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Group seeks a stronger 'presence' for local gay community

August 21, 2005|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY

For gay people in Washington County, there's a church and a bar, but then what?

That's what the organizers of Community Triangle of Washington County figured when they created their group, which aims to be one part social, one part civic and one part political.

The portions are not equal yet, though.

The group has held Dinner Out and other social functions, but is working up to the other goals.

Members of the group's steering committee didn't have an exact idea in mind when they gathered to brainstorm in February.

They only knew "there was probably a need for something," said Chris Baker, 37, of Hagerstown, a steering committee member. "There's a not a strong LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) presence ... in this end of Maryland."

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The aforementioned church is New Light Metropolitan Community Church in Hagerstown and the bar is Deer Park Lodge, east of Hagerstown.

Aside from those two places, "there's a gap," said Chris Cobian, 28, of Hagerstown, the steering committee's chairman.

Community Triangle of Washington County has socialized at Square Cup Caf in Hagerstown's Public Square and at Dimensions, as well as at a private home in Smithsburg.

The next two Dinner Out spots, both in Hagerstown, will be The Gourmet Goat on Sept. 1 and Michelle's Restaurant on Sept. 29.

Baker said the group wants to patronize a variety of establishments, to show its purchasing power and to be visible.

Steering committee member Andrea Ferguson, 45, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said it's common to see rainbow flags in restaurants in Baltimore or Shepherdstown, W.Va., indicating that they're "gay friendly."

But it's unusual in Washington County, which is considered more socially and politically conservative.

Baker said he and his partner, the Rev. Michael Hydes of New Light Metropolitan Community Church, are open about their relationship and get good responses from people around Hagerstown.

"Without exception, every individual I have met (here) has been reaffirming and accepting and positive," he said. "But I see a complete lack of (gay) presence. A large percentage of our community is closeted. It doesn't feel like Hagerstown is a real hot spot."

"Here, people are gay on Saturday night when they're at Deer Park," said steering committee member Terry Schildt, 58, of Smithsburg. "They're not gay on Sunday morning when they're with their families or Monday when they go to work."

"I think the capacity here exists for a thriving gay community," Cobian said. "There are a lot of gay people who like the community and want to make it better for everybody."

Schildt said he had a lousy time growing up gay here decades ago and he doesn't want to see young people go through the same thing today.

As Baker sees it, having a college campus downtown is a plus.

"The youth of today are insanely comfortable with their sexuality," he said.

"It will bring in more educated people," Schildt said.

Community Triangle of Washington County, which has about 65 members in the Tri-State region, is mainly a social group, but is considering social activism, too, along the lines of a statewide organization.

Equality Maryland, which is based in Silver Spring, Md., is the state's main LGBT advocacy group and gets involved in political causes.

It has reached into Western Maryland a little, such as a 2004 forum in Washington County on gay marriage.

Community Triangle of Washington County's mission statement mentions social events, civil rights advocacy and community partnerships. Baker said the last part refers to volunteering for charities or similar good deeds.

Equality Maryland President Lawrence Jacobs of Rockville, Md., said Community Triangle of Washington County fits perfectly with Equality Maryland's goal of being an umbrella group for local LGBT organizations.

He said other groups are in Montgomery County, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

"We're delighted," he said.

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