The Frederick Center Celebrates Decade of Service to Community
By Gina Gallucci-White. Photography by Turner Photography Studio
If there was a turning point for attitudes about LGBTQ+ people in Frederick County, Kris Fair, executive director of The Frederick Center, has a year in mind. “I would say 2012 is probably the most stark contrast from before to after because you have the launch of The Frederick Center happening simultaneously with the [state’s] vote for marriage equality and you start to see these changing attitudes and much more affirmation and acceptance.”
The Frederick Center, which offers support and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, was founded that year by an Urbana High School student named Austin Beach. Subjected to bullying, the teenager discovered a lack of support from Frederick County Public Schools and resources for LGBTQ+ people in the area. “[He] wanted desperately to create a space for one hour or two hours every week where queer kids could gather and feel safe and affirmed and supported,” says Fair, who has been involved with the nonprofit since its first year. The Frederick Center started off that first year with a weekly youth group that has been meeting every week since. Achieving nonprofit status in 2013, the LGBTQ+ group has been growing steadily ever since.
Today, Frederick is home to one of the largest Pride festivals in the state (hosted by The Frederick Center) but acceptance was not always assumed. “The name of The Frederick Center is called The Frederick Center because we wanted an innocuous name that did not draw attention from organizations or individuals that seek to harm queer people,” Fair says. “We settled on a very innocuous name and our first Pride event was called Picnic in the Park. It wasn’t even called Pride, for that exact reason as well.”
Fair says it’s emotional to consider the center marking 10 years of service. “It is wild to think back on all the years and challenges and adversities that we have overcome as an organization to think how we’ve gotten to where we’ve got while at the same time living in the moment of history,” he says. “We are feeling that sense of all of the fights that we have taken on and continue to take on to support LGBTQ+ people. You feel and sense that you are living in a moment that defines our Frederick community.”
Last year, The Frederick Center opened its first physical location at 322 W. Patrick St. and hired Fair as its first paid employee. With office space, it has also been able to expand its programming options. Glorie Cassutto, program director, says the center has experienced huge growth in the past year. “Every single week our numbers are going up with our youth groups and every single week we are getting really incredible turn out for all of our programs,” she says.
The center’s signature program is its youth support group, which has expanded three times since its inception. The lineup now includes youth groups for ages 8 to 12 and 13 to 18, as well as a trans teen group for ages 13 to 18 and a young adult group for ages 18 to 25. “So, what we have accomplished here is programing that meets youth where they are at and provides a space for them to talk to each other on each other’s level that is also facilitated and in a safe space that is moderated by professionals,” Fair says.
The center comes up with program ideas thanks to a community suggestion board and popular program offerings include “Aging with Pride and Coffee” where senior members of the LGBTQ+ community come together to talk in an informal setting, as well as “LGBT D&D,” a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game program at Saga Games. “Every single time we have that program biweekly, we run out of chairs,” Cassutto says. “We have so many people. …We get a lot of people who are so excited to learn or get back into it.”
ADVOCACY AND RESOURCES
Advocacy is also an important part of the center in combating a lack of instructional support, education and discussion about the disparities and absence of clarity about the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. “Advocacy allows us to identify areas where the law and systems do not protect queer people and go in and backfill that area,” Fair says. The nonprofit offers several ways for anyone to get involved, including participating on area task forces, committees and coalitions, as well as offering training to help people be better allies to the community.
The center has become a place where people seek help to locate resources, including homeless individuals, domestic violence survivors and immigrants. “I always say the same thing to everybody: ‘I can’t guarantee you I can fix your problem, but I can guarantee you that we are going to at least try,’” Fair says. “That model has served us well. It is overwhelming at times the amount of services and needs our community has that aren’t being met and the complicated processes that people have to go through to get access to services. We have acted as a conduit to help streamline that assistance to get them to programs or access to resources that they need.”
Fair hopes people take away a sense of being a part of the community when they come to The Frederick Center. “For many LGBTQ+ people, you will hear a very common thread of isolation,” he says. He came out in 2004 and truly knew no one who was gay in the community. One night, he was invited to a party where 10 gay men were chatting and having cocktails. He recalls being “absolutely flabbergasted and I remember looking at one of them going, ‘How many of you all are out there?’ because for me it was like the community didn’t exist at all. I remember saying to somebody that night, ‘I wonder what would happen if everybody who is gay came out from behind closed doors and started talking to one another.’”
The Frederick Center meets Fair’s dream of a place that shows LGBTQ+ people exist and are a part of every facet of society. “It creates a space for queer people to know that Frederick is a place that recognizes their identity, but it also creates a space that helps the Frederick community recognize the vast resource that is LGBTQ+ people in our community,” he says.
Cassutto notes she often witnesses a strong sense of community during programs and groups at the center. “We all have shared experiences,” she says. “We all have similarities more so than our differences and those are the things that bring us together. When any young person comes to the center, I know that they can feel that. When there is a new person who comes to youth group and they are immediately celebrated and welcomed into our group chat and they get to sign up and see pride flags everywhere — it is very meaningful to fully understand the depth and love of our community.”