Be gay, read books: Aesop’s free Queer Library is back

Last year, Aesop launched an actually good Pride campaign – proving that contrary to much of the evidence, it is possible to do. The free Queer Library initiative saw the skincare brand clear the products out of nine of its stores across five countries, including two of its London stores, and fill the shelves instead with books by LGBTQ+ authors and allies from around the world. In total, over 35,000 books were given out to visitors. Now the Queer Library is back for a second year with Aesop once again dedicating its stores to the amplifying of queer voices and stories.

Starting from Monday (June 20), all this week Aesop stores in New York (Williamsburg), Los Angeles (Silver Lake) and Toronto (Queen Street West) are offering one complimentary book by LGBTQ+ authors to every person who enters the store. The books will be completely free with no purchase required, because, as Aesop says, the initiative is a celebration not a profitable endeavour. 

“We are not simply changing our logo or launching a Pride-themed collection,” Adam Kakembo, Aesop’s chief marketing officer, said last year. “This multi-layer gesture of generosity is aimed at supporting our LGBTQIA+ staff, customers, independent queer-owned books stores and the communities within these three cities.”

These US and Canada stores will feature 142 titles across different modes of queer creative expression with a particular focus on the BIPOC trans experience. Authors will include the likes of Vivek Shraya, Paul Tran and Meredith Talusan. When it came to selecting the books on offer, many of the suggestions came from Aesop’s LGBTQ+ community, Prism and were purchased from two queer bookstores – BookWoman in Austin and Glad Day in Toronto – while others were donated by Penguin Random House.

“We unfortunately still live in a society where the LGBTQIA2S+ community experiences unprecedented levels of discrimination, oppression and violence,” says Nelson Derry, Aesop’s head of culture, diversity, equity and inclusion. “There also continues to be a rise in hate crimes and anti-trans legislation, and therefore we have chosen to amplify BIPOC trans voices within the LGBTQ+ community in solidarity, recognising that those of colour and trans face compounded adversities as they navigate multiple layers of oppression.”

Meanwhile, in London’s Soho store starting from next Tuesday (June 28) for a week, the shelves will be filled with 50 titles to mark 50 years of Pride marches in the UK. Spanning genres and generations, the books have been bought from London’s legendary Gay’s The Word bookstore and donated by Penguin Random House. Aesop stores in Berlin, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taipei will also be participating later in the year. 

With so many brands these days capitalising on queer identities for profit without offering anything other than the obligatory 10 per cent donation in return, Aesop’s campaign is a welcome change – making a meaningful impact by using its platform to uplift and support queer voices and stories. So go on down to your local Aesop and pick up some fables!

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