Baltimore’s First LGBT Heritage Walk Shines Light on Local History

This story was also written for Baltimore Gay Life. Then editor Maggie Beetz revised the copy for publication. It appeared in the April 2012 edition of the publication.

Published in print and digitally at http://issuu.com/baltimoregaylife/docs/gaylife_v34_6/1

Baltimore’s First LGBT Heritage Walk Shines Light on Local History

Next month, decades of history and months of planning will culminate in an event that aims to explore a past that remains hidden to many Baltimoreans.

On April 21, Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit organization addressing historic and architectural preservation in Baltimore, will launch their first LGBT Heritage walking tour as part of their Baltimore by Foot series. The tour is a guided exploration through the Charles Village neighborhood that will explore the history of LGBT people and organizations in Charm City.

It is a first, not only for the organization, but for the city of Baltimore. Starting at the 400 block of 31st Street, the tour will wind through the surrounding neighborhood, exploring a history of the LGBT community as told by those who were there to experience it. One such stop is Normal’s Books, the launching point for the tour, which once housed the 31st Street Bookstore, a hub for the city’s lesbian feminist community. The tour also includes stops at the former location of popular gay bar The Torch, which sat in the center of a heated legal case, and a house on Calvert Street whose basement is the birthplace of what would become Baltimore’s Gay Life newspaper. In all, the tour visits nine locations and mentions several more during the two-hour tour.

Phillip Lovett, a graduate student at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and an intern for Baltimore Heritage, took the lead in organizing the event. As Lovett began interviewing and working alongside long-time members of Baltimore’s LGBT community, a picture of the city’s LGBT legacy began to emerge.

“Usually when people think of LGBT communities, they don’t think of the rich legacy that we have,” said Lovett. “The whole purpose of this walk is to really bring that history alive.”

The event stands upon years of research from historians, community activists, and long-term residents. Individuals like Louis Hughes and Richard Oloizia, who have been in the area since the 1970s, were joined by a committee of several dedicated volunteers to help to build a picture of the past through personal recollection and through research online and at local libraries. The two men are speakers along the tour, and are joined by several other community members.

“I’m curious to see who shows up,” said Oloizia, who has called Baltimore home since 1979.” There might be folks my age who will pop up out of the woodwork who I can say, Gee, I haven’t them seen in years.”

According to organizers, the tour is filling fast, so those interested may wish to register immediately. For those unable to attend, the organization has future LGBT heritage tours planned for later this year, and an online version of the tour should launch in May. This digital version will include a map of the tour, along with descriptions and historical photos of each stop.

Being a community-based project, the organization is asking individuals who may have historic photos of locations important to Baltimore’s LGBT history to help complete their visual database. Anyone with photographs or other relevant information to contribute is encouraged contact Phillip Lovett at 410.332.9992 or lovett@baltimoreheritage.org. ■

Baltimore by Foot, LGBT Heritage April 21 • 10am Register online at BaltimoreHeritage.org

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