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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Baltimore’s LGBT Pioneer Paulette Young

Written by  Frankie Kujawa

Harvey Milk once said, “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of Central Maryland (GLCCB), celebrating its 40th anniversary, has acted as this haven for many of Baltimore’s residents. GLCCB co-founder and the Center’s first president, Paulette Young, recently sat down with Baltimore OUTloud to chat about her role as a Baltimore LGBT pioneer and what Pride means to her.

“I am always shocked,” Young laughed upon being referred to as a Baltimore LGBT pioneer. “But, I’ve grown to understand why people say that I am. I’m proud of being a pioneer.” A native Baltimorean, Young became involved in many different political movements in her youth. “Much of my work came out of working with the Civil Rights, anti-war, and women’s movement. But then I looked around and realized that no one was talking about us … our community.” Young went on to explain that though her work in these movements was important, she wanted to be part of something that reflected her voice. “Even though many of us were part of these other movements, we as a community never stood out. We were always working for someone else’s movement but not for ourselves. We were still being arrested and our bars were being raided. No one was standing up for us. The gay movement in Baltimore then started clicking and people said, ‘Let’s band together and let’s be recognized.’ We realized that we’ve been helping others for so long that now it’s time to do something for ourselves.”

After joining the Baltimore Gay Alliance in 1975, of which she would later be president, Young was instrumental in helping to organize the very first Pride rally in Baltimore. “Back then, up and down the East Coast, gay organizations were communicating much better. We were in contact and they began to talk about their rallies in their cities. We thought, ‘Why can’t we have one?’ and we began to follow what other cities were doing. We began to go to conferences and meet up with other people at Columbia University and Rutgers.”

“I really do miss those days,” Young sighs. “Even though we have the web today, there was so much more face-to-face interaction. There was so much energy and it was so exciting for us to get together and coordinate so the dates of these Prides wouldn’t overlap. We were inspired by each other and it was that feeling and energy that went into the first Pride.”

As time went on, Young and many others felt that it was time for another element in which LGBT people could gather socially. “The Baltimore Gay Alliance was more of the political arm of the community, but we wanted a social branch that had nothing to do with politics. From that idea is how the GLCCB came into existence.”

At the time, Young and the other co-founders of the center had no idea that the GLCCB would grow into the Baltimore powerhouse that it is today. “That was the vision we were hoping for. We had these incredible ideas and dreams of the world we wanted to see and we were not prepared for the rapid growth. We were quite a diverse group, as well. We were people of color, women and men working together to do the hard work that needed to be done. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that [the GLCCB] is still there after 40 years. Obviously, we must have done something to build such a solid base to keep this still going after all this time.”

Young’s proudest accomplishment during her time at the GLCCB was the purchase of what would eventually become the Center’s mainstay. “The purchase of the building, the community center, is probably my most proud accomplishment. I guess that stands out because there weren’t many community centers that had buildings. [Co-founder] Harvey Schwartz said, ‘We should buy a building.’ And it was true. Having the place to meet and that symbol of a place we could own was important to us. I believe that only New York and Los Angles could do something like that at the time. However, here we were small Baltimore, and we thought we could do it and did. It was quite the accomplishment at the time. You had to have the community believe in you and give you the donations. Once we saw the design we wanted so much to happen there. We had a switchboard, and counselors, and a place that was just for us. That’s one of the things I am proud of … that symbol.”

Young discussed that as Baltimore continues to grow and change, and people come and go, the GLCCB’s continued success will hinge on its outreach to the community. “I think what we co-founders wanted to see, what I wanted to see, is that we would get allies. Somehow, with those allies, we could move forward and I think that has happened. I think we need to work with other people, but never forget that some people are never going to understand what it’s like to be who we are. That’s one of the things we should continue to do; extend and work with different groups of people, but not to become complacent. I think complacency can ruin any community. Once you think you’ve assimilated, it can come back around and bite you. You must always be in a battle form – be alert and never let go of your values. The more people you bring in the more people are going to understand who we are as a community and I believe building that coalition is the way to go.”

With the 2017 Baltimore Pride events taking place within both the Mount Vernon community and Charles North and Station North, Young believed that the GLCCB’s return to its roots is important for its future success. “I think it’s important to never forget how we got where we are and we’re always going to be in the position where we need to re-energize and sometimes you have to plan strategically. If going back to that neighborhood is what’s needed, then I think that’s great. If we become complacent, and we’re seeing that now with our government, people will forget that you are there.”

However, Pride is always an important time for Young. “I’ve always been proud of our people, and anyone who knows me knows I speak in terms of our people. That’s how I’ve always looked at the community. Pride means not having someone tell you who you are, but knowing and being who you are. That’s what all these festivities mean to me. It means not being invisible and being part of this world. I am a historian, and I’ve been studying the history of how we have been treated and somehow we have survived. I take great pride in that. There’s no getting rid of us. We will always be here, and I’m very proud of that.”

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