Pride in Places: How this bookstore launched an entire Spanish gayborhood

“Una librería no es más que una idea en el tiempo.” – Cuban-American Diplomat Carlos Pascual. (Photo: Berkana)

Bienvenido a la Librería Berkana

Berkana was launched at the heart of the Chueca neighborhood in Madrid, becoming Spain’s first bookstore to specialize in gay and lesbian titles.

Founder Mili Hernandez said she was inspired by the likes of the most famous queer bookstores around the globe. Her pursuit of creating a haven for literature in 1993 was a reaction to her country’s oppressive right-wing Catholic culture.

“Going to England [London] and the United States [New York] was like being born again,” Hernandez told Report for the World.

First, she visited these cities to explore and understand her sexuality; then, she returned to Madrid determined to empower her hometown’s queer community with access to the same knowledge.

Founder Hernandez interviews prominent female authors for the Spanish Lesbian Day of Visibility. (Photo: Berkana)

Berkana began operations in 1992 when people didn’t have the all-knowing Internet at their fingertips. Spaniards struggling with their identities and sexualities attained vital information at Berkana, the only space of its kind operating as a commercial business during regular hours.

Hernandez said that many brave folks who stepped foot inside used it as their first step to coming out. She set more Madrilenian literature milestones when she founded the publishing house Egales, the most comprehensive catalog of books geared towards the LGBTQ community (but not exclusively). As a result of this groundbreaking work, Spain has recognized her as one of the most prominent gay rights activists in the country.

A series of self-help books on understanding and mastering pleasure and fantasy. (Photo: Berkana)

Over time, a small but mighty hub of queer knowledge transformed an entire neighborhood. Chueca is now Madrid’s official gay district, offering bars, shops, and most businesses catering to the queer community. The neighborhood’s famous Pride parties during late June and early July attract visitors worldwide.

But just like Berkana, locals of the area have remained since they were kids. As a result, old and new cultures merge and co-exist in a way that embodies how far Spain has come in support of its queer community. It was the third country to legalize gay marriage, so it’s interesting to think that this controversial bookstore might’ve catalyzed the nation’s equal rights. But, of course, it’s never that simple.

Berkana was not immune to the impact of the pandemic, but it’s remained a staple of Spanish queer literature thanks to the community’s support and visits from renowned gay authors. Culture has pivoted online, but the bookstore understands the importance of preserving a physical space for gay writers and readers to call home.

Once you enter beyond Berkana’s vibrant pink exterior, there’s no question too taboo or topic too controversial that can’t be explored here; a safe space for all.

Author Andrea Galaxina hosting a book signing of her controversial title. (Photo: Berkana)

RELATED – PHOTOS: Madrid Pride draws thousands out onto the streets