Race, Equality, and Visibility: Examining Baltimore’s Forgotten Queer Past

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:40 AM
Adams Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Jonathan Bailey, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Similar to other metropolitan regions in the United States, the gay community in Baltimore flourished by the end of the 20th century. By the early 1990s, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB) avoided financial insolvency and became a focal space for Baltimore’s sexually diverse community. In addition, the city comprised of institutions and social spaces such as health clinics, bookstores, nightclubs, and churches that underscored a vibrant and healthy LGBT community. However, the Baltimore gay community included a number of characteristics that set itself apart.

The atypical story of queer Baltimore is compelling, especially when we consider that for most LGTBQ Baltimoreans, race and homosexuality were not mutually exclusive. Disenchanted by the lack of representation in most gay organizations, the Black gay community formed political organizations such as the Baltimore Gay Alliance, the Black Coalition of Lesbians and Gay Men Baltimore, and Black United for Gay & Lesbian Equality (BUGLE). Although these politically active groups comprised mostly of people of color, they became a strong advocate for the gay community in Baltimore, regardless of race or ethnicity. As noted in The Advocate, it should be of no surprise to anyone that black lesbians and gay men are at the forefront of gay politics when half of the city’s gay and lesbian population also identified themselves as Black. Racial separatism not only occurred within Baltimore political scene, it also transpired in the city’s social spaces. The existence of the Black Gay Community Center of Baltimore, Black Gay Pride, and Black-owned bars and nightclubs clearly denotes that Baltimore was just as gay as it was Black.

By examining Baltimore’s overlooked queer past, scholars will have a better understanding of the diversity of the LGBTQ community, and it demonstrates how race affected sexually diverse communities, political organizations, and social spaces.

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