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Philadelphia Officials Unveil Historical Marker at LGBT Bookstore

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Tuesday Oct 11, 2011

Mayor Michael Nutter was among those who unveiled a historical marker outside Giovanni's Room in Center City on Sunday, Oct. 9.

Philadelphia Gay News, the city's Office of LGBT Affairs and the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus submitted the application to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission after local organizations, residents and Giovanni's Room patrons raised $47,000 to renovate the bookstore's front wall. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission approved the application last year, and LGBT Philadelphians raised money to help offset the cost of paying for and raising the marker.

"For many of us, Giovanni's Room was among the first LGBT places we stepped into," said Gloria Casarez, director of the city's Office of LGBT Affairs. "The welcoming staff and living room atmosphere makes you feel at home and many of us had claimed Giovanni's Room as a refuge. Whatever Giovanni's Room means to you is preserved in history through the marker we are dedicating today."

Named after James Baldwin's second novel, Giovanni's Room opened on the corner of Pine and 12th Streets in 1973 with fewer than 100 titles. Nearly four decades later, Giovanni's Room is the country's oldest continuously operating LGBT bookstore with thousands of titles and a database of millions of e-books on its website. The bookstore also has a thriving wholesale business.

"They [customers] make the store the place it is," said Giovanni's Room owner Ed Hermance. "Their cheery faces and steadfast support are the reason the rest of us can work with each other."

The marker outside Giovanni's Room is one of 2,300 Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission-designated historical plaques located across Pennsylvania. A marker commemorating the country's first gay rights march that took place outside Independence Hall on July 4, 1965, was officially dedicated in 2005.

"All of these markers [are] really an encyclopedia of Pennsylvania-not just what historians think it is important, but what the people of Pennsylvania think is important," said Barbara Frankel, executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The dedication of the Giovanni's Room marker coincided with the annual OutFest that draws tens of thousands of people into Center City each October. Nutter drew parallels between the local LGBT rights movement and the Occupy Philadelphia protesters who remain camped out in Dilworth Plaza outside City Hall as he spoke just before the official dedication.

"It's a proud day for all of us, regardless of what community you're in or who you're with or what you're about or who you want to be or if you're already become whatever you want to be," he said, prompting laughter from those who turned out for the ceremony. "We're proud of you anyway because this is Philadelphia."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


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