Turn on ‘Karma Chameleon’ and Read This Interview with Greg Newton from Bureau of General Services-Queer Division

In those cool old days, we had Joy Division, a name, which for an uninformed person, would sound like ‘the division responsible from joy in one big institution’; or when the lights went down, we had Culture Club, a name that brings up the sense of ‘a club’ that only the cultural ones could be a part of. Many other icons such as Human League or New Order all defined an attitude that twisted the whole notion of formality, bureaucracy and compulsion, mostly with their music but also with their names.

Here I am giving you Bureau of General Services-Queer Division, a bookstore formerly hosted until August 28 by Strange Loop Gallery in Lower East Side of Manhattan. It is a bookstore that is solely devoted to the Queer culture, holding besides books, some magazines, posters, records and even art works by emerging artists. BGSQD opened its doors in November 2012 and has been in the same location up until now. This week, BGSQD announced they will be hosted by Cage on nearby Hester Street from September to October.

However they need a permanent storefront to fully establish themselves as a bookstore and a cultural base. To be able to achieve this goal, BHSQD launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $50K in 50 days, and so far they are at $10,500.

I interviewed Greg Newton, the co-founder of BGSQD to learn more about the space and their campaign.

Culture Club

Osman Can Yerebakan: Can you tell us about BGSQD? Where does this cool name come from?

Greg Newton: The name comes as a response to that urge to be a part of an institution. We wanted a name that sounds like our idols from 70s, say Culture Club, Human League or Joy Division. Their names all sounded very heavy and institutional but obviously they were all about the opposite. We are an institution because we say so. We believe that legitimacy and confirmation don’t come from a higher bureaucracy, or at least shouldn’t. We chose this name as a reference, or a joke, to the notion of being approved or accepted by some sort of bigger and more powerful agent.

OCY: And can you mention how everything emerged from an idea to a physical space?

GN: It all started from the ‘queer’ and everything it represents. Although there are many bookstores in New York that sell queer themed publications, we still cannot say that there is a queer bookstore in this city which is believed to be one of the most gay friendly cities in the world. We started with this whole idea to present not just a bookstore, but a center that caters to a whole a culture, that being queer. We started to work on this project in mid-2011 and we opened BGSQD in November 2012 here in Strange Loop Gallery on Orchard street.

Inside Bureau of General Services-Queer Division

OCY: Are you only keeping queer themed publications? Do you see yourself as a source for the queer canon?

GN: We can say both. My partner and I feel like BGSQD should not just be a bookstore, but more than that so here we are doing lectures, talks, discussions and performances that all speak to queer culture in some way. We like to use the word ‘queer’ because it better connects with the whole cultural aspect of being gay in the society.

OCY: You are trying to raise $50K in 50 days to secure a storefront where the idea behind BGSQD can be fully achieved. What kind of feedback have you gotten from and outside the community?

GN: We are getting amazing feedback from the public and the press. People are very excited about a cultural center that focuses on the queer, an element that has been a major part of New York cultural life. The press has been supporting us a lot as well. Village Voice mentioned our Indiegogo campaign  in July. TimeOut New York mentioned us twice, one in their ‘100 Best Shops in NYC’ and once for being the 27th on their ‘Reasons Why New York Is the Best City in the World’ lists. The long list of our press appearances can be seen on our website.

Selection of Books in BGSQD

OCY: What do you think about the ongoing struggles of small bookstores? Previously St. Mark Book Store had a similar problem and now a local bookstore in Istanbul, Robinson Crusoe 389 is having financial problems and looking for ways to make it through.

GN: It is heartbreaking to see some power mechanisms decide on what survives and what doesn’t. In today’s structure, being small, or staying small is getting harder and harder because the decisions are being made for you by ‘the stronger’. In this country, being poor is regarded as ‘a guilt’, you are treated like you did something wrong that you ended up being outside the big picture. Valuing the intellect is what we need to learn. Since the first day we are taught how to be business minded and everything has to be a business and you shouldn’t (or even cannot) fail. This cycle needs to be broken in the society, and so does the urge to be confirmed a or approved by some higher mechanism.

OCY: What are your future plans for BGSQD?

GN: We are partially non-for-profit so we are applying for some grants and we will keep on pursuing more grants. We plan to organize art exhibitions in our future space and a small café as well. And more to come…

In the name of staying genuine and unique in what we do or what we are, we need places like Bureau of General Services-Queer Division. It is good to know that ideals are what dreams are constituted on and dreams are not necessarily gone unrealized.

Donate to Bureau of General Services-Queer Division here

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