COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — An Ohio State University student organization dedicated to cultivating a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community is expanding outside the university with a Short North bookstore and coffee shop. 

Named “Little Gay Bookstore,” the shop aims to begin welcoming guests this year at 1129 N. High St. in the Short North, down the street from Stonewall Columbus and Out of the Closet. Operating as a non-profit organization, Little Gay aims to foster an environment for marginalized groups to discuss queer literature with the inclusion of a for-profit coffee shop, “Queer Beans.” 

Named “Little Gay Bookstore,” the shop aims to begin welcoming guests this year. (Courtesy Photo/Reese Steiner & Lauren Branch)

“Growing up, I would have really appreciated a space like this,” said Lauren Branch, the store’s co-founder. “Questioning your sexuality is such a scary time, and I would have really benefited from having something like that and just being around queer people and having a community.”

Reese Steiner, an Ohio State English student and Branch’s partner, started Little Gay as a student organization after the pair visited an independent bookstore in Los Angeles without a queer literature section. Struck by the lack of LGBTQ+ representation, the pair joked they should open their own “gay bookstore.” 

“What if we just did it?” Steiner said, recalling that night when the two began seriously considering the venture. 

Since then, Branch and Steiner have begun utilizing Ohio State resources, pitching to investors and raising funds through a crowdfunding campaign to bring the bookstore to life. Once completed, the shop will sell a wide range of queer literature patrons can read while sipping on Queer Beans coffee. 

However, the pair said the weight of operating as an openly LGBTQ business has been heavy, especially in Ohio, where several pieces of Statehouse legislation have garnered backlash from the minority community. 

In June, the Ohio House passed a bill banning trans athletes from participating in girls’ sports and prohibiting trans youth from receiving certain medical care. In mid-July, a bill similar to an unconstitutional Tennessee law prohibiting drag queens’ performances in public or where children are present was introduced. 

Then, anti-LGBTQ-sentiment came for the shop after Branch and Steiner hung up a window sign with a Pride flag that read, “Coming Soon: Little Gay Bookstore.” 

“Someone ‘conveniently’ broke our window, and we don’t know if that was actually targeted or not, but it was two days after we put [the sign] up,” said Branch. 

The partners enlisted their friend Nadia Stewart for a mural incorporating the window crack. (Courtesy Photo/Reese Steiner & Lauren Branch)

Whether the damage was intentional or not, the partners enlisted their friend Nadia Stewart, an artist from Kent State University, for a mural incorporating the window crack to show that their queer pride is strong. 

As the window crack will certainly not be the last bump in the road, the pair hopes the bookstore can eventually serve as a safe environment for marginalized people to explore their identities. Queer communities are crucial, the couple said, given LGBTQ+ youth with access to affirming spaces report lower rates of depression and attempting suicide, according to The Trevor Project

“I genuinely hope that it saves some lives for people who are questioning and in a really dark space,” said Branch. “They can just come here and be like, ‘I’m safe here, I can be around people who are like me.'”

The Little Gay Bookstore is raising money for books, shelving, a security system and more here. Startup funds for Queer Beans, including a register and coffee equipment, can be donated here.