Gay rights advocates see progress in Frederick County -- Gazette.Net


Austin Beach has spent his whole life in Frederick, but the 19-year-old recently realized there never had been a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride event in the city.

"That was something we wanted to change," he said.

His dream became a reality with the first Pride Picnic in the Park on Saturday. More than 200 people came to Ballenger Creek Park to participate in games, listen to speakers and check out more than a dozen area vendors.

"It's about having a good time and pride in who you are," Beach said. "Nothing like this has ever been done before [in Frederick]. It is the start of everything."

The event was sponsored by The Frederick Center — a group that provides resources to the LGBT community. The picnic was the group's first event.

Brian Walker previously had been president of a gay and lesbian group in Connecticut before moving to Frederick. Beach recruited him to help bring his idea to life.

"This all started with one email in January," he said.

Beach, who is the center's executive director, hopes the picnic and center will create a positive image for the LGBT community in Frederick.

"We are here, and there are a lot of us," he said.

The group stages meetings in a room at the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ on East Church Street.

"I'm elated that we can have something like this in Frederick," said Lois Jarman, president of Frederick's Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays group.

Jarman has many friends who are gay, and sees participating in the group as a way to give back to them.

Her daughter, Tiffany, got her involved in gay rights. While performing in a play at the Weinberg in 1998, she became good friends with a castmate who is gay.

Jarman recalled the man's partner told her she could walk down the streets of Frederick holding her significant other's hand, but he could not. This inspired Lois and Tiffany Jarman to advocate for gay rights.

Jarman began Frederick's chapter of PFLAG in 2006. Tiffany, who is now living in the Netherlands, complied a book of county residents’ coming out experiences called "That Day." Jarman distributed copies of the book at the picnic.

Besides passing out information, Jarman was on-hand to present the group's $500 scholarship to Allison Springer. The Frederick Community College student was "instrumental in planning PFLAG's pride prom" and president of the group "Life — Love is for Everyone."

Before The Frederick Center, there were few, if any, resources for the LGBT community.

Diane Iniguez, one of the center's founders, said some have had to travel to Washington, D.C., or Baltimore.

"Mostly, [people] go without because they don't know," Walker said.

Within the past few years, Beach, Iniguez and Walker have noticed a local and national shift toward acceptance and equality for members of the LGBT community, including more visibility in media coverage for the potentially tragic effects of bullying and President Barack Obama's endorsement of gay marriage.

Earlier this year, Maryland residents voted to allow same-sex couples to legally marry. Opponents are attempting to get a referendum on November's ballot.

"It's going to be a battle," Beach said.

Recognizing same sex unions not only gives respect and dignity to their relationships but also affords partners' rights, Beach said.

When putting together the picnic, Beach and Walker said they only saw one negative comment on a newspaper's website.

"It's been amazingly, overwhelmingly positive," Beach said. "It's been fantastic to see.”