There was a flurry of activity at the public library on E. Patrick Street in the heart of the historic district in Frederick, Md. on a recent Saturday morning. Inside, 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 on this cool October morning, you could peer through the famous spires of Frederick and see the autumn colors on Maryland’s mountains in the west. The foliage may as well have been rainbow colors, as the folks performing these tasks inside were getting ready for the second annual general meeting of the LGBTQ Frederick Center or simply The Frederick Center (TFC).
Fifteen years ago, the idea of a gay center in Frederick 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. But Mooney was finally unseated in 2010 by pro-LGBT former Frederick Mayor Ron Young.
Frederick County, an exurb of Washington D.C. and Baltimore—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, president of the TFC board, said while there has been progress inside Frederick especially due to the increasing number of affirming churches, “the attitude toward LGBT folks outside of Frederick has been spotty.”
But a pro-LGBTQ mindset appears to be on the rise here. Although in 2012, Mitt Romney defeated President Obama by a 50-47 percent margin in Frederick County, voters affirmed Question 6 on same-sex marriage by 2,400 votes or 51-49 percent.
The Frederick Center emerged 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 where 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.
Cindie Beach 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 said she also performed four suicide interventions. “To succeed, the youth must have a roof over their heads and food in their mouths,” she said. “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.”
TFC does not have a permanent home as of yet. It holds 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 D.C. and Baltimore areas,” says Austin. “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, visit thefrederickcenter.org.