Arts·Queeries

Toronto's Glad Day has become the LGBTQ space the city needs — and we can't take that for granted

Safe, inclusive and a whole lot of fun, Glad Day has transformed into so much more than a bookstore nearly a year into its big move.

Safe, inclusive and a whole lot of fun, Glad Day is so much more than a bookstore

Glad Day co-owner Michael Erickson (left) with author Samuel R Delany at the 2016 Naked Heart. (Glad Day)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

Last summer, Toronto's Glad Day Bookshop was in trouble. After 45 years of being a crucial space for the LGBTQ community, it seemed likely it would go the way of too many other iconic bookstores, like New York's Oscar Wilde Bookshop and San Francisco's A Different Light (which sadly closed in 2009 and 2011 respectively). But then something truly wonderful happened. A community rallied, and Glad Day got a new space — moving to the heart of Toronto's LGBTQ-oriented Church-Wellesley Village in the process. And it also expanded to become not just a bookstore but a cafe, bar, performance space and art gallery.

Nearly a year into its new digs, to call Glad Day's move a success story would be a huge understatement. It's not simply given a much-needed new cultural space to the Church-Wellesley Village, but also brought a blast of diversity to a neighbourhood historically dominated by bars for cis gay men.

"You can come on a Tuesday at 2pm or a Friday at 11pm and there's always an incredible mix of people," co-owner Michael Erickson tells CBC Arts. "People who normally didn't feel like they fit in on Church Street, or in Toronto for that matter — I feel like they can just come here and be themselves and relax. And people are really great about sharing space. It's not just one dominant group in the space. It varies in terms of age and ethnicity and gender."

Gwen Benaway at Glad Day. (Gwen Benaway)

Erickson said that within a few months, Glad Day was at a place in terms of diversity that he'd hoped they'd be at within a few years. 

"It's pretty special," he says."Even when I was in New York this past summer, there was nothing even comparable there. I think sometimes in Toronto we don't celebrate what we have."

Glad Day consciously offers events and programming for some of the more under-serviced groups within our community who may not feel comfortable or represented within your traditional gay bar.- JP Larocque, writer, director and comedian

Some people are certainly celebrating, though. Gwen Benaway is a Toronto-based transgender poet (and regular CBC Arts contributor) who calls the space "essential to the ongoing vitality of Toronto."

"As a trans and BIPOC inclusive space, it's one of the few places within the Village that is accessible for all members of the queer community," Benaway says.

JP Larocque, a Toronto-based writer, director and comedian who has performed at Glad Day adds that the new location has "really answered to a need for thriving queer spaces at a time when the village is going through tremendous change."

"Unlike so many other spaces on Church that are tied solely to drinking, nightlife and mostly male clientele, Glad Day consciously offers events and programming for some of the more under-serviced groups within our community who may not feel comfortable or represented within your traditional gay bar," Larocque says. "It reinforces community through inclusion and visibility."

JP Larocque performs at the 2016 Naked Heart. (Glad Day)

But Erickson can attest that making a space feel inclusive and safe takes a lot of time and work — and it's also fragile. 

"I don't think any space is actually safe, it's just a safer space," he says. "It's contextual. But I think what we have going on here is an ongoing commitment to the process of inclusivity and safety. And none of us feel like we're done. We know that any minute things could become less safe for people. So we're vigilant...And we're fun, too. And I think that's something about a lot of spaces that prioritize inclusivity and safety — they're not always fun spaces. They can be a little too serious. So I think we're good at balancing the intensity of inclusivity with the playfulness of queerness. "

People who normally didn't feel like they fit in on Church Street, or in Toronto for that matter — I feel like they can just come here and be themselves and relax.- Michael Erickson, Glad Day co-owner

That balance is about to be on full display when Glad Day presents its flagship event, Naked Heart: An LGBTQ Festival of Words. It runs November 10-12 and is the largest LGBTQ literary festival in the world and the most racially diverse literary festival in Canada. Nearly 70 authors are slated to participate, including Larocque, Benaway and another CBC Arts contributor, Catherine Hernandez.

"Every year, I have had the opportunity to publicly incubate my written work fearlessly while learning from my colleagues and their workshops," Hernandez says. "As a brown queer woman this is not common amongst other literary festivals. At Naked Heart, I feel seen, heard and held. It was the first place I truly felt like a novelist."

Hernandez is surely not alone. Going into the third year, Naked Heart has already become a major event both its participants and spectators.

"The first couple years people were just kind of shocked and surprised about what we had managed to create," Erickson says. "I think now there's people kind of looking forward to it. Even though it's only the third year, for some people I think it already feels like a tradition."

Going forward, Erickson has big dreams for more traditions that could be born out of Glad Day, including for its non-profit arm Glad Day Lit to get core funding so that they can have ongoing queer and trans literary arts programming year round. 

"People are often surprised," he says. "They think that Glad Day actually gets funding to be Glad Day, but that's not true. It's all revenue from the store and the bar that keeps it going. So we have to be careful...Folks should never take a small business for granted, and they need to make choices with their money to help keep them open."

Naked Heart: The LGBTQ Festival of Words. November 10-12. Toronto. www.nakedheart.ca

About the Author

Peter Knegt

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since way back in 2016, with highlights including co-hosting weekly live talk show State of the Arts, writing the regular LGBTQ-culture column Queeries and playing integral roles in the launch of series The Filmmakers and Canada's a Drag. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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