Black Pride Week starts Sunday. Here are 20 key Baltimore-area locations marking LGBTQ history. - Baltimore Sun
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Black Pride Week starts Sunday. Here are 20 key Baltimore-area locations marking LGBTQ history.

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Baltimore Black Pride Week, now in its 15th year, runs Oct. 3-9, but events are planned all month, from film screenings to a National Coming Out Day party. To mark Black Pride, here are sites that serve as historical landmarks and safe havens for the LGBTQ community. With nightclubs, book stores, art venues and churches, Charm City is filled with LGBTQ history, from Mount Vernon to Seton Hill.

1. Monumental Elks’ Lodge

1528 Madison Ave., 443-708-0994

Drag was flourishing in Baltimore’s Black communities dating back to Prohibition. The main location for balls was the Monumental Elks’ Home, owned by the West Baltimore chapter of the Black Elks, formed in the 1900s after the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks denied entry to Black men. The balls were documented and celebrated in Black publications of the time. The location is known today as Monumental Elks Lodge No. 3, on Madison Avenue at McMechen Street.

2. Pepper Hill Club

200 North Gay St.

Fourteen years before raids on New York’s Stonewall Inn ignited a gay rights movement, Baltimore police raided the Pepper Hill Club in October 1955. They arrested 162 people on charges of disorderly conduct after some men were observed kissing. While 139 people showed up for court, five were convicted of disorderly conduct. Pepper Hill was near City Hall and The Block, the city’s sex and entertainment district. The club was torn down in the 1960s for construction of the Jones Falls Expressway.

3. Leon’s

227 W. Chase St., 410-539-4850, facebook.com/leonsbackroom

This Mount Vernon space, which dates to the 1890s, takes its name from Leon Lampe, an owner who served time in the 1930s for bootlegging. It assumed its identity as a gay bar in 1957 and is said to be one of the city’s oldest. A Baltimore Sun story at its half-century, headlined “It’s a dingy little place, but it’s home,” cited a regular who said Liberace stopped in once. It’s still serving stiff drinks and was used in June to film a pilot for a potential FX series.

4. Metropolitan Community Church

405 W. Monument St., 410-669-6222, mccbaltimore.org

The Young Women’s Christian Association and the Rev. James Huff founded MCC in 1972 as a safe space for churchgoers to find acceptance for their sexuality. This LGBTQ-affirming place of worship in Seton Hill also has a social justice ministry. Recently, the church hosted a virtual event on decreasing HIV infection in LGBT+ communities and a Pride-themed Bible study series.

5. The Drinkery

205 W. Read St., 410-225-3100, facebook.com/The-Drinkery

While many LGBTQ bars in “The Gayborhood,” as the LGBTQ community affectionately calls Mount Vernon, have shuttered, this Mount Vernon dive bar will mark its 50th anniversary next year. When its liquor license was challenged in 2016 by several community members who said customers were disorderly, hundreds submitted signature supporting the bar. Its strong, cheap drinks and mostly Black gay crowd remain staples, as do a welcoming atmosphere, karaoke and Ravens and Orioles on TV.

6. Club Hippo

1 W. Eager St.

Opened in 1972, the cavernous club was home to drag bingo, a “New Faces” drag competition, a popular hip-hop night and countless other experiences. It, along with Grand Central a few decades later, anchored “The Gayborhood” at the corner of Charles and Eager streets, and became a landmark symbolizing the hub of Baltimore’s LGBTQ community. When it closed in 2015, owner Chuck Bowers said it was one of the oldest LGBTQ dance clubs in the country. The space is now a CVS.

7. 31st Street Bookstore

425 E. 31st St.

This bookstore acted as a literary and social gathering spot for lesbians and feminists in Waverly, along with the Lesbian Community Center just around the corner on Greenmount Avenue. The store ran from 1973 to 1995, according to the book “LGBT Baltimore,” by Louise Parker Kelley, who wrote that nearby Abell Avenue was nicknamed “Lesbian Lane” due to the robust lesbian population on those blocks. The store was succeeded by Normal’s Bookstore, which remains today.

8. Washington Monument

699 Washington Place, 410-962-5070, mvpconservancy.org/the-monument

Six years after Stonewall launched the movement, Baltimore had its first Pride rally in 1975. The celebration was held around the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon and organized by the Gay Community Center of Baltimore, the first political activist group for gay people in the city.

