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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Champine: Celebrate Utah’s Thriving Queer Literature Scene

We must combat literary censorship and support queer bookstores, authors and literary events.
Under+the+Umbrella+Bookstore+in+Salt+Lake+City%2C+Utah+on+Jan.+31%2C+2022.+%28Photo+by+Xiangyao+Axe+Tang+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Xiangyao Tang
Under the Umbrella Bookstore in Salt Lake City, Utah on Jan. 31, 2022. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

After an onslaught of book bannings in Utah including vicious attacks on queer literature, it’s difficult to imagine Utah as a state where queer literature thrives. But Utah’s queer bookstores are resilient.

Not only have they fought to keep their doors open in these trying times, but they have found ways to thrive. Banned Books Week, celebrated Oct. 1-7 in 2023, fired up conversations about how to tackle censorship and celebrate banned books in Utah.

“Controversy … offers opportunities for growth, perspective and knowledge,” wrote Christopher Payne, a former assistant arts editor at the Chronicle. Payne is right: queer bookstores provide Utah with opportunities for much-needed growth.

To combat literary censorship in Utah, we must celebrate and support queer authors, literary events and bookstores.

Queer Bookstores

The Legendarium is a cozy, homey bookstore nestled in downtown Salt Lake City. The bookstore focuses on science fiction and fantasy and hosts weekly Dungeons & Dragons nights.

The store is owned by a pair of transgender siblings. The Legendarium is an incredible place for young transgender kids to find representation. It’s vitally showing them that they can make it to adulthood.

The Legendarium also hosts a Banned Book Club, where they celebrate books that have been censored. The importance of this club lies in the explorations of literature that would otherwise be ignored, uplifting and highlighting marginalized voices.

Similarly, when Under the Umbrella bookstore opened in Nov. 2021, it took the local queer community by storm. The welcoming space, dedication to intersectionality and beautiful celebration of queer literature drew people across all communities.

Under the Umbrella describes itself as “a place of refuge, a place of validation and celebration for the queer youth and queer adults in Salt Lake City.” The bookstore not only stocks books from across all communities, but it also hosts a wide array of products from queer-owned businesses. The bookstore hosts a monthly Queer Maker’s Market, a space to write support for an incarcerated queer person and several story times, open mic nights and clubs.

UTU’s creator and owner Kaitlyn Mahoney said discovering queer literature transformed them.

“I don’t want anyone else to have to wait to find a space to experience and create queer stories and queer community,” they said.

Mahoney said some of their favorite moments include watching “baby queers” discover the space, when people show how important the space is to them and when the community shows up for the bookstore like the bookstore shows up for them.

As a final bit of advice to Utahns, Mahoney said, “Read more queer books! Reading diverse stories builds empathy, and we could all use some more empathy right now.”

Under the Umbrella focuses on accessibility and inclusivity through intersectionality. With a focus in uplifting everyone, Under the Umbrella is a safe, special space to support and shop in for all.

Literary Events

Throughout Utah, one can find many events dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ authors. On Oct. 5, Carmen Maria Machado, author of “Her Body and Other Parties” and many other short stories, hosted a conversation on book bans at the Tanner Humanities Center. Machado’s work examines identity and relationships from a uniquely queer perspective.

Supporting local events by queer authors in Utah is particularly vital to combat literary censorship. Shows of support for authors like Machado, who is also a person of color and whose books have been banned, show Utah’s government that the support for queer authors far outweighs the pushback.

The Legendarium, Under the Umbrella and King’s English Bookshop, another queer bookstore in Utah, hosted a free reservation-only event with author Andrew Joseph White. White’s transformative YA horror stars transgender protagonists.

By making the event free, Legendarium focused on accessibility and opportunity for the people of Utah. The event also included an ASL translator, showing their dedication to accessibility. Allowing queer teenagers and kids to meet their favorite authors for low prices is key to garnering support for queer authors.

Local Authors

On top of a multitude of queer bookstores and events, Utah hosts an impressive selection of local queer authors. Poet Wynter Storm’s work is featured at Under the Umbrella bookstore with their collection “Black Rainbow Layers.” Jacoby Ballard penned “A Queer Dharma,” a guidebook on yoga and meditation for liberation. The King’s English hosts a whole section on their website for local authors. Supporting local queer authors allows their books to thrive, and in doing so, uplifts their voices.

