19-year-old gay Frederick activist honored at White House -- Gazette.Net


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Starting a community center to serve the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth and their families is not an easy task to accomplish, especially when you are starting from the ground up.

Frederick Community College student Austin Beach knows that from personal experience.

The 19-year-old Villages of Urbana resident has been working tirelessly since January to gather support, organize volunteers, secure a location and lay the foundation for the Frederick Center — a resource center that aims to serve the needs of the LGBTQ community in Frederick.

Now, as his dream has slowly taken shape, Beach’s hard work is starting to pay off in ways that he had never expected.

Because of his advocacy work in Frederick, Beach was recognized as one of the nation’s up-and-coming leaders and advocates for the LGBT community at the White House on Sept 19.

Beach attended the event along with 75 LGBT community leaders representing 38 states. The event allowed advocates to exchange ideas and resources, discuss issues and meet with members of the Obama administration, including Vice President Joe Biden.

“It was one of the most fantastic moments in my life,” Beach said.

Beach said he met with some of the most prominent leaders in the LGBT community, received updates on important LGBT issues, such as the rising rates of HIV/AIDS in young gay men, and helped to expand his work in the community.

He also received a tour of the White House, heard a speech from the first openly gay graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and talked with Biden and his wife at a barbecue at the vice president’s residence.

“I was so honored and touched to see people consider me a leader in the community,” Beach said.

Beach was invited to the event at the recommendation of Terry Stone, executive director of CenterLink, a national organization supporting the growth of LGBT centers across the country.

Stone met Beach in January 2012 at a conference in Baltimore, when Beach had not yet started working on establishing the center in Frederick.

“I just knew there was something about him,” Stone said.

Stone, who has 23 years of experience in nonprofit leadership, knew that staring a community center is an ambitious task, especially for someone so young.

But Beach surprised him. Within only a few months, he had set up a network of volunteers, found a location for meetings, and in June organized a public event, attracting more than 200 community members.

“Creating a community center isn’t something that happens overnight. ... He is becoming a face in the community that people trust.”

Thanks to Beach’s commitment, the Frederick Center is already providing services to the community.

The center, which is now in the process of applying for nonprofit status, operates at the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ at 4 E. Church St.

Beach, who is the executive director for the group, runs the center with the help of his mother, Cindie, and the center’s director, Brian Walker.

The organization has a youth program, which allows about 35 people aged 18 through 25 to meet, get support and share issues that are important for them. Just this past week, the Frederick Center also held its first adult LGBTQ meeting.

Beach said the decision to start the center came out of his own experiences growing up as a gay man. A graduate of Urbana High School, Beach struggled with depression, isolation and bullying after he came out in his last year of high school.

Thanks to the support of his mother and his active involvement in the Gay Straight Alliance, he was able to overcome his own uncertainty.

By working on the Frederick Center, Beach now hopes to create a safe place where young people like him can go and share their troubles without feeling judged or isolated.

“It was something that I was passionate about, “ he said. “I [felt] that people need to be treated with love and dignity.”

Although Beach has no plans to slow down on his work on the center, his experience in the White House has energized him. Inspired by his experience, Beach said he has decided to study law after he completes his associate’s degree at Frederick Community College.

In the future, Beach is hoping to secure a permanent space for the center and start a program for homeless LGBT youth and a support group for parents of youngsters who are questioning their sexuality.

“There is a big need to provide resources,” he said. “There is a huge community out there that is waiting to be brought together.”

mraycheva@gazette.net