As LGBTQ-oriented literature disappears from school bookshelves, the Gulfport Library’s LGBTQ Resource Center holds its sixth annual ReadOut: A Festival of LGBTQ Literature. From Feb.17-19, this free festival “showcases literature written by, for, and about LGBTQ community,” from 70 authors, according to the ReadOut website.
Each day includes discussions, panels, workshops, and book signings. Start the weekend festival with five introduction events on Friday from 5-8 p.m. Board President of the LGBTQ Resource Center Susan Gore expressed excitement for the discussion of lesbian literary icons in the past, present, and future.
Saturday’s events run from 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; the day starts with a poetry panel featuring authors Gloria Muñoz, Rose Cervantes, Sheree L. Greer, Dustin Brookshire, and Sander Santiago. The day ends with a benefit performance of The Laramie Project at 7:30 p.m..
In past years, St. Pete’s first Latina Poet Laureate Gloria Muñoz attended the festival. This year, she’s a ReadOut presenter.
“I’m excited to talk about craft, poetry, and the making of a poem,” Muñoz said. “I think it’s really important because poetry is meaningful and it can change lives.”
Muñoz said she met Gore at Tombolo Books; they talked about ReadOut, and that sparked the idea for her to join the festival.
“With all the book bans, the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, and with curriculums changing to erase people’s history right now, I think festivals like this are incredibly important, and I’m proud to be part of a city and a place that supports that,” Muñoz said.
On Sunday, events run from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.. At noon, this year’s keynote speaker Brian Broome talks about his book and signs copies after his talk. Broome won the Kirkus Prize for his memoir Punch Me Up to the Gods, which is about his experience growing up Black and queer in Ohio.
In 2020, ReadOut invited Tampa author Sheree Greer to be the festival’s keynote speaker. Now, she is a part of a poetry panel and leads a writer workshop called “Following Your Own Journey: The Hybrid Writer at Work” on Sunday. She explained how ReadOut lets her talk about representation and intersectionality within queer literature.
“It’s kind of challenging folks to say like ‘when’s the last time you read a book by someone who didn’t look like you? or didn’t come from your background?'” Greer said. “So it was a chance to talk about the first time I read a book that had Black queer people in it, and how it felt to see myself on the page.”
Greer, Gore, and Muñoz all stressed to The Gabber the importance of ReadOut and LGBTQ-oriented literature, especially with the differing political stances in Florida.
“This is a tough time,” Gore said. “Libraries are being stripped of books. Kids are being blocked from studying things that some people think are inappropriate or make them uncomfortable or they just don’t want to acknowledge that LGBTQ people exist. And the [Gulfport] library and the [LGBTQ] Resource Center are determined to offer that information in those opportunities.”
Although this is a free event, organizers ask attendees to register their attendance online. Attendees can join ReadOut in person or via Zoom. Every registrant will get a Zoom link for each event.