Cowley: Under the Umbrella Fosters Queer Community


Xiangyao Tang

Under the Umbrella Bookstore in Salt Lake City, Utah on Jan. 31, 2022. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Elle Cowley, Opinion Writer, Audio Producer


I moved to Salt Lake about a year and a half ago. Moving to a new city can cause an overwhelming sense of being out of place. For me, going out and finding community in the city helped Salt Lake feel like my home. Talking to other queer people in Salt Lake City, any of them can tell you what a wonderful space the Under the Umbrella bookstore is. Although I have only visited once myself, I found myself blown away by their extensive collection of books for and by queer people. In other bookstores I have visited, it often feels as though queer voices are pushed to a solitary shelf. It felt so refreshing to see queer voices not only freed from that single shelf but given their own bookstore.

Under the Umbrella fosters queer community in Salt Lake in a way that few other places do.

What is Under the Umbrella?

Under the Umbrella is a queer bookstore located in the downtown area. They strive to make their store an accessible space for all. There’s something for everyone, from autobiographies to fiction, and even a children’s section. Something I found particularly cool from my visit was the inclusion of zines from local creators. It’s all ages, sober and community-driven. Under the Umbrella not only uplifts queer voices through the books they sell but also actively works to make the community around them better. Siena Popiel is a sophomore here at the University of Utah and a frequenter of Under the Umbrella.

“I feel like as I’ve gotten a little bit older, it’s become more important for me to be able to see myself or to relate to the characters in a book that I’m reading,” they said. “Just knowing that the books that I find there are going to have that kind of layer of representation is really nice.”

The store also offers a free gender-affirming closet full of donated clothing. They sell other affirming items, too, such as pronoun pins and flags. Within the shop, you can find a gallery space where local queer artists sell their work. You can buy work from artists such as Olivia Dawson, Stevie Johnson and many more. They also offer a regularly stocked outreach cart for unhoused neighbors, as well as harm reduction supplies.

Under the Umbrella hosts many different events. You can attend Fat & Queer Yoga, Queer Speed Date or participate in a plethora of book clubs, including Gay Men’s book club, Queer Explorers of Worlds Beyond Our Own Book Club and YA book club. There’s a space for everyone to meet queer people with common interests and build community. In a state where queer voices are often silenced, this is so incredibly important.

The Importance of Sober Queer Spaces

Under the Umbrella offers a uniquely valuable queer space to the Salt Lake LGBTQ+ community. More traditional queer spaces often focus around nightlife, which can be inaccessible to LGBTQ+ minors and those who cannot be around alcohol.

“I especially think that in the queer community, there tends to be a lot of focus on the nightlife scene or the party scene,” Popiel said. “I think having a space where you know, there’ll be book clubs and opportunities to connect with people, but also somewhere that you can just go hang out and spend an afternoon or evening is really valuable for people who, for whatever reason, have a harder time connecting with some of the more traditional elements of the queer community.”

Having a space where you can connect and bond with members of your community is incredibly important. Whether you’ve been out of the closet for a while or are newly out, having that space where you feel safe and supported can be a major game changer. These spaces must be accessible to all who need them. I wish that I had something similar where I grew up, and I know many others would want the same thing.

Salt Lake City is so lucky to have a place like Under the Umbrella. Any space that brings the queer community together is a place worth celebrating. I hope to see more spaces like it pop up around the area. I am looking forward to my next visit, both to support a small business and to pick up a book. When I do, I’m excited to see characters on the page that are like me.


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