Looking Out: GLCCB photo archives featured at Creative Alliance film festival

Can you help identify LGBT faces from Baltimore's past?

There are images from decades-old drag shows and Baltimore Pride celebrations, but also early political fundraisers and small gatherings of friends -- often the only settings where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Baltimoreans could truly be themselves.

Culled from the voluminous archives of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore, the images -- now on display at the Creative Alliance's Amalie Rothschild Gallery through May 30 -- are arresting but often anonymous, with the faces and places populating them largely unknown.

In that mystery lies the meaning.

The exhibit, "PICTURE IT: A Collection of Photographs from the GLCCB Archives," gives each photo a number, and encourages visitors to leave corresponding comments that help to fill in the gaps.

Organizers hope the insights will become footnotes for future historians studying the photographs, permanently housed within the larger GLCCB archives at the University of Baltimore's Langsdale Library.

"We've talked for years about ways to get them identified," said Patrick Alexander, chair of the GLCCB's archives committee. "We thought this would be an opportunity to make it really interactive, bring people from the community together, and to enlist their help."

The exhibit's opening corresponds with the Creative Alliance's fourth annual Charm City LGBTQ Film Festival, with two film screenings Friday evening and four Saturday. There will also be a discussion about the GLCCB exhibit Saturday at 2 p.m.

Gina Caruso, the Creative Alliance's managing director, said the exhibit is a perfect pairing for the film festival -- giving a distinct Baltimore theme to the space even as international films are screened.

The idea first arose last year, when Alexander was helping with the third annual LGBTQ film fest and mentioned his work on the GLCCB's archival committee, Caruso said.

The committee began collecting the center's archives from the dusty attic of its longtime West Chase Street headquarters in a rush a couple years ago, ahead of the sale of the building and a move to the nearby Waxter Center.

They began moving items to the University of Baltimore in December 2013, and remain in the process of cataloguing all of the items, Alexander said.

But when the idea for an exhibit at this year's film festival popped up between Alexander and Caruso, the idea seemed to fit, both said.

At first, they weren't quite sure what the exhibit would entail. Caruso said the Creative Alliance left it up to the GLCCB -- and wasn't disappointed.

"They came up with the idea and they asked us if they could do it, and we were excited about it, but we didn't know what it was going to look like," she said. "It's hard to pull out and select decades worth of photographs and choose how it's going look and how it's going to look together, but they did a really nice job."

The exhibit features more than 500 photographs, only a portion of those in the archives, Alexander said. And while the archives have the images sorted into categories -- drag, bars and clubs, Pride, activism, etc. -- there is no such separation for the exhibit.

"Instead of emphasizing separation of different demographics in the community, we wanted to present it as, 'This is the community as a whole,'" Alexander said.

The Creative Alliance at the Patterson is located at 3134 Eastern Avenue in Baltimore.

In other LGBT-related news:

- ICYMI, the Hippo in Mount Vernon is closing after more than 40 years.

- This Sunday is International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Here's a message from the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission on the day.

- The FDA has issued a draft policy for gay blood donors.

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