Saturday, October 26, 2013

At the Center of LGBTQ Frederick


On a recent cool Saturday morning, there was a flurry of activity at the public library on E. Patrick Street in the heart of the historic district in Frederick, Md.  Several people were lugging pamphlets, name tags, business cards, beverages and pastries into the library’s community room while others were setting up tables and chairs and preparing a Power Point presentation. 
Outside the building, one can peer through the famous spires of Frederick and see the autumn colors on Maryland’s mountains in the distant west.  The foliage may as well have been rainbow colors as the folks performing these tasks inside were getting ready for the 2nd annual general meeting of the LGBTQ Frederick Center or simply The Frederick Center (TFC).

Fifteen years ago, the idea of a gay center here would have been considered unimaginable.  Alex X. Mooney, a virulently anti-gay conservative Republican from Frederick was elected to the state Senate in 1998 using, in part, a message warning voters of the “homosexual agenda.”  He once said, “Homosexual activists have managed to gain legal recognition as a minority, based solely on their lifestyle choices, through so-called ‘hate crimes’ and domestic partnership laws.”
Employing divisive rhetoric like that, Mooney was elected two more times, reaffirming Frederick’s conservative leanings, but with decreasing margins each time.  Yet, with the help of changing demographics and a solid push by Equality Maryland, Mooney was finally unseated in 2010 by pro-LGBT former Frederick Mayor Ron Young. 

Frederick County, an exurb of Washington D.C. and Baltimore—a distance roughly equidistant to both—has seen a growth in population of around 25 percent since 2000.  Much of this increase is attributed to an influx of young married white collar workers and professionals or singles moving into new housing developments.  Indeed, the median age in the county is seven years younger than the rest of the state.
With the arrival of younger, more educated residents, a less conservative tilt exists, but the political landscape has not shifted to the point where it is like Montgomery County or Baltimore City.  Brian Walker, the president of TFC board said while there has been progress inside Frederick especially due to the increasing number of affirming churches, “the attitude towards LGBT folks outside of Frederick has been spotty.”

Nonetheless, a pro-LGBTQ mindset is on the rise.  Although in 2012 Romney defeated Obama by a 50% to 47% margin in Frederick County, voters affirmed Question 6 on same-sex marriage by 2,400 votes or 51% to 49%.
With positive support in Frederick increasing, it is no small wonder that The Frederick Center emerged; yet it did so because its founder realized something was missing.   “I felt there was a need for an LGBTQ center in Frederick because of my experience,” says Austin Beach, 21, who is also the Executive Director of TFC. “As a young man discovering my identity I had no resources that were easily available to me and I felt firsthand how that affected me. I didn't want anyone else to go through that same process of feeling there was no one there to help them.”  In January 2012, TFC was born.

The annual meeting on October 19 drew about 25 people from in and around Frederick.  It began with a report from TFC’s treasurer Peter Brehm where he proudly announced that during this fiscal year that will end December 31, there has already been an exponential increase in the fledgling organization’s coffers.  “Most of the money came from Pride where about 1,000 attended and through donations by couples in the name of marriage equality,” he explained.
Maureen Connors and Cindie Beach (Austin’s mother) discussed TFC’s upcoming anti-bullying campaign that will include a presentation of the film Bully and panel discussions from a legal and mental health perspective. 

Cindie heads up TFC’s youth group where “over the past two years, there had been a total of 70 youth and of those, seven were at one time homeless.”  She also performed four suicide interventions. “To succeed, the youth must have a roof over their heads and food in their mouths,” Cindie says passionately.   “We need emergency housing and long-term housing for these kids and a support system in place. Some get thrown out for being LGBT and appear at my door.  It breaks my heart.”
A survey conducted at Frederick Pride, which takes place at Utica Park, indicated an overwhelming desire for TFC to be in the forefront of youth services.  Among the activities for the youth group are topical educational events, socials, games and discussions.  They meet weekly, mostly at the Grace United Church of Christ.

Although LGBTQ youth is a significant focus for TFC, there is still a desire to reach out to LGBT adults and try to get them involved. Katherine Jones chairs the Adult Services Committee where such activities as social events, bike rides, hiking, plays and brunches take place. 
Austin announced noteworthy progress in improving relations with the Frederick police and LGBTQ folks. Three training sessions on LGBTQ issues have occurred and more will come.  Topics to be raised include: parental abuse of LGBTQ children, searches and pat-downs, handling domestic violence cases, searches of gender-variant people and those transitioning. 

“The police are very forward-thinking due to efforts by current chief Tom Ledwell and Training Coordinator Lt. Dwight Sommers,” adds Cindie.  “They seek us out for sensitivity training.  Sommers wants to connect us with security personnel at Frederick Community College, Ft. Detrick, and others.”
Jackie Zirkin announced the formation of a sexual abuse survivor peer support group called Peaceful Connections.  A Facebook page with that name exists so that people can connect.

Keiden Bren Stamoulis briefly discussed Trans-Variant—a leading support services provider in Central Maryland for trans-variant individuals—followed by a Power Point presentation on gender roles and identity using the “Genderbread” diagram.  Later Keiden and Ahlea Gavin appeared on a panel moderated by Katherine Jones that discussed a range of transgender issues.
So much progress has already been made including writing bylaws, and more is on the way.  TFC is filing for 501(c)(3) status.  A directory of businesses in and around Frederick that are either LGBTQ-owned or -friendly is being developed.  Also, a directory for LGBTQ-friendly health services, gyms, dentists and physicians is being compiled.  And the group is thinking of partnering with businesses in such ventures as a gay wedding expo.

“I have been incredibly proud of all we have accomplished in the first couple years,” says Austin. “We are way ahead of where most organizations are expected to be at this point in our development and what we have managed to accomplish through the hard work of a dedicated local community is creating a solid foundation for an impressive presence in the local community.”
TFC does not have a permanent home as of yet.  They hold events in Frederick’s affirming churches and other pro-LGBTQ business establishments.  But that could change.  “I envision the center being a focal point of support, resources, and education for Marylanders LGBTQ community both inside, but especially outside of the DC and Baltimore areas,” Austin points out. “I hope to soon see us having our own space, offering transitional services, counseling, shelter space, etc. to the LGBTQ community and if all goes well, being on the forefront of LGBTQ advocacy in Maryland in the ever-growing area of Frederick.”

For more information about The Frederick Center, click here.
PHOTO: The Frederick Center’s leaders, from left: executive director Austin Beach, board members Diane IƱiguez, Rev. Dr. Robert Apgar-Taylor, Katherine Jones, Brian Walker, Cindie Beach, Maureen Conners and Peter Brehm

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