Pride 2021: LGBTQ+ businesses in London to support now and forever

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Christobel Hastings
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Gay's the Word bookshop

Show your support for the LGBTQ community this Pride month and beyond by paying a visit to these brilliant businesses.

June has arrived in a blaze of glorious sunshine which means, alongside the start of official British summertime, that it’s now Pride month.

It’s a time when LGBTQ people come together to celebrate the progress made towards equality, raise awareness of the ongoing fight for gay rights, and celebrate in the spirit of love, friendship and solidarity.  

It’s also an opportunity for allies to respectfully show their support for the LGBTQ community. In the present moment, this is more important than ever. The Covid-19 crisis has exposed and intensified systemic inequalities for the community, with LGBTQ people reporting worsening mental health, financial difficulties, increasing risk of domestic abuse, homelessness and isolation.

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Although the pandemic has put many Pride festivities on hold (the Pride in London parade, for instance, is scheduled for September instead of its usual booking in early July), and queer nightlife spaces are yet to reopen, the LGBTQ scene remains vibrant and resilient. And even in the absence of parties and protests, there are still a great many spaces around the capital that offer LGBTQ people a place for expression, connection, and celebration. These venues are an invaluable resource for the community. They are safe havens where people can be their true authentic selves, if only for a little while. And they deserve our support; not just in June, but all year long. 

With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of businesses that are run by and for the LGBTQ community. From friendly pubs to independent bookshops, every pound spent at these brilliant venues helps ensure the survival of LGBTQ culture. Use it a starting point to explore London, and if you feel so inspired, seek out more LGBTQ businesses as you go – we promise there are plenty more out there.

Gay’s the Word

Nestled in the middle of Marchmount Street on the edge of Bloomsbury is the pioneering Gay’s the Word, the oldest LGBTQ bookshop in the UK. Established in 1979, it stocks an unparalleled range of queer literature, as well as hosting regular literary events, meetings and discussion groups. 

If the bookshop looks familiar, you might well have spotted it in the 2014 Pride, which chronicled the story of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners activist movement. A friendly, welcoming space for the LGBTQ community, it’s frequented by everyone from tentative teenagers questioning their identity and tourists tracing gay history, to local supporters who keep the beloved bookshop thriving through good times and bad.

Over the years, Gay’s the Word has fought off rent increases, charges of indecency by customs officers, falling print sales and acts of vandalism to keep its doors open. Despite the difficulties, it remains a sanctuary for LGBTQ customers, who can browse the shelves in a space that truly embraces them.

Dalston Superstore 

Functioning in equal parts as a thriving queer club, cabaret spot, cafe, gallery and community space, Dalston Superstore is an East London institution. It’s colourful, inclusive, and a great place to visit if you’re looking for a community vibe.

Alongside its diverse programme of special ticketed events, its also open during the day for leisurely food and drinks - and if you like your brunch served with a side of games, quizzes, shows and prizes, then Drag Brunch is your bag. While Covid-19 guidelines remain in place, Dalston Superstore are also hosting a ‘dinner drag experience’, where you can enjoy performances from local entertainers in a safe, seated environment.

Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium

The first and only erotic boutique in the UK for and by women, Sh! Women’s Emporium was founded in 1992 as an antidote to the male-dominated sex industry of the time. As it’s rooted in women’s sexual empowerment, it’s anything but sleazy: think well-informed staff, a warm atmosphere, and a soundtrack of the biggest female pop singers past and present.

Not only is the boutique staffed by women, but Sh! also stocks a collection of handmade artisan sex toys, designed and created in their London studio. The team also run a host of educational talks and workshops, allowing women to explore aspects of their sexuality in a safe environment. That being said, everyone is welcome to visit - and if you need further persuasion, it sits within a lovely East London café, so you can have tea and cake on your trip. 

The Glory

Along the riverside on Kingsland Road is The Glory, a mainstay of east London’s LGBTQ scene. Owned by drag legends Jonny Woo and John Sizzle, it’s a cosy cavalry pub with a well-stocked bar. But downstairs in the basement, it’s a fabulous LGBTQ performance venue, hosting everything from drag shows ands DJ nights to cabaret and comedy. 

The Glory is well-known for creating a safe space for up-and-coming talent as well as welcoming established performers into the fold. It’s here that you’ll find one of London’s biggest drag contests LipSync1000!, a regular salon hosted by original 80s Blitz kid Princess Julia, and a range of monthly variety shows, including Werk In Progress (a new acts night), Sex Shells (a musical sketch comedy troupe), and BoiBox (a drag king night). Prepare to be entertained.

Open Barbers

Haven’t managed to book an appointment to tame your lockdown mane yet? Consider Open Barbers, an inclusive salon catering to people of all genders, sexualities and hair types. As a not-for-profit social enterprise, prices are on a sliding scale based on what customers are able to afford, starting from just £2. 

The salon space is open to visitors with free wifi, refreshments and a ‘zine library. They also host a range of collaborators who deliver additional services and events, such as massage, therapy, and a range of social groups.

The Apple Tree

With LGBTQ spaces closing at an alarming rate across the capital in the last few years, the arrival of The Apple Tree in 2018 was a rare bright spot for the community.

Tucked away on Mount Pleasant between Farringdon and King’s Cross, the independently owned pub is a welcome space for the LGBTQ community and those “living an alternative lifestyle”. It’s got a laidback, neighbourhood vibe that’s distinctly different from other LGBTQ pubs, with plenty of comfy furniture, homemade beverages and quirky, colourful touches.

They’re more just a pub, too, hosting workshops and events such as body positive life painting, immersive theatre performances, open mic nights, drag cabarets and monthly queer clothes swaps. There’s also a number of rooms to hire, as well as networking and co-working spaces.

Images: Getty; Instagram; Gay’s the Word