Monday, August 24, 2015

'LGBT Baltimore' Chronicles City’s LGBT History

Browsing through the new pictorial history book, LGBT Baltimore, just released on August 17 you will see a float from a 1990 Pride parade.  You will notice a black and white shot of the Names Project Quilt on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1988.  And there is a color photo of Harvey Schwartz, the Community Center’s first executive director and a founder of the Center’s Chase Street building, sitting behind his desk on the phone.  These and 150 other images are contained in this chronicle of LGBT history in Baltimore spanning five decades. 

Long time LGBT activist Louise Parker Kelley authored the soft cover, 96-page book that contains photos and captions depicting the fight for LGBT rights and showcases those who stood on the frontlines.  Arcadia Publishing, which has produced LGBT pictorial histories in such cities as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta and San Francisco, published the Baltimore installment.
The images for LGBT Baltimore were donated by individuals or organizations or were selected from the archives of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) that are currently housed at the University of Baltimore.

For those of us who have lived through part or all of the history of the struggle for LGBT equality in Baltimore during this period will wax nostalgic at these photos and recall some of the local leaders who led the fight. Among the heroes pictured besides Schwartz are Elliott Brager, Lynda Dee, Ann Gordon, Jim Becker, Mardie Walker and Steve Shavitz. 
Scenes of Pride parades and celebrations from yesteryear are dotted throughout.  Photographs from venues like the 31st Street Bookstore, which was a feminist business that became popular with Baltimore’s lesbian community, played a key role in our culture and movement and are exhibited in the book.

Sad recollections of the AIDS epidemic are also represented in various ways, but images portraying the community’s response to the crisis are inspirational.  A poignant shot of marchers carrying a PFLAG-Baltimore banner is a gloomy reminder that such a chapter no longer exists in a city that sorely is in need of one.
There are uplifting photographs that record our long-fought triumphs, such as those images that illustrate the tireless efforts to get a non-discrimination bill through Baltimore’s oft-resistant city council as well as the photograph of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake with the two men whose nuptials she officiated, thus becoming the first same-sex couple to marry legally in Maryland.

LGBT Baltimore may not be a perfect telling of the story, but history, as we know, is imperfect, and the book does have its flaws.  The frenetic three-page Introduction did not start off well as the author uses the term “transgendered” instead of “transgender,” in the first line, which is considered by many in the community as inappropriate terminology.  The error is repeated in several other places in the book. 

That same Introduction is too crammed with text in minuscule print rather than allowing the photos themselves to capture the history.  The Introduction should merely contain a high-level summary of what to expect inside.
While LGBT Baltimore is divided into four sections, there is a lack of flow and bridging from one to the next.  If a chronology of events should form the basis for these sections, then photos from 1992 and 1994 should not be mixed in with more recent shots in the final section, “Gaily Forward.”

Moreover, and this is a quibble with the publisher’s design team, the olive green background for the cover does not scream out “LGBT Baltimore!”  It is more akin to an old Army manual.  Something loud, something gay, something lavender would have been more fitting and more eye-catching.
On the positive side, the author Louise Parker Kelley, perhaps better suited to handle this project than most as she had been a warrior through much of the period covered in the book, worked indefatigably to compile as many representative photos as she could.  A good number of the samples had their origins before digital cameras with high resolutions, yet the quality was surprisingly good. 

LGBT Baltimore provides an excellent means to revisit the highs and lows of the city’s culture and battles through the years.  And if you are a younger person, it’s a good opportunity to explore the last few decades through photographs that shaped the current era.

LGBT Baltimore by Louise Parker Kelley, $22.99, 96 pages/soft cover, Arcadia Publishing.  Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing and The History Press or call 888-313-2665.

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