Gay History on 416 East 31st Street

Gay History on 416 East 31st Street

416 East 31st Street in Baltimore. Photo by Kate Drabinski.
416 East 31st Street in Baltimore. Photo by Kate Drabinski.

To walk around Charles Village and Greenmount today is to move through rapidly changing neighborhoods, those changes marked by steady decrease in trees and flowers and fancy cornices atop the ubiquitous brick homes as one travels east from St. Paul Street.

There are layers and layers of stories here, of planned development, racial segregation, of bars and restaurants and the stuff of daily life.

One of those layers is a distinctly gay history, one whose outlines and traces have to be pointed out as they fade behind the more visceral daily reminders of racism.

Take this nondescript beige building at 416 East 31st Street. It shares the block with a Baptist church on one end and a Trinidadian restaurant and a youth center at the other.

In 1974 this was the site of the Baltimore Gay Alliance, the city’s first gay and lesbian community center and a vibrant site of social life and political activism.

The BGA incorporated as the Gay Community Center of Baltimore in 1977 and from there operated a switchboard for community members seeking help, produced and distributed literature, and helped staff a community health center that later became Chase Brexton.

The block this building is on hosted the first Pride block party in the late 1970s.

The surrounding blocks were home to the socialist worker’s party Bread and Roses, the 31st Street Bookstore, and the Lesbian Community Center, and many other active political groups that made a world many of us take for granted today.

This history doesn’t necessarily echo in the built environment—though it might if we learn how to see it—so we have to remember to tell and hear each other’s stories. Start here.

Kate Drabinski teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at UMBC and spends the rest of her time on her bike, thinking about the history, politics, and economics of the built environments through which she rides. She can also be found at http://whatisawridingmybikearoundtoday.wordpress.com/