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Hidden Gems: Meet Steven Louis Brawley of St. Louis LGBT History Project

Today we’d like to introduce you to Steven Louis Brawley.

Hi Steven Louis, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I have always been a big history buff. I loved to study Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy in grade school and high school. In my early twenties, I became active in the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community, and I would go to the gay bars, encounter older gays and lesbians, and just sit and talk to them and learn the fascinating history of the queer scene in St. Louis.
As many of them passed away, I regretted that I never recorded their stories. I founded the St. Louis LGBT History Project in 2007 to preserve and promote St. Louis’s diverse LGBTQIA+ history. Today, the Project is a vibrant community effort that includes archival and program partners such as the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, State Historical Society of Missouri at UMSL, Griot Museum of Black History, Washington University, Pride St. Louis, etc.

I am proud to be an author, lecturer, and researcher. I am a member of the board of trustees for the State Historical Society of Missouri and co-chair of the Missouri Historical Society’s LGBTQIA+ collecting and exhibit committee for their Gateway to Pride initiative. As well, for the past 30 years I have been a not-for-profit professional with BJC Healthcare and Area Resources for Community and Human Services (ARCHS).

Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned? Would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It has been a bumpy road for sure. For the most part, I have encountered people who share my passion and want to help preserve the history of St. Louis’ queer ancestors. My work has often been featured in local media, and that has generated some very hateful and upsetting comments and letters to the editor. They always say, “don’t read the online comments.” But I can’t help myself. I have been accused of being a pedophile (a groomer), etc. However, even those horrible negative comments were countered by folks who fervently supported my work. So, that’s wonderful.
The other struggle has been when collecting artifacts. I have found that many families are ashamed of their loved ones being gay, and when they pass, they throw away their pictures, letters, scrapbooks, etc., that would have documented their lives. Yet again, I have had many families reach out to me and donate their loved one’s materials. These items are now in the safe hands of local archives. So that is quite the achievement.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
The St. Louis LGBT History Project offers the following services. There is no fee, but donations and volunteering time to support our work are crucial to our long-term success.
Archives (preserving items in partnership with the Missouri History Museum and the State Historical Society of Missouri at UMSL, Washington University, Griot Museum of Black History, etc.)

Conservation Consultation (how to protect your photos, papers, etc.)

Displays/Exhibits (at events such as St. Louis Pride)

Oral Histories (recording the history of our community, one person at a time)

Speakers Bureau (a speaker for your event can be arranged with a lead time)

Treasure Drives (fun and educational events to foster donations of artifacts to the Project)

Tours (tours of LGBTQIA+ sites in St. Louis can be arranged with lead time and resources)

Website and social media (offering an interactive glimpse into St. Louis rich and dynamic LGBTQIA+ past)

If we knew you were growing up, how would we have described you?
I was a shy kid growing up in Hazelwood (a St. Louis suburb). One of my brothers died when I was only 5. That had a significant impact on me. My family also owned a resort near Branson, MO, where I spent my summers from age 3 to 18. So I had dual lives in St. Louis and Branson. My first real job was at Silver Dollar City. I loved to read and honed in on American History – Lincoln and Kennedy. I collected old postcards and antique objects. I also went through a significant Farrah Fawcett phase and had her posters all over my bedroom wall. I just wanted her to be my fag hag (no sexual interest, LOL).

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