Long Reads

Amy Lamé: How a LGBT+ bookshop helped me feel welcome in London

Stylist.co.uk is celebrating Pride 2018 with a series of open letters and essays from influential LGBT+ people. Here, London’s Night Czar Amy Lamé describes how it felt to move to London 25 years ago, and what she hopes to see the city achieve

When I moved to London from New Jersey 25 years ago, aged 22, I had confidence that I would be accepted just as I was. London welcomes everyone, regardless of gender, faith, sexual orientation or nationality, and I knew I belonged in this great city of ours. Our capital is vast and could easily be isolating, but, like many young lesbians, I was able to connect with my community by meeting and spending time with other LGBT+ Londoners.

As the Mayor of London’s Night Czar and co-founder and host of the club night Duckie, people naturally associate me with our capital’s night life. So it may come as a surprise that one of the venues which became essential to my personal growth in this city was not a bar or a club, but in fact a bookshop. Gay’s The Word in Bloomsbury was, for a long time, the only venue in the UK dedicated to providing LGBT+ books and resources. For nearly four decades it has served generations of patrons and been the backdrop to immense social change, not least in public attitudes to gay relationships and the rights of transgender and non-binary people.

I still remember the first time I walked into the bookshop, and being amazed by the range of literature on offer. It was so heartening to see LGBT+ contributions to history and culture showcased so boldly and to feel ‘seen’ as a community. The venue has an incredible history, part of which was shown in the BAFTA-winning film Pride, but it also has a unique mission and is an integral part of London’s LGBT+ heritage – a heritage which must be protected.

“Our capital is vast and could easily be isolating”

If London by day is like nowhere else in the world, then London by night is even more so. For more than 20 years I have hosted Duckie at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. As for so many others, the RVT has been a source of new friendships, numerous flirtations and countless memories. While Vauxhall has changed drastically in recent decades, the RVT has been a beacon of defiance, irreverence and solidarity and it feels like a second home to me.

Still, despite the increasing visibility and acceptance of the LGBT+ community, between 2006 and 2017 the number of LGBT+ venues in London more than halved from 125 to just 49. When he was elected, Sadiq Khan pledged to do all he could to stem this decline and when I joined his team, we made supporting the flourishing of LGBT+ venues a priority for helping London thrive as a 24-hour city.

Pleasingly, recent figures suggest the number of LGBT+ venues in the last year have stabilised as new sites have opened up across the city. These green (or indeed rainbow!) shoots of hope are not only encouraging for London’s £26bn night-time economy but also a boost for the LGBT+ community, cementing London’s reputation as a vibrant, diverse and inclusive place to be.

My personal experience of some of London’s LGBT+ venues is part of what makes me so passionate about securing their survival. This is why Sadiq and I are keen for as many LGBT+ venues as possible to sign up to the Mayor’s LGBT+ Venue Charter which aims to protect venues at risk of closure or changing use, and encourage the opening of new venues. This includes intentional marketing as an LGBT+ venue, LGBT+ focussed content as part of any entertainment programme, ensuring management and staff are LGBT+ friendly and providing a welcoming, accessible and safe environment for all.

Unless we are purposeful in securing a future for the diverse communities and economies which make this city thrive, we will struggle to retain our sparkle. Let’s work together to ensure London remains the most vibrant, diverse and safe city, open to all.

Images: Kid Circus, Unsplash