Giovanni’s Room Honored With Historical Marker

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Giovanni’s Room, the oldest gay and lesbian bookstore in the country, has had its place in history officially recognized by the state of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission honored the Philadelphia bookstore on October 9 with a state historical marker commemorating its role as a “refuge and cultural center” during the birth of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights movement.

“From the store’s beginnings to the present there has been a major shift in attitudes,” said owner Ed Hermance. “Philadelphia is a fairly relaxed, live-and-let-live city, but even here the change has been dramatic, from the days when we got our windows broken in anger in the dead of night and when people in cars would shout ‘faggot!’ and ‘queer’ as they sped away when the light turned green. We haven’t had a window broken in anger in at least 10 years and nobody shouts insults at us anymore. The historical marker will underscore the message that we are not to be persecuted anymore.”

About 400 people joined Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission staff, and local leaders for the dedication of the marker and celebration of Giovanni’s Room. “The installation was a roaring success for the store,” said Hermance. “Sales that day were the biggest they’ve been in years. The store was packed with people. It was impressive how many people in their teens and twenties were in.”

The unveiling took place during OutFest, Philadelphia’s celebration of National Coming Out Day, the largest such event in the country, said Hermance.  “There was speechifying by the tourist folks, me, the mayor’s liaison to the LGBT community, and the mayor himself. Then the mayor and former owners of the store, me, and the longest serving staff member pulled an enormous rainbow flag that had shrouded the marker.”

The bookstore, founded in 1973, has a long history of customer support. In its early days, the bookstore turned to its community for donations to fund a down payment on a building when they couldn’t find a landlord who would rent to a gay and lesbian bookstore. More recently, customers donated thousands of dollars for a badly needed renovation. “We are still raising money to pay off the $50,085 it cost to rebuild the front wall,” Hermance said. ”We’ve raised more than $47,000.  It’s wonderful to work for people who love the store so much.”