Pride Spotlight: PFLAG Westminster Carroll County
Read our Q&A with PFLAG Westminster Carroll County to find out more about the impact they are making in their local community.
Organizations like PFLAG play a vital role in supporting and advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. This Pride month, Ting Internet has committed to donating $10 for every order and pre-order to local PFLAG chapters in Ting towns—learn more at tinginternet.com/pride.
To shed light on some of the remarkable work done at a local level, we had the privilege of interviewing the dedicated members of PFLAG Westminster/Carroll County! Learn more about their chapter’s journey, its mission, and the wide range of programs and services they offer to uplift LGBTQ+ people and their families.
Can you tell us more about your local chapter, including how it got started and what its mission is?
The mission of PFLAG Westminster Carroll County is to promote the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, intersex and questioning persons, their families, and friends through:
- Support to cope with a sometimes adverse society;
- Education to enlighten an uninformed or ill-informed public; and
- Advocacy to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights.
PFLAG Westminster/Carroll County provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity.
In 2005, St. Paul’s [United Church of Christ] received a phone call from a concerned parent regarding LGBTQIA+ bullying in the school system. She felt something needed to be done and was willing to help. When the call was received, Rev. Dr. Marty Kuchma reached out to Judy Gaver, June Horner and other known advocates for the LGBTQIA+ community, and the PFLAG Westminster Carroll County chapter was formed.
Since its founding, PFLAG Westminster Carroll County has been delivering a local message of love and support, working to be advocates, supporters and educators for issues important to LGBTQIA+ residents, those who love them and those who want to be allies. Though we are not affiliated with St. Paul’s UCC, they have supported our PFLAG chapter from the beginning and provide space for us to have meetings and community events.
Can you share some of the various programs and services your chapter offers to support LGBTQ+ people and their families?
Monthly community meetings
Each month, the chapter hosts a community meeting. The agenda varies from month-to-month, but has included guest speakers, book and movie talks, workshops, and discussion/support sessions.
Annual special events include a Prom for All Ages, the Westminster Pride Walk, participation in regional PRIDE events, an ice cream social and the Thanksgiving Thank-You Dinner.
Our PFLAG chapter hosts a monthly Parents Support Group for those raising or caring for LGBTQIA+ family members.
Since 2008, we have cosponsored “First Fridays” where LGBTQIA+ youth and their friends can socialize and be themselves in a safe space. Beginning in June 2023, our expanded “YTA Fridays” program for youth, teens and adults will feature three separate youth spaces:
- First Fridays: Ninth through twelfth graders
- Second Fridays: 18+ (adults)
- Third Fridays: Fifth through ninth graders
- Fourth Fridays: 18+ game night
We provide training focused on LGBTQIA+ topics for groups and organizations interested in learning how to be more inclusive and sensitive to all their members and clients.
Working with schools
PFLAG-WCC collaborates with the public-school system to provide the tools and information to help foster the positive school climate that is vital to helping our LGBTQIA+ students feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported.
GSA book talks
We partner with the Carroll County Public Library to provide high school GSA (gay-straight alliance) clubs with presentations on LGBTQIA+ inclusive books, as well as copies of the books for the school media centers (following the school collection guidelines).
What specific initiatives or events does your chapter organize during Pride month to celebrate and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights?
PFLAG-WCC staffs information booths and makes educational literature available at a variety of Pride events throughout the area. This year, we will have a booth available at pride events in Sykesville, Frederik and Westminster. We also sponsor our Annual Westminster Pride Walk and a movie at Carroll Art Council during Pride month.
Do you have any partnerships or collaborations with other LGBTQ+ organizations and community groups in town?
[We may be] truly the only specifically LGBTQIA+ organization/community group in town. We have some very wonderful organizations that we work with who are allies, but don’t specifically do what we do for the LGBTQIA+ community. [We work with] the Boys & Girls Club, Youth Services Bureau, Rape Crisis Intervention Service, and organizations such as these to help them understand the LGBTQIA+ community, and they are very open to learning. We truly help one another.
Can you share some success stories or examples of how PFLAG has made a positive difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ people and their families in your community?
First Fridays (FF) is the only specifically LGBTQIA+ safe space in Westminster. We serve youth in fifth grade through high school. Our FF has been going strong for 15 or more years. This has allowed us to watch many of the youth turn into young adults. At one point, when Rev. Lucy Brady who spearheaded this initiative was going to retire, there were thoughts about whether we could keep FF going. Our youth and young adults pleaded to have this continue, as they did not know where they would go without this safe space. As you can imagine, many of these kids have created wonderful friends in this safe space. Hence, PFLAG picked up the leadership role 10 years ago to ensure it could continue. We were always a partner in this initiative, but Rev. Lucy was the real driver.
All this to say, given our long existence, many of our kids have “aged out,” if you will. Yet, these young adults continue to come and want to be a part of FF. We called them our alums. It is just a wonderful feeling to know that we have provided a safe space that our LGBTQIA+ community still wants to be a part of. It is actually due to our current Unity Center and growth of FF over all that, starting in June, we will begin our new initiative called Youth, Teens and Adults (YTA). We will now have three consecutive Fridays where various age groups will meet. We hope these groupings will help each group feel comfortable with one another and share their stories and friendships. We are also planning for the last Friday to be one where folks 18+ can come and play board games, etc. We are hoping this might attract some older type folks, who still need a safe space to come and hang.
At the end of the day, to see kids smile because they feel supported and feel safe is a success for us. We do what we do because we want these kids to succeed and feel love and support, but also because their lives depend on it—quite literally.
Why do you think LGBTQ+ organizations like PFLAG are so important in the world we live in today?
On any given day, under the best circumstances, the world today can be quite scary. Hating “others” seems to be in vogue. Our LGBTQIA+ community, especially our youth, need all the support, encouragement and love we can provide. Just as we thought things were getting slightly easier for the LGBTQIA+ community, we seem to be taking steps backward as a society. We believe that most of this hate is caused by fear, and this fear is the result of ignorance. PFLAG has the tools to educate our community, our organizations, our schools, our businesses and our world in general. As mentioned before, PFLAG is a grassroots organization, it but has over 400 chapters throughout the world. Each chapter has its own strengths and strategies, but we have support and resources through our national branch. Hence, this allows us to reach out across the nation to gain insight, support and resources. We need to have a presence. Stories and people matter and can change minds. Our goal is to present these stories, to help those who do not understand to understand. LGBTQIA+ people live similar lives; they are just like you and me. They want to live happily and have successful lives.
How can members of the community get involved with PFLAG and support your organization's mission?
Come to our meetings; come to events we sponsor like drag shows and the Pride Walk; become a member; join our Steering Committee. Let folks know we exist! Give people, organizations, etc., our information if they need help with LGBTQIA+ issues.
Are there any specific advocacy efforts or legislative initiatives that your chapter is currently involved in or supporting?
We have a good working relationship with the executive director of TransMaryland and work with them when they call on us for support or effort [as] there is lots of bad legislation going on around the country pushing us backward, not forward.
How can allies of the LGBTQ+ community best support and advocate for their loved ones?
Really, it is simple—show love, support and respect. Something we all want and need.