With a myriad of rainbow flags fluttering, hundreds of writers, publishers, and readers come together for the Rainbow Book Fair to discover a new facet of LGBT literature every year. Rainbow Book Fair is America’s oldest and largest LGBT book fair, and has been around for seven years.
Sarah Chinn, a member of the steering committee of the fair and a professor of Hunter College, has played a pivotal role in connecting the Center for LGBTQ Studies of City University of New York with the fair for the last six years.
The Center for LGBTQ Studies is the first university-based LGBT research center in the United States, and it also acts as a clearing house for conferences, talks, and events related to LGBT studies. It has been an active sponsor of Rainbow Book Fair for six years so far. Every year, it arranges the location, provides financial support, and brings in numerous students and faculty from Hunter College who are interested in LGBT books.
“Large book fairs have not played a very active role in introducing LGBT books,” Chinn said. “We wanted to satisfy the needs of LGBT book lovers by informing them of where they can find the LGBT books they want.”
With the center’s continuous support, the fair is showing no sign of stagnation, given the number of visitors and panels is increasing every year. Chinn stresses that there is a constant demand for LGBT book fairs not only from LGBT communities, but also from non-LGBT counterparts.
“Non-LGBT people read queer books not because they are queer, but because these books touch on one of the most important aspects of human existence, which is sexuality,” Chinn argued. “If literature does not deal with questions of gender and sexuality that are so closely related to our lives, who would care to read literature?”
Chinn emphasizes that the Rainbow Book Fair has been contributing to the long history of queer activism in New York City, while simunateously benefitting a lot from its location.
“We have never had any trouble finding a space and people to reach out in New York City, where we have one of the largest LGBT populations and the longest activism history,” Chinn remarked.
Although the literary world in the United States is putting effort into making itself inclusive, barriers persist. When writing is evaluated by literary critics, the authors’ unique sexual orientations often become the most notable identity that affects the assessment, even if the writing itself is of very high-quality.
“It’s still very difficult for writers to be evaluated on their writings alone,” Chinn notes. “If a lesbian writer writes about lesbian lives, the novel is often labeled as a ‘lesbian’ novel, not as an ‘American’ novel. The LGBT experience is often not seen as representatives of American life in the way that life of straight is.”
Expressing pride of LGBT identities on a Pride Day
The fairground of New York State Fair has become a vast sea of colorful crowds comprised of LGBT people and gay-rights advocates, as well as one anti-gay protester, and fairgoers who were indifferent to the issue.
The New York State Fair is a 12-day annual showcase of agriculture, entertainment, education, and technology of New York State that dates back to 1841, being the oldest state fair in the United States.
This year, the fair was a very unique one, as Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York State, announced the first official Pride Day.
“This represents an important step in demonstrating New York State Fair as an inclusive place for all,” said Governor Cuomo in the announcement.
A myriad of LGBT-identified participants or allies clad in eccentric costumes, held rainbow flags and attached rainbow stickers that read “Be an Ally.”
For the active LGBT rights advocates, the fair was a historical moment in the history of activism because an official Pride Day signified the acceptance of LGBT communities.
“Look at all the diversity around here,” said Emily Williams, a health educator of ACR Health, a LGBT organization that ran a booth in the fair. “It’s all about equality and inclusion. Just like straight families, LGBT families are finally accepted and included in the fair as well.”
After the raising of the rainbow flag at the main gate, a choir performance from Syracuse Gay and Lesbian Choir followed.
“We have been singing at the fair for a couple of years, and finally, we have been officially invited to the Pride Day as the oldest gay and lesbian choir in the United States,” said Denise Cody, the head of the Choir.
Demetrio Munoce, another member of the Choir, confessed that as a gay man, actively engaging with the LGBT community means more than just having friends.
“I don’t have any family members in New York anymore, and now, they have become my family,” Munoce said. “Having an LGBT family is more important to LGBT people because no matter what, I have somebody to cover my back.”
The first Pride Day concluded with an evening parade where New York-based LGBT organizations celebrated a new state that fully recognizes its LGBT population.
On the other hand, an anti-LGBT protester was standing at one side of the fair and was shouting at fairgoers that homosexuality should be “cured.” He was also holding a poster that read “Homosexuality is sin, Christ can set you free.” Soon, scuffles broke out when participants and fairgoers started to fight back, expressing their thoughts as well to the protester.
“It’s intolerant to say such words and force one’s idea to others,” said Emily Terry, a fairgoer who was upset about the protester. “In my opinion, homosexuality is never a sin and everyone has given a free will to choose who they love.”