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At the center of LGBTQ Frederick

Group celebrates 2nd anniversary helping youth, others

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Austin Beach, Diane Iñiguez, Robert Apgar-Taylor, Katherine Jones, Brian Walker, Cindie Beach, Maureen Conners, Peter Brehm, Frederick Center
Austin Beach, Diane Iñiguez, Robert Apgar-Taylor, Katherine Jones, Brian Walker, Cindie Beach, Maureen Conners, Peter Brehm, Frederick Center

The Frederick Center’s leaders, from left: executive director Austin Beach; board members Diane Iñiguez, Rev. Dr. Robert Apgar-Taylor, Katherine Jones, Brian Walker, Cindie Beach, Maureen Conners and Peter Brehm. (Blade photo by Steve Charing)

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.

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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