More than 70 people crammed the Village Learning Place on St. Paul Street the evening of June 20 to hear John Wood discuss the history of the Baltimore LGBT rights movement leading up to the passage of Baltimore’s “Gay Rights Bill.”
Those in attendance were activists who have been through the gay-rights battles and some younger residents interested in the history. Wood, a history teacher at the McDonogh School, examined the connection between creating community and fighting for civil rights in the Baltimore LGBT community under the topic, “The Baltimore Gay Community: The Early Years.”
“You must start with a community,” he said.
The period saw the growth of pride in gay and lesbian identity, tensions between gay men and lesbians, the impact of AIDS, and the professionalization of the rights campaign during the 1980s.
Baltimore City Council member Mary Pat Clark, a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, and former Council member Jody Landers, who was a member at the time the bill passed in 1988, offered commentary on the topic. They recalled while some Council members originally stated support for the previously unsuccessful attempts at passing the bill (1980 and 1985) that would have added “sexual orientation” to those protected from discrimination in employment, education and housing, they did not vote for the bill when it came up.
“There was too much pressure from powerful ministers in the African-American and majority churches, as well as the Baltimore Archdiocese,” explained Landers. He also acknowledged that coming from a conservative district he initially did not back the bill. But his evolution to full support was bolstered by the realization there was a need for such a bill and the “way out” comments from the opposition. The impact of AIDS also was a factor in his ultimate decision.
Both Landers and Wood stated in response to a question that the role of the Baltimore mayors at the time—William Donald Schaefer and Kurt Schmoke, respectively—had little, if any, effect on the Council’s vote. No pressure was exerted by them for or against passage.