Steven Louis Brawley preserves and celebrates St. Louis’ LGBTQIA+ history
Steven Louis Brawley was always wary of where he parked his car when frequenting gay bars during the ’80s. At the time, you kept a low profile.
“You would never hold hands in public,” Brawley recalls. “People still would go to Pride, yet they would be afraid to be photographed.”
The AIDS crisis was ongoing, and Brawley had recently come out. He remembers the protests, the outrage and the lost friends. Looking back, it seems like such a consequential period in LGBTQIA+ history, but in the moment, it felt like everyday life.
Even so, as a University of Missouri–St. Louis student and young professional during the ’80s and ’90s, Brawley would seek out stories about the history of St. Louis’ LGBTQIA+ scene at gay bars and clubs. However, he never recorded those conversations.
“I regretted never recording them,” he says. “It really bothered me. It’s a shame that their amazing life stories are now lost because I never thought to pick up a tape recorder or video camera.”
It was the impetus for founding the St. Louis LGBT History Project in 2007. For more than a decade, Brawley has dedicated his free time to documenting St. Louis’ LGBTQIA+ history.
He’s authored the book “Gay and Lesbian St. Louis” and has served as a trustee for the State Historical Society of Missouri since 2020. Most recently, he launched, “In Our Voices,” a documentary video series detailing the stories of queer landmarks in the city – such as the Zebra Lounge – through informal discussions.
Brawley had an interest in history dating back to childhood but thought he would become a lawyer. He started to waffle after serving as editor of the student newspaper at Hazelwood West High School and matriculating to UMSL.
Brawley secured internships at American Cable, Barnes Hospital and Maritz. He credits those opportunities, following his graduation in 1987, for his three-decade career, including stretches as communications director of BJC HealthCare, head of his own consulting firm and executive vice president of Area Resources for Community and Human Services.
Yet, the stories from elders in the community remained with him, and the St. Louis LGBT History Project was born with a blog post.
It resulted in a flood of support and subsequent partnerships with the Missouri History Museum, the State Historical Society of Missouri and Washington University in St. Louis.
The project has grown to include an artifact archive and oral history recordings and has allowed Brawley to champion St. Louis’ dynamic LGBTQIA+ history via museum exhibits, speaking engagements and projects such as “In Our Voices.”
“I often have exhibits at Pride festivals, and I have had great conversations with younger folks who are interested in the history and are appreciative,” he says. “Then I have elders who are in tears going, ‘You know, back in the day, we were all hidden and now look at us. We’re all walking around and out and proud.’”
Short URL: https://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=91430