Ep 4: People Like Us - So Much More Than a Bookstore
“An exclusively gay and lesbian bookstore for Chicago”
Time travel with us to a very special place in episode four of Unboxing Queer History!
Between 1988 and 1997, Carrie Barnett and Brett Shingledecker founded and ran People Like Us: Chicago’s only exclusively LGBTQ bookstore, located just north of Belmont at 3321 N. Clark Street.
“We want to be everything for everyone. Some people want to read Andrea Dworkin and some other people want to read 'Macho Sluts.'”
The bookstore was unique at a time when many queer spaces were segregated into women’s or men’s spaces. Carrie and Brett did not separate lesbian and gay male literature, but instead shelved everything together by genre. Erotica was separated out, but otherwise the collection was integrated. This created an overlap; an interaction between two cultures that were often polarized even within the queer spectrum.
“We were the only LGBT bookstore that mixed our fiction - so we didn’t have gay fiction, lesbian fiction - we just had fiction. And people were taken aback, like ‘how am I going to find a book?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, don’t you just want to read a good book?’”
Of course, People Like Us became much, much more than just a bookstore - it was a cultural center: an everyday anchor for Chicago’s queer community, a tourist hotspot for queer visitors to Chicago, and a foundation for the development of queer literature by publishers. PLU even hosted an incredible number of queer legends and icons–polaroid photos from events show speakers from Alison Bechdel and Lea DeLaria to Rupert Kinnard, John Preston, Leslie Feinberg, Greg Louganis, Rita Mae Brown, and beyond.
Polaroids showing Alison Bechdel, John Preston, Rupert Kinnard, Armistead Maupin, Yvonne Zipter, Kathy Forde, Harry Hay, Jon-Henri Damski, Leslie Feinberg, Tee Corinne, Lea DeLaria, Greg Louganis, Rita Mae Brown, Phranc, and Holly Hughes
Listen in to learn more about this incredible space and to hear from Carrie, Brett, and patrons of People Like Us on why having an exclusively LGBTQ bookstore was so important for the Chicago LGBTQ community, as well as where to find that touchstone today.
“It was not uncommon to hear people say - meet me at PLU”
Want to Learn More?
- People Like Us Archival Collection at Gerber/Hart (in process)
- Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame interview with Carrie Barnett
- 10% Show episode featuring a 1990 lesbian kiss-in with Carrie Barnett
- Williams, Albert. "Shop Talk: finally, a bookstore for gays and lesbians" Chicago Reader, November 10, 1988.
- Smith, Sid. "But the Street is Heterogeneous." Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1989.