WESTMINSTER - Birdies is probably one of the more open, gay-friendly coffee shops in Westminster. On a weekend afternoon, Lance Garber, who works behind the counter, can be seen talking to customers or his fiancé, Jason Harder, who sits in the lounge after working a cleaning job. As a professional photographer with two jobs, Garber complains that he gets pretty tired, and, sitting on a green chair on his break, discusses an upcoming photo shoot with a friend.
"I hate it when people take my business cards and don't contact me," he complains, "it's like they're collecting them."
Garber and Harder are a gay couple and have been engaged for two years. Like many young couples in their twenties, they face many of the fears and uncertainties of holding down worker-wage jobs to pay for rent, groceries, and college loans. About six years earlier, neither would have been comfortable sharing their sexual orientation with strangers. Now, however, it's normal for them to and hold hands in the mall and not feel like people are staring-for the most part.
Harder expresses that still deals with the judgment of his parents and that coming out to them was a painful experience.
"The one example I have for [hardship] is when I officially moved out of my parents' house and they came to visit me," Harder says, "my mom said, 'Jason, I grieve for your soul.' I literally looked at them and said, 'Okay?' and turned around and shut the door."
For Garber, being gay was also a problem-coming out of the closet, he said, "was terrifying."
The issue of being gay in a predominately heterosexual culture is a complex issue that some justify as immoral for religious reasons-which, for those in favor of gay rights, is where the debate gets stuck. On the one hand, those who are religious are having their rights invaded. On the other, gays and lesbians are having their lives oppressed. And while many people are choosing to embrace the gay community, many people, even those in government positions, still remain skeptical.
When asked for an opinion about the legalization of gay marriage in Maryland, County Commissioner Richard Rothschild of District 4 commented, "I think it's God's decision to define marriage as between a man and woman. It comes from God's word, which is the Bible." When asked about how he felt about how whether gays and lesbians are accepted, or feel comfortable in the community, he noted, "We need to tolerate them," and described that he felt that the gay community was forcing the non-homosexuals to "endorse" the gay community, where to endorse, to him, means "to hold something up as a value that should be modeled."
"I hate the word tolerate," says Harder, "tolerate does not mean acceptance, tolerate means you are shoving it under the rug and ignoring it. If you don't believe what you're saying, you're not going to convince other people around you."
However, for people such as Jason and other members of the LGBT community living in Carroll County, the collective attitude gradually is becoming more and more accepting and progressive with the help of local support groups and exposure through mass media (the Sochi Olympics controversy being among the most recent). A local PFLAG charter (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) exists in Westminster and holds meetings in St. Paul's Church on Sundays. The organization fosters awareness and discussion in the community, while providing a local support system for those who can't find it elsewhere. Recent meetings have highlighted topics such as "Transgender 101" to inform attendees of transgender issues and stigmas, as well as "Domestic Violence and the LGBT community," to raise awareness about a problem of "rates of gay domestic violence [being] the same or greater than for heterosexuals," according to the PFLAG website. While social problems persist, PFLAG and sister organization GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Information Network), as well as St. Paul's United Methodist Church, continue to work as catalysts toward social change in a highly rural and predominately conservative county.
"What I would do if I was able to confront all the homophobes in the world," Harder says, "is that I would probably answer their questions with questions and get them to think about what they're saying, like when they ask, when did you figure out you were gay-I would say, well, when did you figure out you were straight? I would do things like that."
For more information on PFLAG, visit
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