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Preservation Maryland project seeks to unearth LGBTQ history

Of more than 1,500 places in Maryland considered historically important by the National Park Service, none are because of their direct importance to the LGBTQ community. Preservation Maryland is looking to change that.

Preservation Maryland, a historic preservation nonprofit, has been cataloging sites in a collection on Historypin.org, an online interactive map sponsored by the Park Service.

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Each pin on the map represents a site important to the local LGBTQ community and includes information about the site, as well as a related photo, video or news clip.

Pins can also be added by community members, said Ben Egerman, a Preservation Maryland intern who has been working on the map.

Frederick County has four pins on the map.

In the city, there are Frederick Coffee Co. & Cafe, which was previously lesbian-owned; Dublin Roasters, which is currently lesbian-owned; and Talons, a gay bar that was protested by the Ku Klux Klan from its opening in 1994 to its closing in 1996, according to the information available on the respective pins.

Today, Frederick Coffee Co. is owned by husband and wife Mike and Terri Winder, but the tie to the LGBTQ community has not loosened, according to staff.

"We have multiple LGBTQ+ employees here," said Jared Chal, 18, a barista at Frederick Coffee Co. "I don't know about important [to the LGBTQ community], but we are welcoming."

The Lodge (formerly Deer Park Lodge) and The Bull Ring, gay bars in the Hagerstown area, are also pinned.

Hood College is not pinned, but Susan Ferentinos, a leading public LGBTQ historian and consultant on the project, said that single-sex colleges are some of the best places to find leads to the LGBTQ history of an area. Hood College was an all-women's college until 2003.

A listening session held at the Frederick Visitor Center on June 11 was an effort to search for more leads in Western Maryland.

Beyond Frederick County, the state is a "trove" of LGBTQ history, Ferentinos said.

Johns Hopkins University was one of the first research institutions in the country to do AIDS research, and, in the 1960s, opened one of the first gender identity clinics, which was funded by a "young, wealthy trans man," Ferentinos said.

Baltimore itself is a state hub, with 199 pins out of the 270 total for the state within the city limits.

Sandy Spring in Montgomery County was also the site of the Sandy Spring Women's Conference, a famous radical feminist conference, in 1978, she said.

She also said that ports, such as Baltimore's Inner Harbor and those on the Eastern Shore, would have also been hubs for the LGBTQ community.

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This catalog is being used to "crowdsource" information for a larger project Ferentinos is working on: a report on historic LGBTQ sites in the state that could qualify for historic designation.

The report will make Maryland the second state in the country, after Kentucky, to study its LGBTQ history, said Meagan Baco, director of communications for Preservation Maryland.

Pins do not equal an official historic designation, however.

Because the LGBTQ community is a marginalized group, important sites don't necessarily meet the criteria established by the Park Service, which determines what is a historic site, Ferentinos said.

Another reason that a site might not make it on the registry is because the lives of LGBTQ people also don't fit within state boundaries. Someone might present their sex or gender identity differently at home than they do at work or with friends — and those places could be out-of-state, she said.

While Ferentinos and Preservation Maryland are looking more for physical sites, representatives from Heritage Frederick and Frederick County Public Libraries who attended the event said that their respective organizations were looking to preserve the letters, books and other material objects of the Frederick LGBTQ community.

A few concerns about the project were brought to Ferentinos' attention.

Diane Creedon, 56, was concerned that the project would document only the white LGBTQ community.

Ferentinos said that, while there is more documentation of the white LGBTQ community, the history of the non-white portion of the community is just as important.

Donald Harver, marketing director for Frederick Pride, was concerned about the oral histories being lost, now that "those who lived in the '70s are now in their 70s, 80s and 90s and might be more afraid to share” than younger members of the LGBTQ community.

Mary Mannix, manager of the Maryland Room, a research center in the C. Burr Artz Public Library in Frederick, said that the room also offers cameras to record oral histories.

"We can hook you up," Mannix said.

To Anthony Plaag, an intern at Preservation Maryland and public history student at Stevenson University in Owings Mills, this project is very important.

"History can be a means of liberation for a community," Plaag said. "It's important to know your own history."

This listening session was the second in a series of five. Ferentinos and Preservation Maryland also planned to visit Takoma Park, Salisbury, Annapolis and Baltimore. The research is funded by a grant from the Maryland Historical Trust.

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