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Queer bookstore creates safe, accessible, affirming space for LGBTQ+ community in Salt Lake City

Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore located at the corner of 500 west and 200 south, opened in November 2021. It is the only bookstore catering towards the LGBTQ+ community and is the one of the only specifically queer establishments accessible for all ages in Salt Lake City. 

“I want queer people to be here all the time, doing all sorts of shit,” said Kaitlyn Mahone, the owner of Under the Umbrella. “That’s my dream for the space.”

The main room of Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore, displays hundreds of books, as well as art and other items from queer-owned businesses.
The main room of Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore, displays hundreds of books, as well as art and other items from queer-owned businesses. “We deserve to have these stories front and center,” said Kaitlyn Mahone, the owner of Under the Umbrella. “We shouldn’t be relegated to one shelf in the back of the store, or only on display during pride month. We’re here all the time and we deserve this.” The goal when creating Under the Umbrella was to have a sober and accessible space for all queer people, according to Mahone. “[Gay bars] aren’t accessible to all ages or to some sober people,” Mahone said. “Not everyone can or wants to go to a bar so I wanted to make sure the space was accessible, especially for younger queer people.”
Bookshelves line the walls of queer bookstore Under the Umbrella’s main room with a center table highlighting Black queer books Feb. 26.
Bookshelves line the walls of queer bookstore Under the Umbrella’s main room with a center table highlighting Black queer books Feb. 26. “Queer people are here,”said Kaitlyn Mahone, the owner of Under the Umbrella, when asked why they opened Under the Umbrella in Utah. “[Utah’s] a conservative state, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t here, that we don’t deserve to have these spaces to be visible, validated and celebrated. I am here, so this is where I’m going to [open a queer bookstore] with my queer community.”
Kaitlyn Mahone, the owner of Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore, stands in front of their favorite section in the store, the nonfiction section on Feb. 26.
Kaitlyn Mahone, the owner of Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore, stands in front of their favorite section in the store, the nonfiction section on Feb. 26. “I ended up discovering my queer self relatively later in life, around 27,” Mahone said. “I did that through reading, through discovering the possibilities for gender and sexuality beyond what I had been taught.” Mahone said they love the nonfiction section because she can see all the identities and labels within the queer community covering the shelves. “I think [queer literature] is expansive.” Mahone said. “It expanded my world and my being. I think that is possible for other people too, for queer and non-queer people alike.”
Sage Stewart, a senior communication major, kneels on the ground looking at Queer X Design: 50 Years of Signs, Symbols, Banners, Logos, and Graphic Art of LGBTQ by Andy Campbell at Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore.
Sage Stewart, a senior communication major, kneels on the ground looking at Queer X Design: 50 Years of Signs, Symbols, Banners, Logos, and Graphic Art of LGBTQ by Andy Campbell at Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore. “I remember being 16 and seeing on Twitter something about being nonbinary and as soon as I knew that language I knew that was me,” Stewart said. “Being in [Under the Umbrella] with all those stories and language that identifies me and my experiences […] it fills my heart with joy and breaks my heart because that wasn’t the experience for me or older queer people.” Percy Codero, a sophmore theater major and one of the coordinators of Queer Compass, said queer literature is important because it can give representation and validation for people’s identities. “Queer literature opens up new imaginaries.” said Faith Staley, a senior justice studies major and one of the Queer Compass coorodinators. “It asks and helps people to question their existing ideas, narratives and identities… I think queer literature, and queerness in general, is a gateway into questioning all systems of oppression.”
Queer young adult books fill a shelf in Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore, with the cover of Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas facing out. Sticking out of the book's pages is a blue paper reading “Kaitlyn Recommends.”
Queer young adult books fill a shelf in Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore, with the cover of Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas facing out. Sticking out of the book’s pages is a blue paper reading “Kaitlyn Recommends.” Kaitlyn Mahone, the owner of Under the Umbrella, mentioned Cemetery Boys as a recent influential read and said “it doesn’t shy away from the reality of what it means to be trans and it’s joyful and funny and beautiful.” Mahone also recommended Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers.
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers, a new adult fiction novel with a black woman on the cover, sits on a display with a notecard beneath it at Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore.
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers, a new adult fiction novel with a black woman on the cover, sits on a display with a notecard beneath it at Under the Umbrella, a queer bookstore. The notecard reads “emotional, heartfelt, poetic prose that will make you feel seen” and “REP: Black lesbian main character, Japanese American love interest… author is queer and Black” “[Honey Girl] destroyed me and then put me back together,” said Kaitlyn Mahone, the owner of Under the Umbrella. “I think it can do that for other people too.”
Emo P., a customer at Under the Umbrella on Feb. 28, tries on a blue mesh tank top made by Aqua Underwear and a pink jacket from the free gender affirming closet.
Emo P., a customer at Under the Umbrella on Feb. 28, tries on a blue mesh tank top made by Aqua Underwear and a pink jacket from the free gender affirming closet. Emo P. said they felt safe and relaxed the first time they entered the store, which isn’t a normal feeling for them as a queer person living in Utah. Kaitlyn Mahone, the owner of Under the Umbrella, said she loves seeing people use the space.
A bright green sign reading “Are you here? Are you queer? Then YES you deserve free clothes” is taped to the wall above racks and shelves of clothes at Under the Umbrella.
A bright green sign reading “Are you here? Are you queer? Then YES you deserve free clothes” is taped to the wall above racks and shelves of clothes at Under the Umbrella. “There [are] weekends I see the same young queer people come in and get more clothes [from the free gender affirming closet] and leave smiling,” said Kaitlyn Mahone, the owner of Under the Umbrella. “I hope that more and more people can feel queer joy here,” Mahone said. “We always deserve queer joy, especially at times like right now when it’s scary and queer joy feels scarce. I hope this can be a place of refuge and a reminder of the joy that’s out there.”

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Q W (they/xe) is a junior communication major with a minor in justice studies. When they aren't in class, you can almost always find xem crocheting, enjoying a cup of tea, and listening to a podcast.

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