Castro shop sending LGBTQ books to red states

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday July 11, 2023
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Fabulosa Books owner Alvin Orloff, shown in 2021, has launched a program to send LGBTQ-themed books to organizations in conservative parts of the country. Photo: Courtesy Alvin Orloff
Fabulosa Books owner Alvin Orloff, shown in 2021, has launched a program to send LGBTQ-themed books to organizations in conservative parts of the country. Photo: Courtesy Alvin Orloff

A Castro neighborhood bookstore is doing its part to fight homophobic and transphobic book bans by sending boxes of books with LGBTQ themes to organizations in conservative areas.

Fabulosa Books at 489 Castro Street in San Francisco's LGBTQ neighborhood rolled out the effort during Pride Month in June and already has shipped out several boxes of books.

"I know what it's like to grow up during a bigoted backlash," Fabulosa Books owner Alvin Orloff stated in a news release. "I was a teenager during Anita Bryant's anti-gay Save the Children campaign and the assassination of Harvey Milk.

"Getting through that would have been much easier with positive literary role models, but queer YA [young adult] books hadn't been invented yet. If I can help the kids of today weather the stupidities of Ron DeSantis and Don't Say Gay, you bet I'm going to do it," he added, referring to the Republican Florida governor and presidential candidate who in May signed an expansion of the law prohibiting schools from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The majority of books challenged in America's school libraries last year had LGBTQ themes, according to the American Library Association, which also reported that 2022 saw the most attempts to ban books from schools since the association started keeping track in 2001.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, Orloff for 21 years had worked for Dog Eared Books, which took over operations of the Castro bookstore location in 2016. He purchased the site and opened Fabulosa Books in 2021 on his 60th birthday. Dog Eared Books has long had a store on Valencia Street.

Speaking to the B.A.R. Orloff said that the idea for the banned book brigade came from events coordinator Bex Hexagon.

"We have a lot of customers who really care and were worried kids wouldn't have access to books," he said. "Bex proposed the idea to me and we immediately loved it and it's been going great."

Hexagon, a bi/pan female, told the B.A.R. that "I can't just watch the news, be angry and go have a drink."

"As a bookstore we have access to community and access to books and this is a thing we can do," she said. "It's concrete and it's meaningful and every single person should be able to find themes in stories that are affirming. ... Books saved my fucking life."

Hexagon said six boxes have been sent so far and, as of July 7, "there's one in the closet that has to come out. I'm bringing it to the post office today."

Sending each box costs about $400 in total, Fabulosa confirmed to the B.A.R. The goal is to send 500 boxes, and customers are invited to buy books for boxes that will be shipped at the store's expense.

Titles include "Gender Queer," by Maia Kobabe; "All Boys Aren't Blue," by George M. Johnson; and "Heartstopper" by Alice Oseman, the release stated. Kobabe's graphic memoir was the most banned book in 2022.

Fabulosa customer John, a gay San Francisco man who asked that his last name be withheld, paid for three boxes of books to be sent to the Ozarks, Wyoming, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Sooner State held special significance for him.

"I lived in Oklahoma for a number of years — not by choice but by my parent's preference — and became quite aware of the extreme religious influence on the state," he said. "These kids are going to need this because they are probably not going to find it [books] in a general [bookstore or library]."

He also agreed that books save lives.

"I'm delighted," he said. "Perhaps I'm saving a life or two in one of these places. Next on my list is Texas but they [Fabulosa] haven't come up with a place in Texas yet."

Gabby Mullins, a nonbinary, genderfluid and pansexual person who is the program coordinator for We Are Family Charleston in South Carolina, told the B.A.R. that they are grateful for a shipment of books that was sent their way.

Mullins said that the box contained 30-40 books and arrived June 14.

"It's good to have a decent selection from different genres," Mullins said. "It's great to feel the community — even all the way from San Francisco. The queer community is close and tight-knit like that. ... We are a small, grassroots nonprofit."

Mullins said their organization was founded by Tom Myers, the father of a gay son. He died in 2016.

"He wanted to provide community and support to his son, which is great to see in the middle of the Deep South," Mullins said.

Customers visiting Fabulosa often tell staff about the challenges they face in places like Alabama or Missouri, the release stated.

"We had a 15-year-old kid visiting from rural Ohio," Hexagon stated in the news release. "He looked at our wall of LGBT titles and his jaw hit the floor. He kind of froze for a minute, then hugged me and spent hours looking through book after book. That kind of emotional response is not unusual."

Fabulosa Books couldn't find a queer youth who has benefited from this program for the B.A.R. to speak with.

The store is planning a fundraiser for the book shipments for Banned Books Week, which is October 1-7.

Richmond banned books readings

Over in the East Bay city of Richmond, efforts are planned to recognize and publicize banned books.

Richmond City Councilmember Cesar Zepeda, the first out gay man to serve on the East Bay city's governing body, will soon host a Banned Book Reading event every Saturday through August at 1 p.m.

On July 22 the event will take place at the Multicultural Bookstore, 260 Broadway. Books will be selected from the Texas and Florida lists of banned books, a flyer stated, and Zepada will be joined by guests.

Events July 29 and August 5, 12, 19, and 26 will be held at the Richmond Main Library, 325 Civic Center Plaza.

Zepeda told the B.A.R. he'd be interested in working with Fabulosa on its upcoming fundraiser.

"It's about uplifting our communities together," he said. "Yeah, I'd be down to help. I was just there the other day. ... The other reason we're doing this is to bring awareness to our libraries, to our own bookstore in Richmond, the last one around."

Zepeda said that people ban books because they can't always ban people.

"The banning of books is just so crazy, and they are banning books because they want to ban certain communities and their voices," he said. "Some of these books we read in high school — the life of Anne Frank is banned in certain areas. Why would someone want to ban that? They are trying to target minority communities and erase that history."

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