A group holds a sign for the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. Photo credit: Louis Hughes.

Maryland is the second state in the nation to complete a statewide historic study of the LGBTQ+ community, nonprofit Preservation Maryland announced Tuesday.

The multi-year study culminated in a more than 100-page report detailing Maryland’s LGBTQ+ history from the 17th century through 2016, authored by Dr. Susan Ferentinos, an LGBTQ+ research expert from Indiana. The project also features a map of important LGBTQ-associated locations across Maryland, which was compiled by Benjamin Egerman, a paid intern for Preservation Maryland.

With Maryland’s study being the second of its kind in the nation–after Kentucky published its own study in 2016–Preservation Maryland communications director Meagan Baco said it “fundamentally opens the door to different approaches to public history in a way that had been shut for decades, if not centuries.”

The LGBTQ+ community has always archived its own history, but Baco said this new study consolidates that information in a format that is more accessible to the public.

“This isn’t just private history. This isn’t history that people are ashamed of,” they said. “This is incredibly important, social and medical history that creates a whole new way of looking at things that for too long was omitted.”

Baco added that they are proud that the project was funded by the state of Maryland.

“This isn’t an LGBTQ history group writing about its own history,” they said. “This is really the state looking at a population of an underrepresented community in a way to correct and to make the historic record more accurate.”

Elizabeth A. Hughes, the director and state historic preservation officer for the Maryland Historical Trust, said the study will help provide a more complete picture of the state’s LGBTQ+ history.

“The Maryland Historical Trust has been delighted to partner with Preservation Maryland on this important project, which takes the first steps in recognizing LGBTQ heritage statewide,” Hughes said in a statement. “As the state historic preservation office, we are committed to documenting and preserving the history of all Marylanders, and this effort supports a key objective highlighted by the public and identified in our statewide preservation plan.”

Preservation Maryland began organizing the project in 2017 and started the grant writing process in 2018. The nonprofit secured grants from the Maryland Historic Trust, an agency of the Maryland Department of Planning; the National Park Service; and the Heritage Fund, which is a cooperative effort of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Historic Trust.

A Certified Local Government grant, which was funded by the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund and administered by the Maryland Historic Trust, is being used to nominate five historic LGBTQ+ sites in Maryland to the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties and National Register of Historic Places.

In Baltimore City, the three sites are Leon’s Bar, the city’s oldest active gay bar; Chase Brexton Health Services, a health center that was founded in 1978 as a gay health clinic during the AIDS crisis; and the Monumental Elks’ Lodge #3, which was the site of the ballroom scene for many Black LGBTQ+ people in the early 20th century.

In Montgomery County, the two sites are the Takoma Park home of Bruce Williams, the first openly LGBTQ+ mayor elected in Maryland, and the Silver Spring home of Susan Silber, an LGBTQ+ advocate and lawyer.

As part of the study, Preservation Maryland convened several listening sessions, most of which were anonymous. Baco said the best attended sessions were in Salisbury and Frederick.

Those sessions helped shed a light on pieces of “hidden history,” Baco said, including a former private AIDS hospice in Walkersville in Frederick County, where a couple had purchased a home and used the bedrooms to house and care for AIDS patients who had nowhere else to go.

In her report, Ferentinos said it was important for the historic records not only to highlight sites of victory for LGBTQ+ people but also places tied to pain and persecution for the community.

“To ignore those parts of the past is to do a grave disservice to those who suffered under those realities,” she said. “Furthermore, to acknowledge the missteps of the past and to preserve the memory of them as a lesson for the future can be a valuable step toward public reconciliation.”

Baco said LGBTQ+ culture and history comprises a spirit of resiliency and “pride in the face of adversity.” But they said that even now, “it’s not overtly safe all the time” for members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for Black transgender women.

For years, the goal for many LGBTQ+ people was to be invisible in order to protect themselves and others, Baco said. But they said now is the time to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community is represented in Maryland’s history.

“I just think it’s such an important time to illuminate that and share that,” they said. “It’s like planting the rainbow flag in history.”

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at marcus@baltimorefishbowl.com...