Courtesy of Nancy K. Bereano family

Firebrand Books founder Nancy K. Bereano and her partner Elisabeth Nonas pose before Firebrand’s memorial plaque after it is presented to the public.

July 3, 2024

Despite Yellow Deli Protest, a Plaque Commemorating Firebrand Books is Revealed at Last

Print More

A postponed victory for Ithaca’s LGBTQ+ community was finally won.

After two and a half years of debate, a plaque in honor of Firebrand Books —  a local publishing house specializing in lesbian and feminist literature — was erected in the Commons on Saturday, June 15, at 10:30 a.m. Supporters of the globally recognized press met at the plaque’s new location for a brief revealing ceremony and a few words of appreciation. 

Founded by activist Nancy K. Bereano, the company had its first offices on the second story of the Home Dairy building at 143 East State Street from 1984 to 2000.

Although the memorial plaque was supposed to be installed at the original headquarters, the project was prevented by current owners at The Yellow Deli. The well-known restaurant was opened by the Twelve Tribes, a religious group openly opposed to homosexuality.

A stark message on the Twelves Tribes website summarizes their stance on homosexuality. 

“We embrace what God says on this subject without regard for political correctness,” the website states. “Homosexual behavior is immoral and can be mortally dangerous.”

The initiative to commemorate Firebrand Books was started by Jeff Iovannone M.A. ’23, who sought to establish a marker for the publishing house as a Cornell course final project. When he applied for a landmark nomination in October 2022, Ithaca’s Common Council approved it unanimously. Still, a required agreement from Twelve Tribes occupants complicated the installation process. 

Owners denied the act of recognition, arguing that it could confuse the building’s purpose as a restaurant. However, a pattern of homophobia from this group caused Firebrand’s advocates to question whether preventing the plaque stemmed from a place of prejudice.   

After eight months of delegation with Twelve Tribes and the city, Iovannone and Bereano attended a Common Council meeting on July 5, 2023. There, they vouched to memorialize Firebrand Books and expressed concern about the refusal’s homophobic implications. 

Reflecting upon the immense difficulties the founder experienced in obtaining this landmark, she referred directly to discrimination demonstrated by the religious group.  

“There are people in this town who do hate and are very clear about hating. And who extensively were making a recognition of Firebrand impossible, in spite of the preservation folks, in spite of common council, in spite of all the regulatory bodies who said yes we should do this,” Bereano stated. 

Despite a steep uphill battle, determined government officials and allies of Firebrand continued to pursue a landmark on city property. Since building owners were unwilling to cooperate, arrangements were made for a historical marker across the street. With the help of City Manager Deb Molenhoff and Mayor Robert Cantelmo, a plaque now stands neighboring the early offices of the award-winning lesbian press. 

Prior to revealing the monument on Saturday morning, Iovannone light-heartedly addressed the milestone this has been for Bereano late in her impressive career. 

“I think she didn’t imagine that at age 80, in addition to being an organizer, an activist, a feminist and lesbian publisher, that she would add preservationist to the many hats she’s won over the years,” Iovannone said. 

Sitting before the long-awaited memorial, Bereano spoke fondly of Firebrand’s legacy in publishing books that have changed queer culture. She expressed the significance of having her hometown recognize her achievements after residing here for over fifty years. Friends of Bereano Stephanie Bailey and Linda Mikula revealed the plaque ceremoniously for a quick photo-op. 

Then Firebrands supporters celebrated their triumph over drinks and snacks at the Tompkins Center For History & Culture. 

Before Bereano’s company presented the marker, she addressed the enduring strength of women and the LGBTQ community in this environment. 

“We have a long-term place in Ithaca and society,” Bereano said. “We should make that known and enjoy ourselves.”

Kira Walter is a reporter from The Cornell Daily Sun working on The Sun’s summer fellowship at The Ithaca Times. This piece was originally published in The Ithaca Times.