A Beautiful Day in the ‘Gayborhood’

these presentations put the “power” in Powerpoint!
 Natalie may have seemed like the most studious and reserved person in her study group, but after spending time in Langsdale Special Collections, she was dishing the dirt like a millennial-age Hedda Hopper.

“Tea” being spilled.

Her presentation on gossip in the Baltimore Gay Life Newspapers (Natalie perused issues dating from 1979 to about 1990, although the archives extend to 2015) included a talk about the importance of discreetly disseminating information in the LGBT community, and was focused on the history of formal gossip columns in the tabloid. Journalists with pseudonyms– blasts from the past– like gossip columnists Alexander St. John and Mother Margaret were name-checked. But best of all, Natalie and her classmates had, through their visits with Special Collections, had been among the first folks to unlock this trove of newspapers in their entirety, unearthing stories of Baltimore’s past through the lens of the gay community.

During January, Natalie was among 25 Johns Hopkins University students who got a closer look at one of Baltimore’s (velvet?) gold-mines, the collection the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) records donated to University of Baltimore in 2013. Langsdale Special Collections hosted this large group-study project for students taking an intersession class taught by JHU instructor Mo Speller. These students–mostly undergraduates– were tasked with poring through roughly 23 boxes of Gay Life newspapers for their examination of “Gayborhood” Histories. 

Students engaged in fact-finding

Among the other presentations given by Mr. Speller’s students: a statistical analyses of back-page personal ads; a discussion of major activist movements in the 1970s; AIDS and its reportage in the local press; and insights on how sexual mores have changed and how lawmakers systematically targeted the LGBT community. Discrimination against women, people of color, and transgendered folks– from outside of and even within the Baltimore scene– was a common thread that ran throughout the students’ discoveries in working with the source materials.  

Mo Speller instructing his ‘Baltimore Gayborhoods’ class

Not only was this the inaugural outing for this collection since it was acquired by UB, but it was also the first time Special Collections has hosted an enormous group in our Learning Commons space. Our hope is that UB students and faculty will utilize this invaluable repository of the region’s gay / cultural history as source materials in their own research. In addition to newspapers, 
the scope and breadth of this collection is amazing: photographs, organizational records, and memorabilia (click here for details– worth it, I promise.)  In the meantime, we were overjoyed that through archival research, these January-term scholars caught a glimpse of Baltimore’s fabulous past.

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