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How a new Salt Lake City bookstore is creating a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community

under the umbrella bookstore
Posted at 5:33 PM, Jun 22, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — When you walk into Kaitlyn Mahoney’s house, you’ll notice every shelf is filled with pages and pages of insight. There are hundreds of books, all with a similar purpose.

“One of the things that I’m really committed to is prioritizing stories by and about Black people, Jewish people, fat people, disabled people, as many different marginalization’s and intersections with the queer identify as I can," Mahoney said.

Mahoney is the founder of Under the Umbrella Bookstore. It is an upcoming community bookstore serving the LGBTQIA+ community in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is the first of its kind in the area.

Fewer than 1% of small businesses in America are certified as LGBT business enterprises. Now, this new business is joining the ranks to open its own inclusive space.

“Under the Umbrella is meant to flip the entire hierarchy of prioritization so that those stories featuring or about black queers, and trans queers and disabled queers are the most important ones," Mahoney said. “What I envision for Under the Umbrella is a space where people can come and do what I did with yourself and those books and you are learning about yourself. You’re having an experience for and with yourself and that book.”

Mahoney's own experiences with books is what has sent her on this journey of self-discovery.

“I started reading more diversly in general and that’s kind of how I realized how diverse life could be and is, but how diverse it could be for me," Mahoney said. “It made me start questioning what I had been talk about gender and sexuality. Because I grew up in a religion where gender is male and female, and it’s eternal and that’s it, and sexually was either straight or gay and one of those was a bad thing to be. Books is how I really found the language to describe a lot of things I had been feeling, but I just hadn’t let myself just think about.”

Mahoney says this space will be safe for those who have nowhere to go.

“There are a lot of queer youth who desperately need acceptance and love," Mahoney said.

She wants to make sure no one is left behind wondering.

“I can’t even imagine what my life would look like if I would have had that when I was younger. If I had been exposed to the love and acceptance that I desperately needed to help me and myself," Mahoney said.

Members of the community couldn’t agree more.

“I can’t tell you how many people have said those words to me, ‘I wish this space had existed when I was younger," Mahoney said.

People have come together to raise more than $55,000 to make this vision of Under the Umbrella a reality.

“I knew that the space was necessary. I knew that we needed it, but the response from the community has just been amazing," Mahoney said.

Mahoney says Salt Lake City needs businesses like this, but so does every other city. According to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, out of the 28 million small businesses across the country, only 909 are officially certified as LGBT Business Enterprises.

“There are only a handful that are specifically queer, but there are a handful that are very queer focused," Mahoney said.

The NGLCC says businesses like these are a vibrant, essential part of the small business engine that makes the economy run.

“There is nothing like this in Utah and I can’t tell you why, like I don’t know," Mahoney said.

That is why she says books and book stores need to be more inclusive nationally and world wide.

“I found it really hard to go into a general bookstore like your Barns and Noble or your local and that just has a general selection of books was hard to find books that were specifically queer or that showed identities that are everywhere but that you don’t necessarily see in books," Mahoney said.

With a house filled with books and items made by LGBTQ+ individuals ready to sell Kaitlyn is ready to welcome all.

“So, however you identify under the LGBTQIA+ queer umbrella, you are welcome under the umbrella," Mahoney said.