In the late 1970s and very early 1980s, Capitol Hill was one of the few neighborhoods in the country where LGBTQ+ people could largely live out of the closet. To the young people moving to Seattle from more regressive parts of the country, the area around Broadway — with its openly queer arts organizations and its vibrant nightlife — felt practically utopian. (LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning, with the + denoting everything along the gender and sexuality spectrum.)
For those transplants, Capitol Hill seemingly had it all: restaurants, arthouse movie theaters, dance clubs, drag shows, alternative media. But after they lived there for a month or two, they’d start complaining about one particularly noteworthy hole in the fabric of the community: Capitol Hill needed a really good general interest bookstore.
When Michael Coy moved to Seattle in 1981, he wanted to fill that need.
“I just thought, Broadway is ripe for a neighborhood bookstore and I would love to do it,” Coy says. He was friends with Seattle bookselling royalty Barbara Bailey, owner of a downtown bookshop called B. Bailey Books, and the two joined forces. B. Bailey Books on Broadway, as the store was originally named, was an instant success. It expanded into a much larger space two doors down where it would remain, under the name Bailey/Coy Books, until the shop closed in 2009. Bailey’s accomplishments and contributions to the Seattle literary scene earned her permanent recognition on Capitol Hill in the form of East Barbara Bailey Way.
Other Seattle bookstores specifically catered to gay and lesbian audiences. Beyond the Closet Books served Capitol Hill for decades, and the worker-owned Red and Black Books stocked deep collections of LGBTQ+ titles. Bailey/Coy’s vision was slightly different: “from the time we opened, we were a general bookstore with a strong gay and lesbian sensibility,” Coy says. Every section of the store — history, biography, fiction — represented LGBTQ+ perspectives, he adds, “not because it was our mission to be the best gay bookstore, but to be the best neighborhood bookstore. And I think it always was.”
Though he left Bailey/Coy in 1989, the lessons Coy learned there informed his work building Third Place Books’ Ravenna outpost into a neighborhood bookstore. Coy, who has managed Ravenna Third Place since 2009 and recently announced his retirement from bookselling after nearly 50 years in the business, admits that Seattle is “kind of a liberal bubble,” but he no longer hesitates to recommend LGBTQ+ books to straight-presenting readers like he used to even a decade ago.
“The world has changed so much,” he says.
That change was made possible in part by bookstores like Bailey/Coy — inclusive, LGBTQ+ neighborhood spaces that welcomed everyone without judgment. And those bookstores would have been nothing without world-class booksellers like Coy and Gina Guilinger, who was hired to work at Bailey/Coy in 1998.
“Once she found out that I had children’s book experience,” Guilinger says, “Barbara [Bailey] put me in charge of the very small children’s section and said that I could expand it.”
Guilinger says Bailey/Coy was “a gay bookstore, but one that served not just gay books. Gay people want to read all kinds of books. They shouldn’t have to go to a multitude of bookstores to find what they wanted to read.” And at the time, Capitol Hill was changing: young couples with children were moving in.
Through trial and error, Guilinger built a small but mighty children’s and young adult section at Bailey/Coy — even hosting packed midnight “Harry Potter” release parties. “It grew slowly, but I think we did a great job with it,” she says.
Guilinger especially liked working Thursdays, when the new edition of Seattle Gay News was delivered. “That would bring in foot traffic all night.” Regulars would stop by to chat after dinner or a movie. She recalls Bailey gave staffers Pride as a paid holiday — a rarity in bookselling, when most holiday work is mandatory. “The bookstore would be closed half the day so we could watch the Pride parade,” she recalls.
Guilinger moved away in 2007, but she’s effusive about her formative years at Bailey/Coy: “I loved it. It was probably one of the greatest jobs ever.”
Other bookshops have faded from memory, but Bailey/Coy is still part of the conversation.
When Elliott Bay Book Company moved from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill not long after Bailey/Coy closed, its staff built up the store’s LGBTQ+ title selection to honor their new neighborhood’s beloved bookstore. Elliott Bay shoppers can walk two blocks to the light rail station via East Barbara Bailey Way, which Mayor Jenny Durkan dedicated last year in honor of Bailey/Coy’s late co-founder.
And people who miss the LGBTQ+ clubhouse feel of Bailey/Coy can stroll downhill from Elliott Bay to the largest LGBTQ+ library in the Pacific Northwest, the Michael C. Weidemann LGBTQ Library. Maisha Manson, the youth advocacy program manager at the nonprofit LGBTQ+ organization Gay City, oversees the library’s collection — 9,000 books, CDs and DVDs, all donated — and coordinates the volunteer staff.
The library is free to join. Manson, who uses they/them pronouns, works to make it a nonjudgmental, helpful resource for browsers to learn about LGBTQ+ culture and history. Leslie Feinberg’s 1993 gender-noncomforming novel “Stone Butch Blues” “is forever being checked out, and I think it will continue to be a classic,” Manson says. They add “our trans history is very frequented,” along with nonfiction books about HIV.
Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community is always evolving: What was necessary and relevant in the 1980s, when Coy arrived in town, may have seemed outdated when Guilinger moved here in the late 1990s. And a young LGBTQ+ person today might find those old gay bookshops to be quaint, or even silly. But while the needs of the community are always changing, people will always need a place to find togetherness, and books to guide the way forward.
What should Seattle be reading for Pride?
Manson, of the Michael C. Weidemann LGBTQ Library, calls “Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology” one of the library’s most-loaned titles. Despite recent strides forward in same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws, overt representation of LGBTQ+ themes in nerd entertainment is still relatively rare. Young readers who grew up on mainstream comics and science fiction paperbacks will find this wider expression of identity within the framework of genre fiction to be refreshing.
Guilinger, former children’s and young adult buyer at Bailey/Coy Books, recommends Varian Johnson’s “wonderful” YA novel “The Parker Inheritance,” a mystery about a girl who finds a treasure map in her late grandmother’s personal effects. Johnson deftly shapes emotionally fraught topics like a Southern town’s history of racism and the bullying of an LGBTQ+ boy into a narrative about “reconciliation.”
Though it certainly contains gay themes and characters, “I have not been hesitant to recommend John Boyne’s ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ to any reader who says ‘I’m looking for a good book,'” says Coy, the co-founder of Bailey/Coy Books and retiring manager at Third Place in Ravenna. “I loved how Ireland was really a character in this book,” he adds, and the way the novel tracks 70 years of social change in Ireland, from its strict Catholic past to a more progressive present, will offer a ray of light to readers hoping for more enlightened times.