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Book Store To End Chapter Of Gay Life

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The Lambda Rising bookstore in Dupont Circle has been at the center of gay life in the region for decades. In January, it will close after 35 years.

When Deacon Maccubbin moved to D.C. back in 1969, at age 26, the world was a very different place for gays and lesbians. He remembers walking into a bookstore and asking the manager if there were any gay books.

"And he looked down his nose at me through his glasses and very haughtily said, 'We don't carry those kinds of books,'" Maccubbin remembers. To him and many people at the time, gay books were porn...That's all they could think about. What I was interested in was not porn, but books that would tell the story of our lives the lives of gays and lesbians who'd gone before us, the history of our community."

Those books were hard to find. Most publishers, Maccubbin says, wouldn't allow any books with gay themes unless they ended in suicide or tragedy. So Maccubbin founded Lambda Rising, the area's first gay book store.

"We had phone threats, we had bomb threats, we had our windows smashed on more than one occasion," says Maccubbin.

Advertising was almost impossible at first. But he says there was always support from his neighborhood.

"I remember when our windows were smashed; the very day that happened some people came in with a check for $700 from other business owners along Connecticut Avenue, most of whom were straight, not gay," says Maccubbin.

From behind the counter, Maccubbin watched history--and made it. He pressed D.C. to pass anti-discrimination laws in the 70's, he held fundraisers at the store when his customers and employees began dying of AIDS in the 80's. And he helped create D.C.'s annual gay pride festival.

"Every day was a chapter in history in this bookstore. But really it was the day-to-day looking people in the eye and saying 'you're ok.' That meant so much more to me in many ways," says Maccubbin.

And now, at age 66, he's closing his store.

"It's a bittersweet moment for me, certainly," says Maccubbin. "But I think it's the right time, and the right thing to do at this time."

The right time, Maccubbin says, because just about every bookstore now has a gay books section. There are plenty of books available online. Gay communities are less ghettoized, in books as in life.

Sabri Ben-Achour reports...

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