Updated: Jul 28, 2020
June is Pride month, celebrating the accomplishments, history and experiences of the LGBTQ community. That community includes the local community of the Chesapeake Bay region, where the history of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender experience goes back at least 400 years, according to one historian.
Chris Mielke is a former resident of Annapolis as well as visiting professor to Bard College.He currently works at the Beverly Heritage Center in West Virginia .
Thursday, June 25, he was scheduled to present the Anne Arundel County Public Library’s virtual event “Pride and Centuries of Prejudice: 300+ years of LGBTQPeople in the Chesapeake.”
“We were able to work with Annapolis pride to host this,” said the AACPL’s programming and outreach coordinator, Johanna Doty. “And we're also hoping to be able to support some of Annapolis Pride's other work that they're doing,”
The event is the library’s main event in it’s recognition of June as Pride Month.
Mielke is exploring a rarely studied niche of American history, the lives of Americans who identified as LGBTQ before more modern times.
His research has brought to light some unique individuals from our area, who lived in a time when social expectations regarding human sexuality were less tolerant of those who did not conform to the majority. Their stories are as human and American as any other, but finding them and presenting them is not as easy as running a Google search.
“It's difficult,” Mielke said. “ If you're looking and if you know what to look for, it's there. The problem is the evidence does get skewed in a certain sense., When you find out this information in a court record, or a legal proceeding, usually it's (from) a moment of crisis (where) things have gone completely wrong. Everyday details about everyday relationships wouldn't necessarily come to life.”
The historian said private letters from historic LGBTQ relationships were often destroyed, because of the author’s wish to preserve privacy.
“They didn't want people living in our day and age reading about, you know, their romantic life and exploits and things like that,” Mielke said.
Despite the challenges of learning about local LGBTQ residents from the past, Mielke has found enough history of these unique Marylanders to have given multiple talks on them.
Karyl Norman was a drag queen from Baltimore from the 1920’s who was a major star on the vaudeville circuit. Before that, in the 1860’s an African American school teacher, Rebecca Trinus, came to Royal Oak, Maryland from the Eastern Shore to teach African American and mixed race children. But she left a record of her relationship with Addie Brown back east in the form of the love letters they exchanged.
Other stories go back even further into the 15th and 16th centuries.
Mielke noted that it can still be an uphill struggle to be LGBTQ in America,but things have changed quite a bit in some ways from the LGBTQ Marylanders who lived here in the past.
“In spite of all of the many difficulties that we face nowadays things today are as best as they probably ever have been.”