Sigrid Nielsen and Bob Orr, co-founders of The Lavender Menace LGBT bookshop

(photo:Kathryn Pierce)

Lavender Menace Bookshop – A Short History

Lavender Menace opened in August 1982 as Scotland’s first LGBT bookshop in Forth Street, Edinburgh. Set up by Sigrid Nielsen and Bob Orr (pictured above), the shop grew out of several years of LGBT bookselling in the city which started with Open Gaze bookstall in 1976 as part of the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group’s, Gay Information Centre in Broughton Street. 


Bob Orr set up Open Gaze and in 1978 with the help from a collective of SHRG members, the bookstall thrived. The stock became more adventurous eventually threatening the more conservative-minded members of the centre who, in December 1979, took control of the bookstall after the collective were accused of selling a blasphemous greetings card. 


Consequently, the book collective gave up their memberships and formed Lavender Books with the long-term view of opening a bookshop under co-operative ownership. Lavender Books began selling LGBT books and paraphernalia at conferences and marches across the UK between 1980 and 1981. The new book collective was supported by the First of May, the radical bookshop in Edinburgh at the time and Gay’s the Word, the LGBT bookshop in London which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. 


When a decision was finally made to open a bookshop in late 1981, the dissenting members of Lavender Books resigned, leaving Sigrid and Bob to pursue the venture. They formed a business partnership and started to raise funds to open what was to become Lavender Menace Bookshop. 


The main source of income was from a bookstall which they ran with the help of several supporters, in Fire Island, Edinburgh’s first full-fledged gay disco in Princes Street, now the west end branch of Waterstone’s Bookshop. The other source was from an overdraft with the Co-operative Bank. 


Sigrid and Bob’s vision of offering a resource of LGBT literature and a safe space for anyone who wanted to use it was realised in 1982. Lavender Menace changed its name to West & Wilde Bookshop with a move to Dundas Street in 1987 and even with its closure ten years later, Sigrid and Bob are delighted that the LGBT community and the literature they have created can now support an LGBT bookshop in Glasgow – Category IS. 


Inspired by the play ‘Love Song to Lavender Menace’, written by James Ley about the early days of the bookshop, Lavender Menace Returns is a project created by Sigrid and Bob to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. 


With the support of LGBT Youth Scotland, Lighthouse Bookshop and Somewhere EDI: LGBT+ culture and enterprise hub the project offers the chance to take part in events related to contemporary LGBT writing and publishing throughout 2019. 

Get involved!

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Our stories, our lives, our voices

 by Kathryn Pierce

 
Part of Somewhere's history started in a radical bookshop. Growing up as a teenager in Merseyside in the 80s, moving to the big city (Liverpool) in the 90s, I would often go to the wonderful News from Nowhere bookshop on Bold Street, which is still going strong and is as fantastic as ever. 

 
As a very closeted young queer woman, here was the place where my future identity would be formed, from pieces found in these precious books, and from the smiles of recognition and love from lesbian staff, who would serve me with a quiet understanding of how important those moments really were. In a strange way, I remember the bookshop feeling like a clothing shop for my LGBT+ identity, and both the books and the space itself helped me try different ideas on for size. 


I also loved the Noticeboard - a mish-mash of community group notices, where I would spot the lesbian groups; and while I was far too shy to contemplate going to any of them, at least I knew they were there and they existed. 

 
We all know that bookshops aren't just bookshops. They're sanctuaries, places to find ourselves, and even to find love. As Lavender Menace co-Founder Sigrid told me last year: "You can tell a lot about a person by their choice of books", and I do wonder about the magic and mystery of lesbian seduction over the shelves of bookshops and libraries everywhere, almost like love stories written in those moments, sitting in between the books on the shelves. 

 

LGBT+ stories are part of all of us, and they connect all of us. Our community, as disparate as it is, shares so many common experiences, and the need to find ourselves in the pages of LGBT+ books, and the desire to connect as a rainbow family of stories is as vital now as it ever was. 


We are beyond delighted to be involved with the Menace's return and to see where this journey takes us. It's the first chapter of a rainbow renaissance and we cannot wait! 

What a Lesbian Looks Like, from 1992, bought from News From Nowhere, Liverpool
What a Lesbian Looks Like, from 1992, bought from News From Nowhere, Liverpool