Following Vandalism, Kalispell Bookstore Raises LGBTQ+ Awareness

Owners of The Bookshelf turn shattered window into opportunity to support Flathead Valley’s LGBTQ+ community

By Skye Lucas
A window damaged by vandalism at The Bookshelf. JP Edge | Flathead Beacon

On the morning of July 5, The Bookshelf in downtown Kalispell received a Facebook message from a nearby business: the store’s window had been shattered overnight. The window facing First Street East is one of several surrounding the shop, but it was the only one that displayed the Progressive Pride flag. 

When Kyle Fort, co-owner of the bookstore, arrived later that day, he found local community activists outside the broken window warning pedestrians of the residual broken glass. No weapons were found and the store’s interior appeared intact. The flag was found crumpled and damaged on the shop’s floor.

“There’s nine windows, and that was the only one that anyone broke,” Fort said. “There wasn’t anything inside or outside that had been used to break the window, so the flag being pulled down was kind of conspicuous.” 

Since purchasing the bookstore in 2016, Fort and his wife, co-owner Mary Wolf, have been committed to making their store a welcoming space through symbols of inclusivity. 

“It’s been a learning process,” Fort said.

Mini pride flags line the top of the bookstore’s Main Street window, and a transgender pride flag is draped in the corner. Fort and Wolf began signaling their support for the queer community two years ago when the couple displayed the traditional pride flag from a store window. The family-owned business also registered under Open To All, a statewide supportive business initiative. 

Other local businesses, including the Bonsai Brewing Project and Montana Coffee Traders, have registered and received a sticker that can be put up anywhere in or on the stores. Businesses commit to the Open To All pledge to provide a safe and affirming space to LGBTQ+ people who work there and visit.

“The sticker signals that this business supports all people,” Fort said. “It’s not this person or that person. People are people, and we’re not going to treat you any different.” 

And the support is reciprocated. Since the incident, Fort has been speaking with concerned customers every day and receiving encouragement from bookstores, businesses and individuals in and out of the valley. The Bookshelf received flowers from another downtown business and cards from Libby and Bozeman.

The Bookshelf has also been raising donations for two community organizations in the valley: Glacier Queer Alliance (GQA) and Love Lives Here (LLH). Donations will support the organizations’ initiatives, including LLH’s Flathead LGBTQ+ Youth group (FLY), and help initiate GQA’s community library.

“If the intention was to scare and intimidate, then the opposite is actually happening,” Fort said. “The person who did it is essentially raising a bunch of money for two really great local organizations that they probably completely disagree with.”

FLY provides queer teens a safe space to socialize and be themselves without being bullied. Cherilyn Devries, staff member and community organizer with LLH, founded FLY three years ago and believes efforts to bring the community together can dismantle discrimination. 

The GQA hopes to launch a community library at its new office space located at the Gateway Community Center. The library will offer a similar collection of books as GQA’s online reading list, which features non-binary characters, books written by trans authors for trans youth and LGBTQ+ authors of color. 

For Bryan Bebb, GQA’s executive director, the library will make queer representation more accessible to the community. It will feature 150 titles and operate as a lending library for community members to rent and recommend literature. The library opens Aug. 6.

According to the Kalispell Police Department, the investigation into The Bookshelf incident is ongoing. The vandalism is a first for the bookstore, but Fort believes it has only made the downtown community stronger. 

“All the conversations that have happened because of this incident have really been encouraging,” Fort said. “I’m impressed with our community.”

While he waits for the store’s new window, which will continue to display the Progressive Pride flag, Fort is accepting donations and ready for more downtown Kalispell businesses to support the LGBTQ+ community and enlist in the Open To All pledge. 

“It would be cool to see more of it downtown,” Fort said. “Maybe if we designed our own Flathead version then it could be a great first step for people that are on the edge about it. There’s no reason that showing support for all the populations in the Flathead can’t cross political lines.” 

To donate, Venmo @Bookshelf406 or visit The Bookshelf at 101 S. Main St. in Kalispell. Those who have information regarding the vandalism are encouraged to call Detective Dan Williams at (406) 758-7795.

Teens or parents interested in FLY can visit the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/181941579095249. To learn more about GQA, visit www.glacierqueeralliance.org/.

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