Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.
LifestyleGay In MarylandGay Matters

Welcome to Gay Matters

Justice System

Welcome to Gay Matters, a new home for gay news and commentary at The Baltimore Sun.

As website real estate, this blog is something new and perhaps long overdue. But we've been doing this work -- covering news relevant to the gay community -- for a very long time.

I took a look back -- all the way back to microfilm -- and found the evidence.

In 1955, for example, there were 162 men and women arrested on charges of disorderly conduct at the Pepper Hill Club on North Gay Street in "the largest night-club raid ever made in Baltimore," after male patrons among the club's largely gay clientele were seen kissing each other.

Naturally, I was hooked by the story. I've heard of Stonewall, of course, but never Pepper Hill.

The scope was certainly shocking: six police wagons had to make 24 trips to shuttle all the arrested to the nearby police station.

Most compelling to me, though, was the fact that the police vice squad members who were responsible for the raid were criticized by politicians, judges and even their own police commissioner for the indiscriminate nature of their wholesale arrests of everyone at the bar -- city folk and out-of-towners alike. The police commissioner issued what amounted to a mea culpa. A law was passed the next year banning such raids.

What wasn't criticized or apologized for, of course, was the fact that the vice squad's targeting of the bar was, in fact, anything but indiscriminate. They had gone after the men who'd kissed men, after all.

That the outcome was a ban on these types of raids, which allowed gay Baltimore residents to gather more openly than ever, is just the sort of poetic twist I relish as a reader and writer.

Here, I plan to write about -- and link to -- a wide variety of politics, policy and crime stories that are relevant to Baltimore's LGBT community, and try to make connections about how one may shape the others. I also hope to pull in history as context and shine a light on interesting stories from Baltimore's past, just like the "wild night" at the Pepper Hill Club, as a Sun story called it at the time.

Of course, we also want to have some fun.

In addition to my contributions, my colleague Michael Gold will be posting here on pop culture, sports and media stories that veer off the straight and narrow path.

At times, we'll both be a bit tongue-in-cheek, and unapologetically so -- something that runs in our cultural bloodlines here in Baltimore.

After the Pepper Hill raid, when the head of the city's vice squad testified in court that he had previously warned the club owners against allowing "homosexuals" to congregate there, co-owner Victor Lance denied it, saying they had only been warned about one thing: A pair of female mannequin legs hanging from the ceiling.

The legs, Lance testified, had only been hung as a "gag which most people got a kick out of."

And besides, he told the judge, department stores regularly leave mannequins in display windows without any clothing at all.

"At least," Lance testified, "we put panties on ours."

This, to me, is hilarious. But it also speaks to the bold new defiance that was emerging among young (and older) gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people at the time.

During the trial, the head of the vice squad was quoted as saying that "the majority of these people seem to regard this whole incident as a great big joke."

Among the five people ultimately convicted of disorderly conduct was 30-year-old Robert Morton, of Bolton Hill, who "insisted on testifying although a disorderly conduct charge was about to be dismissed."

When Lance and his co-owner, Morton Cohen, had the charges against them dismissed, order had to be restored in the court after cheers of "hurray" erupted among outspoken supporters.

We want this blog to be a discourse involving as many perspectives as possible, so we want you to speak up too. We want it to spark a discussion that informs people on what it means to be LGBT in Baltimore today.

Please share your comments, tips, story ideas, pictures and more on topics that are important to you in the comments section, or reach out directly to me via Twitter.

If we like what you have to say, we may recruit you to contribute more regularly.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
Justice System
Comments
Loading