Why Support

On Sept. 24, 2023, The King’s English received a bomb threat, forcing it to cancel a drag queen story time. King’s English is one of the oldest queer-friendly bookstores in the Utah valley, so seeing the shop receive transphobic bomb threats hits close to home for many queer Utahns. These attacks continue to happen, emphasizing that queer bookstores are needed more than ever. We must give support in droves against every attack levied.

Despite violence and threats, Utah’s queer literary scene continues to flourish with love and dedication and rise in popularity. Under the Umbrella has expanded by adding a cafe to its store and continues to gain more followers on social media every day. King’s English received an outpouring of support in response to the bomb threat. As Utah continues to face transphobia and homophobia, the best way we can combat it is by supporting the queer literary scene.

Bookstores give queer youth the tools they need to see themselves represented. Books and stories provide words and worlds that teach all of us to see new perspectives. Celebrate and support Utah’s queer literary scene.

Stories and representation save lives.

 

[email protected]

@MorganChampine

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About the Contributors
Morgan Champine, Assistant Opinion Editor
(they/them) Morgan Champine is pursuing a career in creative writing and majoring in English. Morgan was born and raised in Utah, and when they're not writing, they're attending concerts, exploring the outdoors, and reading.
Xiangyao Tang, Photo Director
Axe is a photographer and the photo director of the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is from China and is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in digital photography. Axe joined the Chronicle in August of 2021. In addition to his position at the Chrony, he is also a photo intern for University of Utah Athletics. When he's not writing code, you will find him rock climbing, camping, skiing or hiking with his camera.

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  • J

    John HedbergJan 2, 2024 at 5:20 pm

    I may be wrong here, but I haven’t heard of any books being banned, since this would refer to books no longer accessible to anyone at any age. I have heard of limiting sexually explicit books when it comes to minors, and there’s a reason for this which has nothing specific to do with religion or with anyone’s particular preferred sexuality.

    Coming from a drug- and sex-excursion background (Mom was a drug addict, Dad had addiction-related emotional issues, and both parents were sexualized at a very early age, which is most likely why it began), and growing up in ultra-Liberal Eastern Massachusetts, it’s easy for me to see the massive number of lives damaged and ruined by emotional scars and addictive behaviors that come along with early sexual awakening. The brain is evolutionarily wired for reproduction even in the worst circumstances, and so sexual gratification has an opioid-like effect (literally) on human behavior. Even mature adults will crash and burn pursuing serial sexual encounters, which overwhelms their lives, causing situational damage and emotional scarring, and one kind of addictive behavior usually brings along other forms of addiction, as my own family clearly shows.

    I grew up in a group who were sexually active in our early teens, among a culture of parents who sowed their sexual oats with remarkably little thought to any consequences from that addictive behavior, consequences to their partners, consequences to their futures, even consequences to their innocent children who were entirely powerless to take care of themselves while their parents’ pleasure-addictive emotional firestorm burned itself out as their young lives burned up around them.

    Handling emotional intensity takes maturity, which is why we can’t drive before 16 or 17, vote before 18, or drink alcohol before we turn 21. Massachusetts had a famously deadly experiment lowering the drinking age to 18, and my high school had memorials to the dead juniors and seniors who died on the roads and at parties before the 21-year law was restored. This is why Mothers Against Drunk Driving originated.

    Sex is literally as addictive as opioids. Family and friends who started too early became addicts of many different types, with lives littered with ruin and needless suffering. Too many family and friends attempted suicide, many successfully.

    Religion is not the reason sexual awakening is restricted for minors. It’s all the dead and damaged lives from “friendly fire” in the war for “sexual freedom”, deliberately ignoring the consequences of our biology, our psychology, and the effect on all the people around us who love us and go on the ride with us as we vector straight towards that last stationary object at high speed.

    Adults already have sexual freedom, including reading material, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. For obvious reasons, I think it might be better to leave kids alone, so they can each figure out their own best path, in their own way, without all the addictive emotional baggage, without excess trauma and damage, and without being taken advantage of.

    Just something to think about, with Love.

    Reply