There is a Rainbow Room, a Game Room, a Media Room and a lounge area for those who simply want to get away from the hubbub. These rooms comprise the new safe space, called the Unity Center in Westminster, Md., to promote inclusion and equity for LGBTQIA+ people, families, their friends and allies in Carroll County. It is located on the ground floor of Westminster’s Saint Paul’s United Church of Christ (17 Bond Street), which has served as the meeting space for PFLAG-Carroll County for over 15 years.
The PFLAG chapter’s volunteers with cooperation and donations from the church, local businesses, schools and the public have developed this space to serve the needs of the community.
“Carroll County actually does a very decent job of providing services for our community overall, but they are still lacking for our LGBTQIA+ folks,” says Joy Fisher, the PFLAG-Carroll County chapter’s president. “We see our Unity Center helping to fill that void. Additionally, I feel that having the Unity Center solidifies our presence.”
The need is evident. Last June the Carroll County School Board voted to ban Pride flags on school property.
“I think it is taking a step back to take something away that students recognize as a support, that [they] recognize something they’ve come to know as a safe place,” Superintendent Steven Lockard, who does not have a vote, told CBS Baltimore.
PFLAG provides services at the Unity Center for the LGBTQIA+ community that are not currently available in Carroll County. They include:
▲Support via phone, email and website
▲Social Media—Facebook, Private Facebook groups, and Instagram
▲Library/resources—Loans of Queer-themed DVDs, books and resources
▲Young, Teen & Adults (YTA) Fridays and Safe Space programs for queer individuals and allies (see below)
▲Education—Provide speakers and training to expand understanding and support of LGBTQIA+ issues
▲Social events—a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies to participate in and benefit from activities, such as dances, picnics, karaoke, movies and games
▲Monthly PFLAG Community Meetings—Open to the public to provide support, education and advocacy for issues and challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ folks, their families and allies.
▲Monthly PFLAG Parents’ Support Group—for parents and caregivers of LGBTQIA+ children and family members
“We want the community at large to understand that we are here, and we plan to continue to support our LGBTQIA+ youth and adults,” explains Fisher. “The Unity Center means support, it means love, it means reaching out to those struggling and needing somewhere to feel safe and be around like-minded people. We hope the Unity Center invites dialogue and we can have meaningful and useful discussion with folks who are having trouble understanding or accepting our LGBTQIA+ folks.”
“The Unity Center means support, it means love, it means reaching out to those struggling and needing somewhere to feel safe ..."
She adds, “But whether we bring the community around or not, it will not stop us from providing our LGBTQIA+ people the safe space they need and eventually the services to help them strive in our community. We look forward to growing the Unity Center with all the many ideas and programs that we can manage.”
In light of the Carroll County School Board’s actions, one of the major programs PFLAG-Carroll County is offering through the Unity Center is the previously mentioned Youth, Teen and Adults (YTA) Fridays Monthly Safe Space program.
This is intended for gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual and transgender individuals and their allies. The cost is free but donations are always accepted.
Starting in June, the First Fridays from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. the Unity Center will be open for those ages 14 to 18 (9th to 12th grade).The Second Fridays during the same timeframe the space will be available to Adults over age 18.
The Third Fridays from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. children ages 10 to 14 (5th to 9th grade).
Some of the activities in this environment include video games, board games, ping-pong, foosball, air hockey, karaoke, arts and crafts along with good conversation. The chapter supplies snacks, drinks and pizza and offer a separate area for supportive parents who want to stay and chat with other parents.
President Joy Fisher recognizes that the Unity Center will bolster the chapter’s visibility and provide awareness in the community.
“We are very excited to begin this initiative and were very encouraged by the Grand Opening participants, and we feel we are well on our way to a successful, useful and needed endeavor,” she says.