookshop team loves?
Thank you MJ Lyons for such a beautiful interview! MJ shares about the history of Glad Day bookshop and how this independent book store has stood the test of time in Toronto and supports the local, and global, LGBTQ+ community. MJ delves into favourite reads and as the warm weather approaches, now is the time to buy from your local independent bookshops in Toronto and stock up on summer reads. Beyond that, it was great to explore the history and incredible places in the Church-Wellesley LGBTQ Village in Toronto - a must-go for locals and tourists alike. Thank you to Glad Day Bookshop for supporting the LGBTQ+ community and providing resources, funding, events, and more dedicated to LGBTQ artists and authors. Have fun reading and exploring, Toronto!