It was in high school that UMW junior Andy Unger first realized that books about the LGBTQ+ community were rare finds. But it wasn’t until he arrived at UMW that it really clicked: This was a problem he could solve.
“As a kid, I spent all of my time reading every book I could find,” said Unger, a transgender student who started coming out in high school. “Once I got to UMW, it hit me that there are bookstores for almost every other niche market but there are very few LGBTQ+ stores – and that was something I could change.”
With his mind made up, Unger dove into his coursework at UMW with a future bookstore launch in mind. The classics major added business courses to his schedule and signed up for StartUp UMW, a program hosted by UMW’s Center for Economic Development, which teaches entrepreneurs how to start businesses. And just this week, Andy and Elliot’s Books – named for Unger and his fiancé – officially became a registered company.
“UMW has been fundamental in getting this bookstore off the ground,” said Unger, whose next step is to look for a brick and mortar shop in Richmond, Virginia. “UMW’s small business development center has been phenomenal, teaching me how to write a business plan and set up an LLC.”
Today, Unger is poised for success – but the road hasn’t been without its bumps. Growing up in a conservative Christian home, he was homeschooled through high school and struggled with his gender transition early on.
“As I went through puberty, I started to realize I wasn’t a girl,” said Unger, who said he pushed the thought away for a long time. “It finally clicked that this was the right answer. It’s just been uphill since then.”
It was during high school that Unger started going by “Andy” and using “he/him” pronouns. While his close friends embraced the change, he had a hard time getting others to support his decision – until he came to UMW.
“We have a thriving LGBTQ+ community here, especially in Madison Hall,” said Unger, who lived in the LGBTQ-friendly residence hall his sophomore year. “It’s been pretty great. Everyone is so accepting.”
Finally able to socially transition, Unger legally changed his first name this past year, started taking testosterone six months ago, and even got engaged to his boyfriend of four years this past October. And now he wants to use the bookstore to give back to a community that has helped him flourish.
“One of the most important things you can do for a young gay or transgender kid is to make sure they know they’re safe and that they are welcome,” said Unger. “That environment made me want to come to Mary Washington, and I want to be able to extend it to every kid who grew up like me.”
According to his StartUp UMW mentor, Kelsey Whitman, he’s well on his way to reaching that goal.
“Andy has all of the most important natural skills that entrepreneurs need: resourcefulness, drive, passion, vision, and the ability to find opportunities in every situation,” said Whitman, who works with UMW’s Center for Economic Development. “He maxed out on academic credits so he can graduate early and get his business started.”
As he works towards a full-fledged bookstore, Unger keeps his fan base updated on his progress through an online blog.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” said Unger of his venture. “It finally dawned on me that if I want to start a bookstore, I can start a bookstore. I can do this.”