In a short period of time, the volunteers discovered a treasure trove of material which had accumulated over the nearly four decades that GLCCB has been the focal point of LGBTQ community organizing and mobilization. Among thousands of photographs, there are candid images depicting a complete range of cultural, social, and political activities from local drag queen pageants to marches on Washington, D.C. Within organizational records, there are a wide variety of documents concerning Pride, AIDS organizing, and the successful Baltimore Justice Campaign (which resulted in the city’s first law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, in 1988). Stacks of newspapers contained a nearly complete set of Gay Life, and its predecessor newspapers, going back to 1979. Artifacts ranged from anti-homophobic violence refrigerator magnets to “Silence = Death” AIDS campaign t-shirts to the original sign for the 31rd Street Bookstore.
With a growing volume of material and limited space in the new location, the volunteers, led by Patrick Alexander and Arnie VandeBrake, quickly realized they would need to find a new home for the GLCCB’s records. With a strong desire to keep the collection located within the traditional center of the LBGTQ community in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, the volunteers -- now officially organized as the GLCCB Archives Committee -- sought out the help of the Special Collections Department at the nearby University of Baltimore Langsdale Library.
As the moving deadline approached in late 2013, the GLCCB board of directors approved the transfer of the organization’s records to Langsdale Library. During several cold December days shortly before Christmas, a small army of volunteers, assisted by Langsdale staff, loaded several van loads of GLCCB’s history for the transfer to archival storage in the library.
Since the transfer of the collection, volunteers have meet regularly on Tuesday evenings in the archives to work with Langsdale staff to continue organizing and inventorying the collection. The goal is to create a basic inventory of the collection to provide useful access to researchers as quickly as possible. To date, the nearly complete run of all the issues of Gay Life, and its predecessor publications, from 1979, are organized chronologically with a complete inventory. Other parts of the collection are less well organized than the newspapers. About one-fourth of the organization’s files are inventoried, but thousands of photographs remain partially identified or are completely unidentified by subject or date. By agreement with the GLCCB, the collection is accessible to researchers, community members, and the general public, but the lack of a complete organization and description of the collection limits this access. To speed up this process, the Archives Committee is seeking additional volunteers for the Tuesday evening work sessions.
In May, the library co-sponsored an exhibit by the Archives Committee during the Creative Alliance’s annual LGBTQA Film festival. The exhibit included a slide show of selected front pages of historical issues of Gay Life, a wide variety of artifacts from the archival collection and a preview set of images for the LGBT Baltimore book. The center piece of the exhibit was eight panels containing over 500 unidentified images from the collection. Exhibit goers were encouraged to fill out forms to help identify the photographs. By the end of the two week exhibit, 158 forms had been turned in providing invaluable information on the images.
In September, Langsdale Library hosted an event launching the recently published LGBT Baltimore book with author, Louise Parker Kelley. The event had a nice turnout and featured former Baltimore Mayor and current UB President, Kurt Schmoke. President Schmoke recounted his experience supporting anti-gender discrimination laws when he was mayor and his current efforts to support transgender equality on campus.
In the future, it is hoped that this project will inspire many others to increase their efforts to collect and preserve LGBTQ community history while many of the local veteran activists are able to provide stories and critical documentation of the movement. As Patrick Alexander explained to the Baltimore Sun, “There’s so much to learn about a lot of things people my age obviously didn’t live through.”