9. The Pride Center of Maryland

2530 N. Charles St., third floor, 443-873-0369, pridecentermd.org

Formerly named the Gay Community Center of Baltimore, this organization has been advocating on behalf of sexual and gender minorities in Baltimore and Central Maryland for 45 years. The first political activist group for gay people in Baltimore City shifted its priorities in 2020, following the Black Lives Matter protests, to more proactively support LGBTQ people of color. On Oct. 11, the center will host a 15th birthday party for Baltimore Black Pride.

10. Chase Brexton Health Care

1111 N. Charles St., 410-837-2050, chasebrexton.org

Founded in the Mount Vernon neighborhood in 1978, Chase Brexton Health Care began as a volunteer-run clinic that specialized in gay men’s health. The organization took off during the HIV and AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when it was in the front lines against the disease. Since then, the clinic has expanded into full primary care services, creating a center for LGBTQ health equity and hosting support groups for LGBTQ and trans people in transition.

11. Gallery One Bar

1735 Maryland Ave.

A mainstay in Station North that attracted a large Black, and older LGBTQ following. During restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus that temporarily closed all bars and restaurants, Gallery One was sold to the owners of Johnny Rad’s and Snakehill Tavern. The space is currently under construction and there’s been no word yet on whether it will remain an LGBTQ-centered establishment.

12. Allegro

1101 Cathedral St.

The bar and club, which opened in 1986, was actually located in the basement of the University of Baltimore’s Law School Law Clinic. The basement bar had walls lined with mirrors and hosted drag shows. It closed in the late 1990s. The bar’s former owner, Don Davis, also owned Grand Central.

13. Divine’s Grave

Prospect Hill Cemetery, 701 York Road, Towson

When RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Symone came to Baltimore in June to perform during Pride Month-related events, the star paid homage to actor/drag queen legend Divine of ”Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray” movie fame. That meant making a trip to the grave of the iconic star at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Towson. The site attracts a number of visitors throughout the year, according to the photos people post on social media from the drag mecca. The gravestone is marked with the celebrity’s birth name: Harris Glenn Milstead.

14. Grand Central

1001 N. Charles St.

The longtime gay bar, and club, which launched in the early 1990s and expanded through the absorption of an adjoining country-western bar, was sold in 2019. It closed in 2020 after a COVID-19 violation. Since then, the structure has been demolished and a new mixed-used residence is under construction. Former general manager Marc Hayes is scheduled to open Central, a gay bar and restaurant just a few blocks away, later this year.

15. The Baltimore Eagle

2022 N. Charles St., 443-759-8228, baltimoreeagle.com

The once-popular bar that catered to the leather community has been re-imagined a couple of times into its current iteration, a more inclusive LGBTQ bar that hosts events such as “Pose” watch parties and drag shows. A slate of Pride Month events — including a performance by “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum Plastique Tiara — may bode well for the future of the establishment. On Tuesday, the Baltimore Eagle will host a Black Pride kickoff party.

16. Club Atlantis

615 Fallsway

This burlesque house and former gay strip club in Penn-Fallsway closed in 2004; the site is now the Penthouse Club. It doubled as the Fudge Palace, a gay bar, in John Waters’ 1998 film “Pecker.”

17. Creative Alliance

3134 Eastern Ave., 410-276-1651, creativealliance.org

Home to the Baltimore Drag Awards and Rainbow Film Festival, this art venue in Highlandtown supports and promotes Baltimore artists. Founded in 1995, the venue hosts exhibits, music performances and recurring events like Tianquiztli, an outdoor market for Latin American artists.

18. Coconuts Café

311 W. Madison St.

The lesbian bar closed in 2009 shortly after a woman was shot and killed and two others were injured outside the establishment following an altercation on the dance floor. When it closed, it was one of the city’s last places centered around the lesbian community. Now 311 West Madison A.V.E., a restaurant and bar known for its lemon pepper wings and personable bartenders, occupies the space.

19. The Crown

1910 N. Charles St., second floor, 410-625-4848, thecrownbaltimore.tumblr.com

The Crown is a gay-friendly bar and art venue in Charles North. With karaoke nights, DJ shows and Korean BBQ, this no-frills bar is a popular landmark for Baltimore’s club music scene. Offered virtually during the pandemic, Version, a dance party event for Queer people, was formerly held in-person every second Saturday of the month.

20. Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health

600 N. Wolfe St., Carnegie 136, 443-287-7161, hopkinsmedicine.org/center-transgender-health

Started in 2016, the Center has about 50 clinicians involved in transgender health care and has interacted with over 2,800 patients. They offer gender affirmation surgery and nonsurgical services across such fields as dermatology, fertility and voice therapy. Clinical Program Director Paula M. Neira was the first transgender Navy veteran to have her name corrected on her discharge paperwork by order of the Navy.

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