Free Expression Friday: Second Star to the Right

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Denver’s Second Star to the Right Stands Up for Access to LGBTQ+ Books


Dea Lavoie is the owner of Second Star to the Right Books in Denver, Colorado, and a founder of the nonprofit book access organization Books to Kids. Sophie Nogar is the Store Manager and Event Coordinator for Second Star and an organizer of the Gay It Forward program, among many others.

When Second Star to the Right Books got a request for donations from Carabiner Collections, a LGBTQ+, community-run free library in Texas, they didn’t hesitate — their only question was how best to do it. Now it’s easy for their customers to support access to diverse books beyond their community as easily as they buy books for themselves, both in-store and online

Books purchased to date and sent to Carabiner Collections include titles frequently banned for their depiction of LGBTQ+ lives, like the Heartstopper series by Alice Osman and Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. The same is true of those waiting to be purchased on the gift registry, like Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath and Scott Stuart’s My Shadow Is Pink.

The Denver bookstore is no stranger to programs supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Their Gay It Forward program, a box of LGBTQ+-affirming books in the front of their store, has long been a resource “for kiddos that aren't necessarily out yet and comfortable,” according to owner Dea Lavoie, who is also a founder of the nonprofit book access organization Books to Kids. “For the parents as well, because lots of times they need the information and resources.” 

They also donate books to the Center on Colfax, the biggest LGBTQ+ community center in the region, and host a bimonthly drag storytime series. The benefit to the community has been palpable. Tearing up, Lavoie recounts the time “little trans girl” in the neighborhood came to the store: “she was so excited to see other kiddos like her, making it a normal situation where everyone there was happy and excited to support each other.” Becoming such a place is central to Second Star’s mission.

While expanding access to LGBTQ+ books is nothing new for Second Star, their collaboration with Carabiner Collections has let them expand their book access programs beyond state lines and into Texas, donating books to free libraries in the Brazos Valley region. Colorado has its own book censorship problems, but Texas had the most book bans in the country in the 2022–2023 school year, according to PEN America

Organized by Lavoie and Sophie Nogar, Second Star’s Store Manager and Event Coordinator, the program has in-store and online components. A shelf in their physical store and a gift registry in their online store let customers select the books Carabiner Collections needs most.

“A few months ago we actually had a couple from South Carolina who came to Denver to get married that day,” explains Nogar. “They came into our store, and as their wedding gift, they purchased books for our program. They were from South Carolina, and they said, ‘We don't have access to these books, and we wanted to make sure, on the day of our wedding, that we supported this’.”

The original book list came from Carabiner Collections with an invitation for Second Star to add their own selections. The in-store collection is proudly and prominently displayed. “It's a very cool area,” says Lavoie. “It's very cute. And it's very visible, so people can see information about what it's for, where it's going, and how much need this rural Texas area has for these books.”

The store display’s online equivalent is a gift registry, a feature they made on their website using ABA’s IndieCommerce 2.0 platform. The registry includes titles along with the number desired and the number purchased, helping donors ensure the free libraries receive a wide selection of titles. 

While Second Star’s program focuses on sending LGBTQ+ books to Texas, there is a wider need to donate banned books to other places where they are being challenged. Hummingbird Books in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, for example, lets customers buy banned books to be sent to Beaufort County, South Carolina, curating the list based on the 97 books challenged in that area

For Second Star’s part, while they have expanded their reach, they still intend to remain a haven for LGBTQ+ books. 

“We're starting gay weddings,” says Lavoie. Adds Nogar: “And Dea’s going to be a step-in mama for anyone who needs one!”

“I've read about that before,” Lavoie continues. “That there's not supportive parents sometimes. And if we can help in any way, we're all about it.”

Do you want to make a gift registry on your own website to donate to a cause? Here are gift registry instructions for those with an IndieCommerce 2.0 site as well as those with an IndieCommerce 1.0 site. Please coordinate with a book access organization early in the planning process.