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Curtis Decker collection

Identifier: MS 3294


The collection consists of materials related to and collected by Curtis Decker, a lawyer, lobbyist, and advocate involved in LGBTQ+ rights in Baltimore, Maryland. These materials date from approximately 1982 to 1992 and include newspaper clippings, newspaper articles related to Curtis Decker, an issue of the "Baltimore Gay Paper," documents in support of an anti-discrimination bill for Baltimore, and a photograph depicting the signing of Baltimore’s gay rights bill in 1988.


  • 1982-1992


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical / Historical

Lawyer, lobbyist, and advocate involved in LGBTQ+ and disability rights legislation, Curtis Decker was born in New York and educated at Hamilton College and Cornell Law School. Following his graduation from Cornell in 1969, Decker joined the Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) program in Baltimore, Maryland, representing low income city residents through the Baltimore Legal Aid Bureau.

On May 23, 1988, Baltimore became the 62nd city in the United States to pass some form of a gay rights bill. Previous drafts of the bill were proposed to Baltimore City Council in 1980 and 1984 but did not make it past the council vote. All iterations of the bill sought to mitigate discriminatory behavior against members of the LGBTQ+ community. While the bill ultimately succeeded in passing through City Council and received support from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (b. 1949), there were several detractors who remained vocal in their opposition, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore and council member Dominic “Mimi” DiPietro (1905-1994).

In 1982 Curtis Decker was approached by Dr. B. Frank Polk (1942-1988) who was in the process of developing a study at Johns Hopkins Hospital on the progression of AIDS in patients assigned male at birth. Polk hoped that Decker, as a prominent member of Baltimore’s gay community, would be able to help gather the 1200 male participants needed to conduct the National Institute of Health backed study. Having worked with marginalized communities through his position with the Baltimore Legal Aid Bureau, Decker was familiar with the level of distrust that existed between many of these communities and large institutions such as medical centers. Working alongside Polk on AIDS education and prevention, Decker witnessed a reluctance amongst members of the gay community to become involved in the cause. According to Decker it seemed that many feared social, legal, and workplace ramifications should they be identified as members of the community. These experiences heightened Decker’s belief that Baltimore required a civil rights bill in order to protect the community as it collectivized and strove towards progress in other areas.

In 1984 Curtis Decker became involved with the Baltimore gay rights bill, also known as bill 187 prior to its passage. Decker contributed to the passage of Baltimore’s gay rights bill by lobbying individual Baltimore city council members, addressing their concerns and negotiating compromises when necessary. Decker was also involved in speaking with the Baltimore’s LGBTQ+ community in an effort to promote unity as well as organizing events such as fundraisers in collaboration with the Gay Community Center of Baltimore. In a 1984 interview with “Baltimore City Paper,” Decker called the foundation of the Gay Community Center of Baltimore, now named the Pride Center of Maryland, in 1977 as a “watershed moment” in the advancement of gay rights in Baltimore given the center’s ability to serve as a focal point and physical space around which to organize collective action.


0.8 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Curtis Decker in June 2017.

Related Materials

OH 9956, Curtis Decker interview, 2018


Decker, Curtis. “Curtis Decker Interview.” Interview by Joe Tropea. H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture, February 15, 2018. Audio, 107 minutes. Transcript, 18 pages.

Decker, Curtis. “Curt Decker Q and A.” Interview by Phyllis Orrick. Baltimore City Paper, June 29, 1984. 12-14.

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland Records; University of Baltimore Special Collections and Archives.

Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “B. Frank Polk, MD, MSc.” Heroes of Public Health.

Thomas, Karen Kruse. “The Early Days of the World’s Longest-Running AIDS Cohort Study.” Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health, October 2, 2018.

Valentine, Paul W. “Baltimore Outlaws Homosexual Discrimination.” The Washington Post, May 24, 1988.

Processing Information

Due to deterioration the Question and Answer profile article on Curtis Decker featured in the June-July 1984 “City Paper: Baltimore’s Free Weekly,” as well as an excerpt from the following issue quoting a letter to the editor in response to the interview, have been photocopied for researcher use. The original issue has been withdrawn from the public collection.

Scope and Contents

This collection contains documents in support of proposed Baltimore bill 187, the second iteration of a gay rights bill that was first introduced to the Baltimore City Council in 1980. This second draft was presented in 1984 and sought to prohibit discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community in Baltimore but did not pass through the City Council vote. These documents include a letter outlining the aims of bill 187 from the law firm of Susan Silber, member of the Board of Directors of the Montgomery County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to Representative Tom Waxter, Chair of the Policy and Planning Committee of City Council of Baltimore.

The collection also contains a set of newspaper clippings regarding LGBTQ+ issues during the period spanning from 1982-1992. Many of these clippings are sourced from LGBTQ+ publications, including “The Advocate" and the “New York Native,” and highlight cases of violence, deportation, and workplace discrimination against the community. Additional clippings are sourced from mainstream publications, such as “The Baltimore News-American" and “The New York Times,” representing local and national conversations regarding homosexuality and the AIDS crisis. The collection contains an additional set of newspaper clippings that concern the work and legacy of Curtis Decker, from the period of 1984-1990. These clippings include articles wherein Decker was quoted or mentioned and a Question and Answer interview profile on Decker that was featured in the June-July 1984 issue of the “City Paper: Baltimore’s Free Weekly." There is also a full issue of the June 1984 “Baltimore Gay Paper," which includes advertisements, public notices, and news stories relevant to members of the LGBTQ+ community in Baltimore as well as coverage of the Baltimore City Council hearings on bill 187 and notice of events for Gay and Lesbian Pride Week.

Additional materials include a photograph, featuring Curtis Decker, at the signing ceremony for the passage of Baltimore City’s anti-discrimination bill in May 1988; and a “Document in Support of the Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Bill For Baltimore City" from April 1988 which outlines contributions made to the city by members of the LGBTQ+ community, problems the bill seeks to address, and proposed solutions.

Guide to the Curtis Decker collection
Klara Cachau-Hansgardh
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States